It’s curious isn’t it how it takes an affliction in those close to us to make us really believe in it; the Boston marathon victims, for instance, or even 9/11, do we really credit them if we don’t know anyone there personally? It’s the same with motherhood; when I elected to avoid it, I had no idea what I was turning my back on. Motherhood has changed me; aged me, and made me more sensitive to a range of child-related of things. I’m probably a nicer person for it. It has also given me a place in the world, a kind of right, even need to be around and to look after myself I’m not sure I really had before. I was never a very good friend, or a career-person; I got by on pipe-dreams, personal delusions and occasional bouts of bacchanalia. I probably needed my unborn child more than I was ever going to admit.
Another thing I was never going to admit to, or trouble my conscience with, was the inevitable indignity of extreme age. When, two months ago, my mother had a stroke my first impulse, as she lay immobile, unspeaking, and unable to feed herself unaided, was to brandish enlarged photos I’d found of her as a youthful early-60’s blonde steering a yacht into a headwind. She is fully-dressed, but there’s no mistaking Marilyn Monroe’s figure and Ingrid Bergman’s cheekbones, things as the small child I must have been I never noticed, but now felt compelled to flap in the face of every doctor, nurse or therapist who might for a moment mistake this immobile 86-year old for any one of those routine decrepit geriatrics on the hospital stroke ward beside her. “See, this is what she used to be, this is what she really is!” I even said it out loud once, to my shame. They looked at me wearily, not even glancing at the photos. Why would they.
And now, instead of regarding the fragile elderly one actually rarely sees on London tubes and buses with a detached kind of pity, underscored with an unexplored determination never to become one of them myself, I find myself hesitating. I even smile, welcome any response, and pause to lend a hand. And then I feel better, happier, somehow. Yes. Life, if we let it, can definitely make us a nicer person.