Lynn Valance - Writing Competition Winner The Mother Here I sit, on a wooden bench, on a beautiful day in April, surrounded by stunning countryside views in a woodland park, encompassed by the sound of birds singing. The weather is warm but with a cool breeze and the sun is shining above and it warms my face, like gentle kisses on my cheeks. I can hear the children’s voices, giggling with excitement as they discover items to tick off on the Scavenger Hunt sheets. The children look so happy as they play and run around with endless energy, even after just completing a cycle ride around the Wetland Nature Reserve. For me, there is no better tonic for a child than to encourage them to enjoy the fresh air and nature and it makes me happy to see the children relish in the splendours of the wonderful parklands. The huge trees seem to agree with my sentiments as their branches sway gently, back and forth in the breeze, looking down from above, over all the families below and I can’t help but feel the protecting presence of these huge, leafy companions. As I sit here quietly day dreaming, I spot my own two children, running around collecting an assortment of leaves and bird feathers. My son, Harry is a typical, rambunctious six year old and his big sister, Lucy, is a caring and raucous nine year old. I am so proud of my off spring, as any parent would be. I feel an intense and overwhelming love for them that expands my heart, as they came into my life at a time when I felt worthless and lonely. I had recently been made redundant from my dream job as a magazine publishing assistant – a ‘dying trade’, my boss, had explained, due to all the free access on the internet. Who wants to read magazines about thatched cottages or period homes anymore? There are forums, websites and social media groups for that. I felt truly redundant, in every sense of the word as it is the only profession I had ever trained for and which allowed me to tune into my creativity by designing pages of ‘art’, using informative words and pictures. I appreciated the essence behind the magazines – the paper pages, created from the very trees that I now sit under, admiringly. I had truly loved my job and the people I worked with. Colleagues really can become your friends, your unbiased confidents outside of your immediate family circle. I even put on a persona at work. I pretended to be much more aloof and adventurous than I usually was at home and around my family members. I guess it made me feel more interesting to have a more colourful and exiting past. So, as I reluctantly embarked on a new job role, working long hours as a care assistant in a care home, which I found to be physically demanding and downright depressing, watching the elderly and frail bodies effectively wilting away in their beds, I found myself spiraling into a deep, dark depression. My partner, David, really was no support to me whatsoever at this time. I don’t entirely blame him as I believe it comes down to his upbringing and lack of empathy. He just interprets things differently to me and is a much stronger person than I am. His favourite expression being, “water off a ducks back”, which annoys me immensely but, deep down, I know I love David. David worked many hours as a car mechanic and loved cars, beer and sport. We have little interests in common, other than watching movies on television and going for out for meals. But, despite all his forthcomings, David really is the most wonderful and caring father that I could ever wish for and had longed for children as much as I had. During my darkest days following my redundancy, I thought about suicide. I didn’t realise this at the time but if I was driving, I would start to day dream again and sometimes I would put my foot down on the accelerator, driving as fast as the stirring wheel would allow, without shaking. Driving irresponsibly along the country roads, I would imagine myself driving head on, straight into a tree. I have never told anyone about this and when I think about it, I feel so ashamed that I could even contemplate such a morbid thing. The moment I discovered I was pregnant, all these dark feelings changed. I have never felt so much joy and pride. I couldn’t understand other women who would moan about the terms of pregnancy:- their back aches; the morning sickness and their stretch marks. I loved every minute of my pregnancy and thought other women who moaned did not deserve to have children. It made me feel so angry when I would see the mothers in the shopping aisle, shouting and bellowing at their ‘tearaway’ children. It took all my strength to stop walking over to them and slapping them hard across their stupid face. I loved the attention I received throughout my pregnancy. I relished in the extra care and time David would give me and the flowers he gave me. I felt special and important. As if the universe had suddenly come into the correct alignment and this is what the meaning of life meant to me. I was never religious but I do believe in life's plan and purpose and my very existence all made sense now. I was always meant to be a mother. My attention is drawn back to my two children, playing