The women we meet in the supermarket or outside the school may appear to be just plain ol’ mothers and homemakers, but we have previous lives and skills not often spoken about or credited. What child dreams their mother had a really interesting past before they came along? And some partners like to draw a veil, sometimes literally, over the earlier life of their companion – the reality standing with her hands in the sink not quite gelling with the memory of the wild free adventuress they fell in love with.
Here’s just some of what she does every single day, year in and year out:
Cooking, washing, ironing (huh?) sweeping, hoovering and window-cleaning. Lighting fires, emptying ashes, changing bedclothes. Mowing the grass, picking up litter in the front garden, putting out the bin, recycling. Cutting nails and hair, de-lousing, de-flea-ing, mopping up piss and puke. Living in a fug of baby smells – sour milk and sudocreme – crappy nappies (remember that black tar they excrete the first few days?). Scraping out ovens, fishing slimy gunk out of the shower /sink /bath drain. Harassing kids to do homework – doing their homework. Digging out splinters, nursing them through scarlet fever, tweezing beads out of nostrils, liberating mickies from zips and heads from railings. Teaching them to swim and not to stick coins into light-sockets. Suffering for them at the dentist, battling to limit the damage done by sweets and soft drinks and sugary cereals. Sorting out bullies, resisting peer pressure demand for designer labels, paying through the nose for their mobile phones. Accepting rubbish presents with enthusiasm and joy, discovering that nothing you own is really yours if one of your children has a use for it, especially money however strapped you may be. Feeding pets, (“ I promise I’ll look after it…”). Flushing the expired goldfish down the loo before they get home from War-hammer. Cleaning out the hamster cage, paying astronomic vets bills for stray kittens and puppies they drag home. Staying up for 36 hours straight to type out the crucial engineering project, discovering your signature forged 170 times at the back of the homework journal. Deciding if a tummy-ache (the third this week) is a symptom of a grumbling appendix or that sadistic PE teacher. Racing into town to buy the last of the peeing baby dolls, standing in line for Boy Band tickets. Eating, with relish, a first attempt at fairy cakes, buying bloody kidneys for home ec., cooking porridge while in the throes of morning-sickness. Laying on the security for nine-year olds’ parties. Later, scraping chocolate marshmallows off your pillow and cutting chewing gum out of your hair. Trying not to freak out about the child whose mother assures you that chicken-pox/whooping cough/ the plague will actually strengthen your little darling’s immune system (you’re off for your first ever foreign holiday next week). Buying presents for in-laws who consider you on a par with trailer-trash and giving up your bed to them when they come to stay. And not getting smashed for the duration of their visit when, let’s face it, you most need stress-relief. Disinfecting body-piercings. Writing shopping lists to leave behind on the kitchen table, and becoming a Loyalty Customer against every fibre of your political being. Worrying about everything from stranger danger to the ozone hole, to the ubiquitous risk of “getting your eye poked out”. From the downside of vaccinations to reports of drug-rapes, the effects of sun-cream and emissions from Sellafield – the list of things to agonise over is as long as your life.
Enough of the dreary stuff.
Now to undermine the illusion of that middle-aged, greying, sober, ‘ordinary’ woman you queued behind in the Ladies, we’ve shamelessly plundered the lives of our friends and come up with some de facto evidence of her closet nature:
She has been to Tibet and climbed K2, danced topless in Las Vegas, and fished for shrimp in north Australia. Lived in Greenham Common, been saved by religion, driven a double decker bus through Central London. Kayaked around the Tongan Islands, held her own with the best Aikido martial artists in Japan, dealt in high finances in a Bejing bank. Served time in the nick, harboured conscientious objectors, has run drugs across international borders. Practiced witchcraft, ridden on a mule down the Grand Canyon, had an affair with an eminent man of the cloth. Trekked solo through South America braving bandits and revolutionaries. Has been a pop star, a blues singer, a punk icon, starred in a John Huston movie. Served as a fire-fighter, marched for Civil Rights in America, smuggled condoms through customs. Worked on scaffolding, protested against Nuclear Power, aided and abetted the Pro-Choice movement, chanting “Get your rosaries off our Ovaries”. She has eaten dog in Korea, horse in France, python in Thailand. Landed a jet in New York, flown a Cessna over Glastonbury Tor, survived a collision between a small sailing boat and a 10,000 ton oil tanker. Has spent a year in an Israeli prison for being a spy (she wasn’t). Experienced a typhoon, swum with dolphins, whale-watched off Spanish Point. Was smuggled across the Iron Curtain in the boot of a car. Warmed Michael McLiammoir’s scarlet underwear before he went on stage. Ducked vigilante gunfire in the Mojave Desert, stitched up knife-wounds (after bar-room brawls) in the Arctic Circle. Delivered babies in Africa, set up a hippie commune. Kept a lion as a family pet and snorted coke at Hollywood rock concerts. Liberated her lover by bribing a prison guard in Turkey, lived for six months in an ashram in Orissa. Travelled the roads in a barrel-topped wagon, delivered fuel to the western islands in a Galway Hooker. Converted a barge to a floating studio, chained herself to a tree in the Phoenix Park in protest at the visit of Ronald Reagan. Taught English in Russia and China, travelled alone to Cambodia and Viet Nam. While barely able to hold the reins she drove a pony and trap around Ireland to raise money for rheumatoid arthritis, crossed Greenland on husky sleds with her young family. She was sketched by Chagall, trained zebras and ponies for the circus. ….
So you never know, next time you’re on a bus, that old dear sitting beside you could be recuperating from Mardi Gras or planning a white-water rafting trip in Nepal.
There’s a wild woman in us all!
Judy Russell is a published poet living in Co. Wicklow, Eire here are a few of her poems