I am a naturally competitive person. One of my first major achievements was getting 60 out of 60 in a spelling test at school, which meant I could sit at the back of the classroom and have the satisfaction of looking over the heads of all the other girls in my class. This smug glow was the beginning of wanting to be good at things.
Once you give birth you have a story, the birth story, which takes on its own life as it retold again and again. My births were ‘good’ births. I ‘won’ when I gave birth (twice), as not only did I get two children at the end of my labours, but I did the whole caboodle with only Gas and Air. Ha Haaaa! I didn’t weaken and succumb to namby pamby painkillers, I was hardcore.
Of course, I know this is nonsense, and by hook or crook (or both) if you get a baby at the end, that is the triumph, because of course, sadly, not everyone does. Still, I was lucky enough to have inherited a very good birthing body (Mum popped out five), and my babies had the decency not to turn upside down or look the wrong way at the last minute.
Following the birth, there are then many stages of ‘winning’ among your mothering peers, by having the first child to reach those all-important milestones: their first tooth, first steps, first word and all the other subsequent ‘firsts’ that go in the baby book.
My friend’s baby got his first tooth at three months. This is very early, and not normal, but still, I was very slightly disappointed that my son wasn’t sporting gnashers, until of course, he got them at only 5 months, top and bottom, and then almost nipped my nips off. I wasn’t so thrilled then.
The most messy milestone out of the list is potty training.
When I had my son my grandmother decided to join in with the game by telling me that ‘in her day’, her babies were potty trained from 6 months. Well, that was clearly absolute rot, as firstly, her brain didn’t go back to last Sunday let alone fifty years ago, and secondly, she probably didn’t have anything to do with her babies’ bottoms, as she had a daily maid and a nanny, so they could still have been in nappies at ten for all she knew. However, this did have the desired effect of making me feel like an inadequate mother because my son was still in nappies at 6 months old, good one Grandma.
Then there was the mother who I saw putting her unbelievably tiny child on a travel potty by the side of the road, and I made some casual, congratulatory remark only to be given a resounding lecture on how all her children had NEVER worn nappies because they used some tribal method of staring at their newborns all day long, 24 hours a day until they had identified some barely-visible-to-the-naked-eye twitch, at which point they put them on the potty. This of course made me feel totally inadequate, as I’d used about a thousand nappies at that point, but in hindsight I can see that she just had a very bad case of wanting to ‘win’ at being a mother.
But what does it really mean to win at being a mother? When I had tiny babies, winning was getting to the end of the day without all of us crying simultaneously at some point. When we were all very ill recently, beginning with exquisite timing on Christmas Day itself, winning was getting our children’s temperature to stay lower than 104 degrees.
But I still want to know I’m doing it right, I still want proof that what I’m doing day in, day out, is getting me to the top of the pile. And then the other day, the final verdict came when my children were asked, ‘Who’s in charge in your house?’ and the unequivocal answer came back, ‘Mummy, of course.’
In the words of Lola, ‘I’ve won!’