There’s a tear in my eye already and I’ve only typed the title of this post. It could be because the lining of my uterus is currently evacuating via the usual route, or because the subject matter is, as I’m sure it is for a lot of other people, particularly precious and sensitive. Either way, today, I want to talk about my Mum (and if you want to cry with me, then please take this moment to grab a tissue or a jumper sleeve or the back of a takeaway menu).
Last Thursday, I was ill. Something crazy was going on in my stomach, I was bloated and uncomfortable and waddling around like I was 7 months pregnant, and do you know who I called? My Mum. And do you know who came over, with a bag full of goodies and enough time to clean my kitchen? My Mum. I’d only asked her to bring me paracetemol and soup, but in she came, wielding a Tescos bag full of chocolate and tablets and stocks of soup and fancy bread, just in case I couldn’t decide on which flavour took my fancy. “Don’t get up,” she called, as I heard the familiar *ping* of the microwave echo through the hallway. “I’ll bring it in to you.”
And that she did; I was presented with a near-to-overflowing bowl of broccoli & stilton soup (my choice, judge me at will), sourdough bread neatly sliced into three equals portions with lashings of salty butter to boot. All at once I was 10 years old again, propped up in front of the sofa with a day off school, waiting for my Mum to take care of me.
I realised the other day that one of the most poignant parts of growing up, is understanding how little you appreciated your parent(s) when you should. (Disclaimer: I know this won’t apply to everybody and that we each have very different relationships with whoever is or was our primary caregiver; this post is purely about my own personal relationship with my Ma, so it isn’t to be read as a ‘this is how everybody should feel about their parents’ kind of thing.) Their 21 questions are felt as intrusiveness, their strictness as over-protectiveness, their strong opinions as being out of touch. In your teens, all you want is for your parents to take a step back and to let you breathe. As an adult in your twenties, all you want is for them to come back and take care of you again.
I then realised the silver lining: that despite regrettably giving them a hard time when your crush on Chris Brown felt undeniable and more real than anyone could ever understand (yep, regret that too), acknowledging that you were a dickhead as a teenager means that you can properly appreciate your parents now. And that’s precisely how I feel about my Mum.
Despite my horrifically stereotypical teenage episodes, my Mum and I have always been very close. I have so many random, niche memories of growing up around her, such as having to be paid 50p to have my hair washed because I hated it so much (remember when you were younger and someone used to try and detangle that gathering of hairs at the nape of your neck? SO PAINFUL), or me bribing her with back massages to stay up late on a Sunday night. Bribery didn’t always work, however; I have one memory of us traipsing around ASDA as our little family unit (me, my brother and my Mum), and Mum offering to buy me a new denim jacket for Autumn. I attempted to bargain with her: wouldn’t a computer game called Catz be more useful? I mean, I’d definitely get more use out of it. Plus I really wanted it. The denim jacket, not so much.
But would she give in? Would she hell. I left ASDA that day both bored and cold (okay, not cold, but for the sake of the story a little hyperbole is necessary).
When she finally broke up with my Dad and started dating again, those few hours of pre-date preparation were dedicated to our sacred rituals of hair styling and cream eyeshadow and far, far too much bronzer (sorry Mum, I was going through a phase). We’d share our predictions for the evening ahead, more like best friends than mother and daughter. Would there be awkward silences? Would they smooch? Would my Mum get too pissed and launch herself down the slide at our local park? (True story.) A lot of the time her date would pick her up at the door, and there I’d be, answering with a smile and snooping at their outfit. I’d then go upstairs to grab Mum from the bedroom, and either give her the look - okay, not too bad - or the “look” - Mum, what on EARTH?
My relationship with my Dad is a peculiar one, and we’ve only very recently reconnected after not having seen each other for 7 years. Even when we did see each other, for as long as I can remember, my Dad hasn’t been a Dad. He’s been more like a fun, but albeit unreliable and vacant uncle. My Mum, on the other hand, was a constant. She did the best single Mum job that any single Mum could, and it’s only now, now that some of my friends are starting to have children and that adult life, with all of its difficulties and complexities and tapestries of emotion is starting to unfold, that I can truly appreciate her value as a parent.
One of the things I will always credit my Mum for is how open and approachable she was. There was nothing I couldn’t speak to her about. Drugs, sex, money, dreams; whatever it was, I could ask. And she’d answer, honestly (or as honestly as the situation would allow - there are some things which an easy-to-influence 14 year old don’t need to hear, not just yet anyway). I always felt safe talking to her, and I wasn’t alone. A lot of my friend’s and my brother’s friends felt that way too, and our house became the house that everybody piled in to. Whether we were spending our Saturday nights pretending to get pissed on knock-off WKDs, or desperately trying to double-bounce each other off of the trampoline in a thinly-veiled attempt at injury, we always had people over and the door was always open.
And Mum would be there, assuaging our overinflated boy troubles and cooking batches of bacon sandwiches come Sunday morning. She’d sing with us and dance with us and then tell us to shut up because we were probably disturbing the neighbours. She gave us freedom but she gave us safety, and most of all - at least, especially for me - she gave me the ability to make my own decisions. All too easily could I have decided to half-arse it at school and spend my time bluetoothing Limewire songs, but I wanted to do well because she told me that I could, and I wanted to create the kind of life for myself that she’d insisted I was capable of.
She wasn’t perfect, but neither was I. Is any parent or any child? The relationship that we share doesn’t override the fact that we’re both still human beings in our own right, and there are still plenty of things that we disagree about now. Plenty of times when she wishes I wasn’t so snappy and I wish that she wasn’t so stubborn. But I’m recognising now that for any fault I’d picked at as a pissy teen, underneath was a woman - just like moi - trying to do her best against the odds. A woman who had the same ambitions and dreams and sarcastic wit that I do now, who was dealt a hand that meant her life took a different direction. She’s my Mum, but she’s her own woman too.
And at the heart of it, right down to the very core of our mother and daughter bond, we just really, truly love each other. And I’m so grateful for her. I try and force my independence with a ferocity that sometimes is more damaging to myself than helpful, but Mum is always there to assume her role as the person to take care of me. Even in the little actions like making me soup and cleaning my kitchen, I’m given a break from being the one in control. For a little while, I can subside, and exist behind the frontlines.
I may only now be appreciating her for all that she’s done and is doing, but I think it’s about time to say thank you. I love you Mum, you’re the best.