Can a mother ever be good enough? I know what my son would say …


I was casually telling my son, before his 14th birthday this week, why it was a bigger deal for me than it was for him. His birth was the best day of my life to that point, I explained; it was merely the first day of his life. I was looking out of the window, directly into the Palace of Westminster (it was St Thomas’ hospital, by Westminster Bridge), thinking I had just created something so miraculous that he was actually going to be the salvation of the world. I suddenly understood the story of the baby Jesus – it was a metaphor for the grandiosity of bliss. But I was also half-wondering when my myrrh would arrive. It’s possible I’d had too much gas and air. Still, I was conscious, just about. He was like a tiny blinking hedgehog. QED.

Back in the present day, this really annoyed him. I annoyed him more by going: “What? It’s not like I want you to get me a present. I will still observe your birthday in the regular way. You should just know that, really, it’s my special day.”

A therapist once told me that his patients spent most of their time in his office complaining about their mothers. I asked: is it because the bar is too high and no mother can ever be good enough? Or is it because a mother’s proprietorial intrusion is so great that no one can quite shake the feeling that their mum is watching them go about their business? Take biting your nails, for instance. While the words out of her mouth might be: “Don’t do that, it’s a terrible habit,” the words going around her head are: “Those are still my fingernails. I grew them. If anyone gets to bite them, it’s me. Ew. What a disgusting idea, I don’t want to bite your fingernails.”

The therapist gave me an answer, by the way: it’s both. No mother can ever be good enough, but even if we could be, we wouldn’t be trying, because we are all too busy thinking crazy things.

With this in mind, I am prepared to pretend to believe that TJ’s birthday is actually his. Anyone who wants to wish me a happy giving-birthday can find me on Twitter.