Guilt is the cross a working mother just has to grimace and bear.
When her children are little, every time she can’t get to their sports day in time, or take them to their dental appointment, or has to break off from helping them with their homework to take a call from work, the load gets heavier.
No matter that the job is keeping them clothed and fed. Regardless of what a shining example of hard-working, resilient, multi-tasking and independent adulthood she is setting. The things that she couldn’t do seem so much weightier.
“Sorry for all the times I had to say: No, mummy’s working” ought to be engraved on headstones. Or on cards to give back to the kids on Mothers’ Day, when they’ve presented you with some glowing tribute you feel you don’t really deserve.
It doesn’t stop there, though. I reckon a mother carries the guilt for all her days. Your kids can be 50 and you’ll still be beating yourself up over what you didn’t do.
A few weeks ago, my son of almost 23 had a car crash on the way to work. He called me. My heart leapt.
Was he injured? No. Then I had to prioritise; I had to finish a story I was on deadline for. I’ve been regretting that decision ever since. Bloke went in my place and they coped perfectly well, But I’d put work over him, yet again.
Why didn’t I spend time with him? Put him first?
Well, guess what? I did. I was idly sifting through a drawerful of old photos this weekend. The snaps had not only captured each and every stage of his childhood; they were pictorial evidence.
Of me doing a pretty good job of mothering. There I am, by his side on camels, donkeys and bicycles. There I am, having a bash at fishing and paint-balling.
There we are, on countless holidays and day out, the vast majority of which guilt had filtered from my memory. My jaundiced view had made me blot out all the good bits and dwelt on the bad.
I wondered: had he too remembered all the times when mum couldn’t, and allowed them to overshadow all the times when mum could?
So I asked him for his memories of times with mother.
Holidays - surely he remembered those annual fortnights, for which I’d scrimped and saved and on which he’d had my undivided attention?
Not exactly. He’d forgotten entirely that we’d been to Paris and Scotland and even Disneyland.
He remembered Greece, because that was the holiday when he found a litter of stray puppies next to the hotel and I weed in a bush.
The two were entirely unconnected incidents, by the way. I didn’t wee because of the puppies. I’d got caught short after a night at the taverna, while walking back to the hotel through pitch-black scrubland. Clearly, my putting necessity over decorum had traumatised my nine-year-old.
He remembered Cyprus because I drove through a red light in Paphos, nearly hit a police car and almost got arrested.
And he remembers Sorrento because it was utterly hilarious (to him) that I’d got stalked by a smitten train driver who kept turning up, clutching heart and phrase book.
His favourite memories, though, were of things that I’d have thought were best forgotten. Like the night the two of us staying up ‘til the early hours, painting his bedroom.
As we rollered the walls we’d listened to tunes from his ghetto blaster. “I wear goggles when you are not there,” he’d warbled to that song by Macy Gray.
Best of all, he said, were our Saturday nights in; “We always made a pizza and watched a film. Just you and me.”
I’m so glad.
Though honestly, I can’t remember.