Naoise slumbered as I got Sydney off to school.

I noticed that Naoise had been picking his nose in his sleep and the end of one of his fingers was coating in blood. He wouldn’t wake, so I picked him out of his dreams held him close cuddled him to my chest. The smell of ammonia from his morning nappy filled the air. I love this smell of sodden wee. The weight of the nappy  as it drops into my hands. I enjoy the process of folding the nappy up in on itself , forming a tight bundle to throw away.


My brain is numb with tiredness.


Today started with me smashing one of my favourite plates. The sound of it breaking on the kitchen floor was crisp, clear, beautiful. I didn’t feel sad or annoyed with myself, I was not surprised by my lack of coordination. I reassembled the jigsaw of broken plate pieces. I thought of my head and how shattered and broken it has sometimes felt by the enormity of mothering, the responsibility, the work of nurture, protection, play ,providing, punctuated by small moments of joy. I thought about Yoko Ono’s Mend Piece 1966, in which she asks the viewer to complete the work by providing the tools for which they can mend objects such as broken plates. I thought about how words could heal, how they could make sense of fragments of emotions. Then I went into the bathroom and keeled over at the monstrous washing pile, growing on the floor. All our dirtied clothes tangled together in a sprawl.


In the rush to get Naoise out of the door, I gave up on brushing his teeth, instead I stuffed the brush and paste into the bottom of the pram to complete this task at nursery. Naoise sat on top of his snuffly pillow in the pram and cuddled up all womb like to snooze some more. I pushed hard, with purpose, past the rush hour traffic. At the corner of the library I accidentally tipped him out of the pram, he tumbled like a bean onto the tarmac at the edge of the road, unblemished but annoyed with my clumsiness. I felt very stupid and foolish. I replaced the pillow on top of him instead of below to prevent him making a dive again. I thought about how vulnerable he was.

In the reception area of the Sure Start centre I read him two books. I carefully follow the words speaking each out loud for him, but my mind does not follow the story, I am only half here. Me and him remember to brush his teeth before we go into the nursery. He delights in the taps and the plug. Eventually he concedes to my wishes and brushes.


We hold each others hands as we are buzzed into the corridor of the nursery which is full of the smells of onions and garlic. We enter through a heavy glassed door. He is met by the smiles of the care workers. He looks feverishly for his friend Frank, who is washing his hands, a red tea towel is tied around his neck so that he has super powers. Naoise is relieved to find him, and joins him to wash hands and sit politely on the carpet for fruit snacks.

I request a kiss before I leave and his small lips touch mine with a light sweetness. He nonchalantly says “See you mum”

I am gone.

The sense of relief and freedom that I feel after I have left him at the nursery is huge. I feel unburdened, my whole body lighter, swifter, it move’s with ease.

I walk home via the canal path and the road to Dobroyd Castle. I notice how attuned I am to sounds that I never hear when I am with my children. Its bright and sunny, lawn mowers cut long grass filled with buttercups, the station announces the arrival and departure of the Manchester Victoria train, a magpie chatters, a dog barks, wood is being chopped, men talk whilst re-roofing a house, a car alarm goes off and midges dance as flecks of light.


I cross the railway and walk up hill, I notice how vigorous the himaylayan balsam is as it pushes through the surface of the road. Light steams through the woods, and I am taken back for a moment to 1976, falling into a bed of nettles and my mum smothering my body with chamomile lotion to sooth the tingling pain of the stings on every surface of my skin.

A sparrow runs too and throw in front of my steps.


Reaching the top of the path, the sounds of children playing lifts through the valley. I pause to look at the dog rose bush, which is covered in bees and wasps. One bee is franticly collecting nectar in the cup of a flower, spinning around like a dervish. The children’s voices, yell, screech, shout, as they chase around the playground, and these sounds mingle with the buzz of the bee.


Down the hill and families of fox gloves protruding from stone walls hold on. A digger shifts daily detritus from skips. I pass a mirror, round as a moon. I hear the work men tarmacking the road singing. I look at myself and I am surprised . I haven’t gazed at myself in such a long time. Back along the canal at my feet I see a dragon fly, its electric blue wings the same hue as the sky.


At home, I sit here supping water, eating a banana. In front of me is Naoise abandoned bowl of shredded wheat. Soaked through with milk each mini wheat  a pregnant pillow. I feel guilty as I think of Naoise spending the morning feeling hungry at nursery, how shared fruit hardly fills up an energetic boy .

About Helen Sargeant

I am a visual artist, mother of two children aged 12 and 4, and co-founder of the MeWe arts collective. I intend to use this site to explore how my personal experiences as a mother informs my arts practice. To reflect upon the maternal in relationship to memory, loss, and mental health in particu…Read more


More posts by Helen Sargeant

2 Responses to “Shattered”

  1. christina

    I loved reading this. Partly this was reading this as a nursery teacher. So as the person at the other end of the handed over child it was good to reflect on the the experience of the mother leaving the child at nursery. And to have that experience exposed in such a moment by moment and sensed way. The walk away from the nursery was so full of vivid detail of the body experiencing the space it was passing through, while up to the separation the child was occupying so much mental and physical space. And of course my work day, when spent with a room of three year olds, becomes one where everything wider dissolves and I am reacting and responding moment by moment. As work this can be so satisfying as you are rooted into the here and now and so fully focussed on other people. But it swallows you up so entirely you lose yourself, and the detail of the world gets lost.
    I also related to the mother listening to the child: “my mind does not follow the story, I am only half there”. And how often I share this feeling, and how when I catch it I feel bad, but at same time feel so lost about what I would want to listen to with my full attention as I feel so tugged in so many directions.

  2. Helen Sargeant

    I often long to be apart from my children, but then it leaves me feeling disorientated. I wished the weeks away towards to the free 15 hours childcare, I wished the weeks away until my children started school. Then I missed them I missed the space of being with my children, time that is not so organised, fragmented or demands what you do with it. I miss this stuck, limbo land world.
    I struggle to remain in the present moment with my children, my mind often wonders elsewhere. I am constantly juggling thoughts and ideas mentally, the physical world demands that I juggle too. I am only half here for much of the time, it leaves me feeling guilty.
    I often question am I giving them enough attention ? I don’t want to be overbearing and smothering either. How to find a balance on all the conflicting demands of being a mother, I think perhaps this is an impossible ideal. I am kidding myself that I will ever find a balance.
    I am wondering also how I will cope with returning to paid work when I find it. Though I am sure it will be liberating to earn money, I realise that I will find it hard to manage the smaller amounts of fragmented time and the added demands on myself.


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