Raphaella Wilson looks at mums’ everyday mental clutter, and asks if it’s ever possible to be truly ‘in the moment’?
This may sound defeatist, but I just don’t think it’s possible to be a mother to young children AND truly experience quiet, contemplative downtime – even if the kids are being cared for somewhere else. The ‘mummy cogs’ part of our brains can never switch off entirely. If we do indulge in some mindfulness, after a few moments of blank tranquillity, random thoughts will pop in – ‘I’ve got to get cash from the cash point to pay the babysitter on Friday’, or ‘I must ring Alison to see if she found Toby’s hoodie’.
From the moment I wake up until the time I fall asleep, my brain operates on two levels – the first deals with what’s there in front of me – organising meals, keeping the kids amused, finding lost shoes, keeping on top of work emails. Clunking away in the background is the second level of my brain – like a whirring slot machine of logistical information and forward-planning. This deals with short term planning (what culinary delights to feed the family this evening, remember to clean the loos because the cleaner’s coming tomorrow, we’re in a shop and my three-year old needs to do a poo).
Then there’s medium term (inspiration needed for upcoming birthday presents for five-year olds, book dentist and renew car insurance). And long term (what’s going to be the least stressful option this Christmas – his parents, everyone at ours, a cottage in Wales with no wi-fi?, get school applications in on time, organise my school friends’ reunion when 26 mums can all be free at the same time, and, where can we go on holiday where we can take Granny?). All this data churning results is regular moments throughout the day when I simply glaze over, staring blankly into space. Momentarily, I even look as if I am practising mindfulness. Of course, I instantly snap out of my trance as soon as an irate child yells “MUMMY!”
Why do we wake in the middle of the night to go through an ever-increasing mental ‘to do’ list of inconsequential but essential tasks? It’s easy to spot other mums who’ve slipped into the ‘zone’ – usually when put on the spot about arrangements. We all seem to retreat into our own heads to access our inner spreadsheet, where, like sat-navs, we instantly go into ‘recalculating’ mode to make everything work by rescheduling afternoon plans, calling in favours from grandparents and postponing tinting our roots for yet another week.
And then there are the moments where things don’t work and we drop one of the balls. We, go into overdrive to rectify the problem we have created. We forget the sun cream on a hot day. Where’s the nearest Boots? After thinking we’ve been robbed, we remember we left our purse on the kitchen table, and now we can’t get into the soft play area. Quick, call a friend and swing by to borrow a tenner. Bank holiday Monday throws us out of sync and we get the dates wrong for a Frozen-themed birthday party. ‘Oh it’s tomorrow – phew, I’m so relieved it wasn’t yesterday.’ It’s a bit like starring in our own action movies, high on the adrenaline of knowing that, by drawing on all available resources in our heads, we’re going to narrowly avert disaster.
As a mother, the only time I can truly be ‘in the moment’ is at the weekend or on holiday, when I’m in the great outdoors. If we’re not in a rush, if there are fields, beaches, or woodland to explore, if the sun’s shining, then something magical always seems happen. I stop thinking and start giving my full attention to what’s right in front of me – relishing those sweet, silly moments with the kids, joking with my husband and breathing in the fresh air. The secret seems to be taking regular breaks from screens, kids’ mess and the drudgery of domestic chores.
But being a mum is all I ever wanted, so deep down, I secretly relish the chaos and last-minute panics (mostly). Perhaps because it’s about as close to living on the edge as it gets these days. But there’s definitely a thrill to be had in pulling together a half-decent five-year old’s World Book Day character’s outfit the night before because you forgot to put it on the calendar (although it was always in your head).
It feels more fun than being organised all the time, and it reaffirms, deep in our bones, what all mums know – that we can perform better under pressure than most high-powered CEOs. If only we had the time.
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