Twelve months later and I don’t recognise the woman in the mirror. The bags under my eyes are more Primark than Prada, and my ‘cleanse, tone, moisturise’ routine has been replaced with a hasty scrub before bed with a Pampers wet-wipe. Several months ago I attempted a visit to the hairdresser with the triple buggy in tow. My tea was barely touched when a chorus of objections was raised from within the pram, shortly followed by a similar chorus from the blue-rinse brigade reading TV Quick under the dryers. Meanwhile the toddler was sitting quietly beneath the reception desk, smearing the contents of a tub of purloined hair-gel across the carpet. I left the salon with a half-cut fringe and the threat of a baby ASBO. Pre-baby I was a regular in the gym, pounding the treadmill with my headphones tuned to MTV, and priding myself on my toned tummy. Now the only circuits I do are between tea shops and coffee mornings, pushing the buggy in tune to whichever CBeebies theme is lodged in my head that particular day. My erst-while favourite body part is zipped into submission in the sort of high-waisted jeans favoured only by The Golden Girls and Simon Cowell, and the only exercises I do are sporadic pelvic floors, when I’m prompted to do so by a risky cough.
I used to fantasise about George Clooney, a hot tub and a pot of chocolate mousse (not necessarily in that order, or indeed separately). Now I dream of being alone; totally alone with the sound of silence floating over me like a duvet. Even as I write this, the pygmies are swarming round my feet, their game of Lego towers abandoned in favour of climbing up Mummy’s legs and pressing random keys on the laptop. Frequently they manage to change the settings on the computer, leaving me with keystrokes in Arabic, or a screen set at right angles. Over the months my trio has learned to work together to press ‘control alt delete’ so many times the laptop now rivals me for inertia.
It would seem that almost 94% of mothers would like to have more time to pamper themselves (http://www.mamababybliss.com/). I’m guessing the other six percent didn’t have time to answer; they were too busy trying to escape their own children so they could have a wee without curious on-lookers. With three children and a buggy the size of a baby elephant, going to the loo in public places is a logistical nightmare, and my under-used pelvic floor is once again put under strain till we get home. Caught short one day I headed for Starbucks’ disabled loo, the Mecca for mums with double buggies, and wedged the buggy in the corner as I sank back in relief onto the seat. To my horror, the toddler, on parole from his own seat, made straight for the door and the ‘easy to use’ disabled lock… Acres of freshly mopped tiles stretched between the door, my two year-old’s hand on the lock, and me; legs akimbo, desperately trying to hurry through the gallons of wee I had been holding in round the shops. The toddler looked back at me with an impish gleam in his eye, and turned the lock. With an effort worthy of an Olympic team-member I squeezed my poor beleagured nethers and launched myself at the opening gap, knickers round my ankles, just catching side of a startled couple with a tray of lattes and muffins before I crashed against the door, slamming it shut.
I once read an article about new mums recreating the ‘spa experience’ in the comfort of their own home. To my mind there is nothing remotely ‘comfortable’ about a house strewn with laundry, toys and rancid muslins, but each to their own. The article listed every day items the reader could use to create their home spa without expensive beauty creams and potions; avocado, yoghurt, lavender bath oil, relaxing music playing… It sounded blissful and as the children napped I raced round the house with a washing basket, throwing in objects that roughly approximated those on the list. Ten minutes later, having forgotten to put the water on, I lay in a luke-warm bath generously laced with Mr Matey, a dubious concoction of sweet potato and humous on my face, and PG Tips staining my eye-lids. My iPod having met an unfortunate end in the toilet some weeks earlier, Row Row Row Your Boat was playing from my son’s Fisher Price tape recorder. It was hardly Champneys.
Last night, with Mother’s Day looming, I rang my own mother to bemoan my lack of ‘me’ time. I shared my fond memories of the breakfasts in bed of days gone by, and hoped out loud that this year I’d be encouraged to languish upstairs with a cup of tea and a copy of Hello. “But it wasn’t like that at all, darling” she exclaimed. “Once the three of you had slopped tea up the stairs and over the bedroom carpet, and I’d pretended to eat my hard-boiled egg and soggy soldiers, you’d disappear into the ether, leaving me to clear up the mess you’d made in the kitchen and scrape the glue and glitter off the walls, from your home-made cards”.
So it seems that Mother’s Day, like pain-free labour and Gina Ford babies, is a myth. Like the mysterious content of chain-letters, generations of women across the world have perpetuated the fiction that, once every year, those with children will be allowed at least one day off. Such honesty from my mother was a bitter blow to my naive anticipation of March 23rd, and I slumped onto the floor as the children, with the determination of ferreting terriers, made a bee-line for my lap.
“Mummy”, said my toddler, “I love you THIS much”, stretching his arms wider than the world.
Who needs flowers, anyway?