Mothers can be very disappointing (footnote: yes, me too). As we age, the core of who we are doesn’t really change, it just gets blurred by everything else, and like a pair of glasses that need cleaning, you get used to the way the world looks, but occasionally you take the glasses off, clean them, and remember how lovely it all is. My mother is disappointing. More now than ever. I used to dream of my true birth mother (Joans Bakewell or Sims would do) coming to claim me but it never happened, and I think it’s probably time to let the longing for another mother go. And now she is older, my actual mother has started to disappear. As much as I have been annoyed and irritated and embarrassed and disappointed and delighted and proud and glad and sad for her, I can see that even this is fading. And yet there are days when she is in absolute focus, when she is my mum far more than I am hers
When I left my husband I sketched out a brief and simple story to tell her. Think Eastenders. A story that we could cover in half an hour, including tea. I sat down and began to tell it. But she didn’t let me finish my pretend story, she put her arms round me and just comforted me and talked and listened and I told her things far too complex for half and hour. And she wasn’t shocked, or judgmental, she was balanced and thoughtful and kind and supportive and caring and, in a nutshell, a perfect mother.
And last week she asked me again “what went wrong”. For possibly the one hundredth time. And I knew that that episode of ours hadn’t really happened at all as far as she was concerned. So I have dug out my script and we’ve gone back to pretend.
Most of the time, mercifully, she has far too much going on to worry about my marriage. So, this is how our conversations go:
Me: Mum have you heard from the memory clinic about your appointment?
Mum: What? The physiotherapist?
Me: No the physiotherapist is for your shoulder. Have you heard about the memory clinic yet?
Mum: This shoulder’s giving me gyp. Will they be able to sort it out?
Me: Yes but that’s something else. The nurse said you need to go to the memory clinic when they send you an appointment
Mum: Did they? Who said I needed to go to the memory clinic? Is it for my shoulder?
Me: Oh it’s fine, don’t worry I’ll ring the doctor.
3 minutes later
Mum: (surprised to hear from me after all this time) Oh hello love! Are you OK?
Me: Yes, I just rang the doctor about the memory clinic
Mum: Is it about my shoulder?
I suppose if it was happening to someone else it would be interesting slash funny. How can what was known and understood, now be gone? And how could someone who was once a kick-ass Tupperware lady balancing bowls, lids and bookings no longer be able to hold a date and time between the phone and the calendar?
It’s happening to us all of course. It always has, and probably always will. They say that the first person to live to 200 has already been born, and to be perfectly honest, I sort of hope it’s not my mother.
Sometimes I think my mother has forgotten how to behave. But I have come to the conclusion that she’s actually forgotten to pretend. If she could remember to pretend, this is what she’d remember:
That it’s probably better to keep a lid on your prejudices
Mum: (Pointing at man) He’s the paedophile with the dogs and the knitting so Monica says he can’t come to tea
Me: Er. Are you sure you mean paedophile?
Mum: Oh, I don’t know. Gay, or whatever they call it these days.
Memory nurse: And who is the President of the United States?
Mum: Oh. Dammit. The coloured one. You can’t say coloured now of course. We always used to during the war and no-one seemed to mind. I remember the first time we saw coloureds, GIs, black as your hat. What the devil do they call him? Nice looking chap. What we used to call half caste. (delight at remembering) Osama Bin Laden?
Mum: …and the Romanians are giving us all TB again.
Me: I thought that was badgers?
Mum: They aren’t bringing in badgers too are they?
That squirrels are not a domestic pet
Mum: …and get me some more squirrel food would you?
Me: Mum you can’t feed squirrels. Don’t encourage them
Mum: But they’re cold Gillian! And some of them are tiny!
Mum: …and come quickly! I can’t get the squirrels out of the bedroom!
That your inhibitions have previously stood you in good stead with the wider community
Scene: Outside Boots on a busy Saturday.
Mum: Oh I need to pop in here.
(Street falls silent as mother shout loudly at daughter)
Mum: I’ve got those blessed piles again. I feel like my bottom’s on fire
That it’s better not to comment about other people
Scene: The day surgery. There are 12 cubicles all screened by curtains that clearly do not offer any sound proofing
Woman in next cubicle to anesthetist: Yes doctor, I’m allergic to dust
Mum: (in the style of Kenneth Williams) Aren’t we all, dear?
Anaesthestist to mum: Do you have any allergies?
Mum : (In direction of allergic to dust woman) Yes I’m allergic to the washing up!
That your daughter was embarrassed by you at 15 and is still capable of humiliation at 51
Mum to assistant in shoe shop: I don’t suppose you have any shoes that my daughter would fit into have you? She’s got huge feet
Other people are not deliberately ringing you up during Eastenders
Mum: …and she deliberately rings me up during Eastenders…
In a five-year-old this disinhibition is excruciating, but we reassure ourselves once the object of your child’s fascination has gone from view, at least they will grow up and learn to pretend. Mum’s done her growing up though and there isn’t really a great deal to look forward to. We will speak later about the physiotherapist and the memory nurse and I’ll try and remember to keep pretending that this is the first time