Catherine is an admitted lawyer who holds a Ph.D. in Italian Studies and currently teaches at a Melbourne university. She also writes children's books and is a mother to two young children. Not surprisingly, one of her greatest pleasures is sharing her love of reading with them. Ahead of Mother's Day, she shares a letter to her daughter...
To my daughter,
The fact of your existence took me by surprise. “Shock” might be less euphemistic: I had expected to have some grace period of “trying” before you were conceived, but all of a sudden your existence was not merely hypothetical and I had to ask myself whether I was really ready (can you ever be ready?!) to embark on a journey that I knew would irrevocably change the life that I was fairly content with, odd self-indulgent foray into existential crises aside. But in spite of the initial shock, I knew the miscarriage statistics, and even in those early days, I whispered to you in bed every night, asking you to stay.
After those early, stomach-churning weeks (the thought of your dad’s fish with caponata still turns my stomach, and perfume will never be the same again) we were fortunate to have a wonderful pregnancy. We planned eagerly for your arrival and dreamed endlessly about what you would be like. And then, in early June 2016, you were, and you were more perfect than we could ever have imagined.
How you have changed our lives. My life, in particular. A childfree friend asked me the other day precisely how you had changed my life, and I couldn’t even begin to adequately explain it. The shift has been seismic. The relatively carefree woman who could get out of the house in 15 minutes, accept a last-minute invitation, give her full attention to a conversation and even just be able to commit to having clean hair on a regular basis has gone (on hiatus, perhaps); in her place, one who stumbles out the door reliably late and weighed down by child accoutrements; whose attention is short-lived at best and who most definitely cannot commit to having clean hair on a regular basis.
There are the physical changes of learning to cope with less and broken sleep, of learning to share my body with a being whose early survival depended upon it. And I have learnt not only to share, but to love it; the sound of you feeding and you nuzzling into my chest to sleep are memories I treasure even though we finished breastfeeding long ago.
Then there has been the more significant renegotiation of both my identity and my relationship with your dad. We have weathered a shitstorm, he and I, one that often seemed without end, but as you have grown we have finally found ourselves in a place where we can co-parent you as two equals, not as primary-carer-mother with father “helping” (ahhhh, “helping”…one day I’ll teach you precisely why that word’s to be avoided). I’m finally starting to figure out how my identity as your mother fits with my identity as me – the me who thrived on adrenalin in tough workplaces, the one who would never have gone out of the house wearing avocado-stained jeans or allowed her manicure to chip off because time to sit and remove it (and reapply it! Oh, to have time to reapply it!) was plentiful. But that’s ok. This is, as you’re teaching me, a journey to be relished, not an endpoint to be raced towards.
Thanks to you, I have finally had the impetus to seek out a real community of sisters; women whose preparedness to share the wisdom they have gained has eased my transition to motherhood. Like the one who told me that “labour” was called that for a reason, but could be managed with sound preparation and a fair dose of luck on the day. Or the one who taught me to remember, in the moments of deepest despair that some days close in on parents of young children, that this too shall pass. For it shall, and all too quickly.
And while we’re talking about advice shared, you’ve helped me to gradually learn to disregard those relatives, friends (even strangers!) who for some incomprehensible reason feel entitled to dole out that most noxious thing dreaded by all new mothers: unsolicited advice with a generous side of judgment. How little we need them.
“ This job, this being a mum, is the hardest job I’ve ever had. It beats being under the pump at work, rushing to meet deadlines or staying at the office until 10pm to get something urgent done. It beats the visceral agony of trying to dredge up the motivation to finish my doctoral studies ”
Thanks to you, even my biggest fears have changed, and the old ones seem utterly trivial in comparison with those that have replaced them. The fear that something could happen to you. Or the fear that something could happen to me, and I could not be there to see the remarkable woman I already know you will become. How well I now understand my own mother, who recounts how, as she saw me off to my final secondary school exam, she was deeply grateful to know that if anything were to happen to her I would be ok.
This job, this being a mum, is the hardest job I’ve ever had. It beats being under the pump at work, rushing to meet deadlines or staying at the office until 10pm to get something urgent done. It beats the visceral agony of trying to dredge up the motivation to finish my doctoral studies. Whoever said that it takes a village to do this wasn’t lying: your grandparents and your uncle and aunty are our village and we couldn’t do this without them. Sure, we’d muddle through ok if we had to, but I have no doubt that we – you – would be worse off for it.
Together with all these changes, you have gifted me with the most joyous moments of wonder. Witnessing the emergence of your curious, determined and adventurous character is a source of the deepest pride, and I know few greater pleasures than feeling your warm little body tucked into the protective crook of my own, listening to your soft breath as you sleep.
For all its messiness and challenges, this journey is, without doubt, the most wonderful and rewarding one I could have imagined embarking upon.
And this, my love, is how you have changed my life.
You can purchase Catherine’s books at www.aworldfullofbooks.com