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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Sad Bad Mum

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When you are a comedian people say things to you that they wouldn’t say to other people. They think you can handle it. They think that you don’t have feelings like normal people. That you are bulletproof. That everything is a joke. That you dish it out so you can take it. Which is generally true.

Most times you can say anything to me. I have pretty good self-esteem. I don’t tend to take things personally. I don’t take it on. I see the funny side. Most of the time. But not yesterday.

Yesterday I was tired, and already feeling a bit sad. That generalised Sunday kind of sad – the kind of sad you want to put in the oven with a roast dinner and pull out when it’s done. That sad has sat on me for some time but it’s not depression. It’s just a human sad. I don’t like how easily depression is used to categorise our normal sad feelings. I understand that depression for a lot of people is an illness. But my sad feelings aren’t an illness. They’re just part of me adjusting to the changes in my life and trying to accept that I can’t control everything. That’s a ‘sad’ trigger for me.

Some days the reminder of my dwindling significance sits on my shoulders as a dark wet blanket. It makes me wonder who I am, what my purpose is. It’s generally got to do with my kids. About their not needing me any more. About their childhood being over. About my being a crap mum. About how much of their life I’ve missed out on because I’ve been working. Or not paying attention. About how I can never get that time back. About how no matter how hard I try I can’t recall their baby faces except in photographs. About missing those moments when they sat wrapped in a towel on my lap, or smelling the tops of their sweet little heads as I pull them close to me, about their feeling like I can solve anything, about sneaking in and watching them while they sleep.

I wasn’t prepared for how hard it is to have your kids grow up. To become so physically and emotionally separate from me. I know it’s a privilege to have healthy, adjusted kids, but letting go sucks. I’ve never been good at that shit. It’s why I breastfed them all for three years each. It clearly had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. I was the one who struggled with separation, who mourned when they no longer slept in my bed. I have been known to tip-toe into their rooms at night and sneak into their beds. They would wake in shock at 3am to find their mum spooning them. I’m sure that’s gonna come up in therapy in years to come.

So yesterday I fly back in from a job in Townsville and spend the day helping my eldest daughter move into a new place she’s rented in Brisbane. I hang her paintings. I make her bed. I sit watching her hang her clothes and feel the pang of seeing your child’s place away from you. I give her my usual lecture about ‘getting a job’, recalling it’s the same lecture my mother gave me. I feel happy for my girl but it’s that feeling of joy with an ouch in it. I am starting to get used to it. But I still get the sting.

We go to the airport to say goodbye to Charlie who’s flying to Italy with his school. I’m terrible at airport goodbyes. I’m an embarrassing sobber. I’m excited for him – it’s just a month. But it’s a long way. He’s just 16. At the airport I see his group. There’re almost as many mums as there are kids. I think they’ve come to say goodbye but they’re going to Italy too. I’m the only parent at the airport who isn’t going. That’s when one of the mums says something that I am sure was intentioned as a joke but didn’t land that way. She says, ‘Oh what a shame you can’t go. You have to stay here working to pay for your kid’s going.’ Ouch.

I smile one of those fake smiles you smile when you feel like saying ‘go fuck yourself’. I’m thinking, who would say something like that to a person? I have that feeling I had when I was a kid at school when you get excluded. When you’re not part of the ‘in’ group. I’m not. I guess I have never been. The ‘in’ group is the group of mums going. The ‘out’ group is me not going. The really good mums who have been able to dedicate themselves to their kids in a way I have never been able to. Yes, I’ve had to work to pay for them and I miss out because of it. I feel like a loser. It’s the you’re loser kind of sad that settles on me.

This morning I get a call from my daughter, who is in Italy waiting to see her brother. She’s crying in pain because she’s burnt her leg badly with hot oil. I tell her what to do. It’s a big nasty burn. If I weren’t such a loser I’d be arriving in a day or so and I would be there with her too. But I’m not. I’m here writing about being a sulking loser. I might be a shit mum but I get paid for it.

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  1. Keep up the great work Mandy and keep up getting paid for it. You have the ability to wrap words around my feelings. Each week you touch a funny bone and you also touch a sore spot at the same time. Thanks for that.
    As an older mother with children also older than yours all I can say is “It doesn’t get any easier”.
    I am glad you had to stay home and work

  2. Shit Mum. But funny shit Mum. That counts. Loved this piece. Great writing but even better disection of the strands of emotion we all feel but cant describe.


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