‘Can I help you there, Mum?’ the museum worker asked. ‘Let me take a bag from you.’
I couldn’t fault him. His tone was polite, his words kind, especially when I was indeed laden down with two bags and a four-year-old child.
However, instead of taking him up on his offer, I instantly bristled and, with a slight shake of my head, just forged ahead.
I was probably being rude but I couldn’t stop myself. You see, he’d committed the ultimate sin (in my eyes, anyway). He’d called me ‘Mum’. And I absolutely hate that. With a passion. It was unforgiveable.
Of course, I don’t mind when my children, Theo, four, and Immy, two, call me it. That is obviously reasonable. I am their mum.
However, when it comes to anyone else, I just can’t bear it. It sets my teeth on edge and puts my back up.
I think it goes back to actually becoming a mum – in fact, no, maybe even before that.
Back then, I was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Geordie, occasionally a girlfriend, a journalist, then a Londonite… so many names and roles and all of them fairly equal. I could slip between them easily, none particularly taking precedence.
That all started to change when Tom, my now husband, proposed to me and I became a fiancée. Suddenly, planning a wedding, that became my pivotal role, the thing most people were most interested in; the thing that defined me, albeit for a short while.
Then, I barely had time to be a wife, before I fell pregnant on our honeymoon.
And as soon as I gave birth, all of the other roles fell away as I became a mum.
In those first few days, nurses and the health visitors soon started to call me ‘Mum’, and I didn’t really register it then. With Tom on paternity leave for two weeks, I was too caught up in my happy bubble.
But when he went back to work and I had to settle into a completely new routine, my new reality started to hit home. On maternity leave, being a journalist fell into the background. And although I was obviously still a daughter, a sister and a friend, all of those paled in comparison when I looked at the tiny little human in my arms and saw how much he needed me. Like, really needed me. To survive.
That shift was not only incredible, it was incredibly hard. On the outside, I looked like the same person and in a number of ways, I still felt like that same person, but Theo literally changed everything.
He cemented mine and Tom’s relationship in a way I cannot describe. Tom was the only other person who got just how amazing our beautiful little boy was, who would listen to me describe what he’d done that day in minute detail (understandable really, given that all he generally did was cry, drink and nap in those first few months) and who would repeat the same cute little stories about him just as often as I did.
And suddenly, I was surrounded by other women who I’d never met before and who I didn’t have anything in common with – except having children. So that was all we talked about.
I’d ask their baby’s name, their birth story (every mum has one) and how they were finding maternity leave. Most likely, they’d repeat the same questions back at me and after an hour or more of chatting, we’d wave a fond farewell, never even asking each other’s name. On the rare occasions I did ask, still foggy with baby brain, I’d have forgotten it by the next time we met anyway.
Being so immersed in just one role was massively overwhelming and, as I spent days with only Theo for company – he was born in October, not ideal for trying to get out and about – and doing nothing but caring to his every need, like so many other women, I floundered.
I’d used to go to the gym regularly, I’d ran a marathon, I adored books. Now, I was too tired for any of that – especially when I had Immy. If I wasn’t looking after my children, I was trying to keep up with friends or catch up with family. I felt guilty for not seeing my friends as much as I had done previously, then, on the nights I did arrange to go out, guilty for leaving my babies.
Gradually, however, life gained a new routine, especially when I went back to work and started getting out of the flat a bit more. I started to rediscover myself – and some of my old roles.
And recently, having moved back to my hometown of Newcastle, I see my oldest, bestest friends more regularly, I go running, I even manage to read a few books every now and then.
So I think that’s why when people call me Mum, it rankles so much. It reduces my identity down to just one small part of who I am.
Tom and I have never been the sort of couple to call each other Mummy and Daddy in front of the children – we still call each other by our first names, which Theo and Immy both know.
The biggest culprits tend to be the staff at the nursery where Theo and Immy go, but then I can kind of forgive them. There’s a lot of children there, and even more parents and grandparents and carers.
I don’t expect them to remember everyone’s name, even though I do see some of them more than I do my parents.
Nurses at our GP surgery do exactly the same thing when we take the children for check-ups or their vaccinations, and sometimes even shop assistants when Immy hands over a yogurt she’s chosen.
‘Haven’t you got a big brave girl there, Mum?’
‘That’ll be £11.64, please Mum.’
I know they’re just being friendly so I’ve always stopped myself from answering back.
But I always have to fight back the urge to explain to them that I’m so much more than just a mum.
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