in the forest. I do not let them out of my sight for a moment, my eyes darting back and forth between all the other children. Harry, with his white-blonde messy hair, and button nose is grinning and holding up another feather he has found. To my disgust he has also found live worms to add to his ‘nature’ collection. “Don’t harm the worms, Harry,” his sister shouts. Harry agrees by vigorously and clumsily nodding his head. Harry tends to use actions, rather than words and grunts and squeals frequently, which I should discourage, but I adore. He is a real character and make me swell with pride. He has a cheeky way about him, but is never naughty. I know most parents think of their offspring as being ‘perfect’, but mine truly are perfect. Harry has the sweetest giggle and loves to be tickled. He loves to play tricks on people and is always persuading me to take him to joke shops to buy the most gross objects – plastic poo, itching power and a packet of chewing gum that snaps at your finger if you attempt to take one, when offered. As much as Harry is mischievous and, some might say, boisterous, Harry makes me laugh so much. He is the most inquisitive child I have ever met and asks so many questions about life and looks so disappointed if I don’t know the answer. So I have to rely on ‘Google’ as not to disappoint my boy. I want him to look up to me as his mother and the person who knows all the answers to all his curious questions. I think Harry will become a world-renowned scientist when he grows up. I have bought him many science kits to encourage him to be naturally curious about science. But I also understand the importance of not forcing my fantasies onto him, and to allow him to grow and make his own choices in life. Harry is now jumping around with his feet tied together by a discarded branch on the ground. He trips over and falls. I gasp. “Be careful Harry” his sister calls. Harry jumps up laughing with dirt and mud now all over his knees. He doesn’t have a care in the world as he joyfully carries on playing. Lucy is so caring and loves all animals, insects and everything about nature. She is a beautiful child, with pale skin, brown curly hair and red rosy cheeks. She is flushed with excitement and joy as she scampers around the forest with her brother. “Look at this one Harry” as she holds up a very large, dark brown leaf. “Cool” says Harry. Lucy is polite and gracious. I did worry about the affects that a new baby brother would have on her when she was only three years old. But she took to it incredibly well. The first time she met Harry in the maternity ward of the local hospital, she cried. This would now be her own live baby, to play with and dress up. Sometimes she could be a little rough with him, but with my guidance, she was able to feed him his bottle, cradle him and sing to him. Lucy has a lovely voice and sings everywhere she goes. Much to David’s resistance, we bought her a Karaoke machine for a Christmas present. She sings on it every day and makes up shows of singing and dancing and commands an audience with myself and David. This makes me laugh, more for the fact that David rolls his eyes and makes discreet faces of boredom at me. But he loves Lucy dearly and together we clap our hands enthusiastically at the end of every performance as she gives a bow. I think Lucy will become an actress or a dancer, when she is older. We have already enrolled her in every ballet, tap and gymnastics class and my week is quite busy, driving her to and from all her classes. I will always fully support whatever makes my children happy. I would go without food or clothes, just to keep my children enjoying what life has to offer them. I look down and realise I have barely read any of my book, while I sit alone on the bench. I have been watching the children the whole time. I smile to myself. I feel happy, just in that moment. A voice calls out beyond the trees in front of me. “Children, come on now. We need to get back.” “Come and collect your bikes please”. A tall lady with long, wavy blonde hair, wearing a floral dress and white trainers, sees me and she smiles in my direction. “Come on Harry. Come on Lucy. We need to go if you want to get some ice cream.” Harry and Lucy run towards their mother, who scoops them up and swirls them around in a clumsy, but loveable, embrace. The children collect their abandoned bikes and head off with their mother, over the grassy hill towards the ice cream van and out of my sight. I let out a big, sad sigh. I am not their mother. I am no ones mother. I desperately want to be a mother and my whole body aches to be a mother, but it is not meant to be. After three courses of IVF treatment, David declared we should ‘give up’. Those very words wounded me to the core and I find it hard to accept, but over time, things will get easier. So, sometimes in the sorrow and grief I feel, I sit quietly in the countryside and contemplate my own anguish and I day dream, secretly to myself about what it would feel like to be a mother. I mean no harm to anyone. I imagine myself as somebody’s mother and allow myself to feel happiness, even if only for a few moments in my life.