I’ve wanted to write a post about my Mum – DorkyGranny – for months. I tried to write one for Mother’s Day, but it didn’t quite come together. I have heard it said before that stories become easier to tell the more often you tell them, and I’m realising that to be true. I’ve had to tell the ‘story’ of DorkyDad and me so often that I’m now completely comfortable with it, and it flows very easily. I have a fairly set vocabulary and phrases that I will always use when telling people about my marriage, but I haven’t yet found the language that feels right for talking about Mum. She is staying with us this week though, so it seemed like as good a time as any to try again.
The word that first comes to mind when I think about my Mum is gratitude.
It is only when you become a parent yourself that you realise the work your own mother put in. I had no idea how much effort it takes to keep a household running – even a small one like ours. The endless dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping… remembering the birthdays of everyone in the extended family, making sure there are clean clothes to wear and shoes that fit, organising haircuts and doctor’s appointments and repeat prescriptions… making sure the bills are paid, the house is insured, the holidays are booked… It is not thrilling stuff, but it’s essential to keeping a family happy and functioning.
I have always had a good relationship with my mum, but now I have a whole new level of gratitude, and a new understanding of how hard she worked.
It is the silliest of things that I sometimes find myself getting emotional about. Now that I know how hard it is to keep a house stocked up with all the right kinds of food, I understand how much effort she put in to making interesting meals for us on a tight budget. When I think of my Mum, I think of warmth and good smells in the kitchen – stews, soups, roasts and pies. Scones, stir fries and banana bread. Lemon chicken and lattice treacle tart. It was from her that I learnt how to make a good omelette, and the world’s best potato salad.
I would come home from school and sit on the radiator in the kitchen window. We would drink tea and chat about the day while she prepared dinner. So perhaps it is no surprise that now, many years on, I feel most like a Mum myself when DorkySon and I are bustling around in the kitchen doing some baking. That urge to provide, to fill little bellies and to see plates scraped clean, is far stronger than I had ever imagined.
So another word that springs to mind is nurturer.
But my Mum is also creative – she is a painter, and a crafter. I have many memories of visiting her studio, which even to six year old me provided a glimpse into the woman beyond the wife and mother. I loved her big seascapes, her palettes that were smudged with oils, and the intoxicating smell of white spirit, which she used to clean her brushes. She went back to school as an adult to get the necessary pieces of paper – the formal acknowledgement that yes, she could paint – and soon after was accepted to art college. I am so proud of that, and still sad that life got in the way and she couldn’t take her place.
For a year or two, when I was at primary school, Mum worked in the bank. It seemed to me like the most glamorous job imaginable. She would put on her staff uniform and pearly pink lipstick, scoosh a wee whiff of perfume on her wrists, and walk down the village in her blue, heeled court shoes. How I longed to know what went on in that grownup world of finance. I envisaged her sorting through towering stacks of gold coins and thick wads of notes.
I suspect the reality was somewhat less glamorous but again, in retrospect, that just makes me all the prouder. The challenge for mothers of finding the right work-life balance is not a new one, and I know that all the questions currently churning around in my head about what to do when DorkySon starts school, and what kind of job I’ll be able to find, are questions that my Mum had to deal with twenty years ago.
When I find myself questioning my decisions as a mother, I think about what my own Mum would have done. I hope that as DorkySon grows older I can find the same balance that she managed of being a source of security and comfort, but not being stifling.
Tonight we sat down to a dinner which I had made – chicken soup – which had been simmering away on the stove all afternoon, filling the house with a lovely smell, and steaming up the kitchen windows with the heat.
A bowl of soup is not really an adequate thank you for all she has done.
But it felt good.
It is a start.