Work like you don't need the money.Love like you've never been hurt.Dance like no-one's watching.Sing like no-one's listening.Live like there's no tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Portrait of My Mother

My Mother has it taken upon herself, at a time when she should be contemplating retirement, to do a task, which most of the schools in our neighbourhood have balked at. She has chosen voluntarily, to come and stay with me and look after my younger son during the week, to enable me to work. This may not sound that extraordinary to those people who always assumed that, when they had children, their Parents would share the child raising responsibility. However many Grandmothers don't live over 100 miles from their grandchildren and many Grandmothers, don't have the unenviable task of spending their whole week with an Autistic Spectrum Child who has not been to school since 2009.
I m not sure if the reality of living with us had actually dawned on my Mother when she arrived two weeks ago, like a vision of hope in the bitter cold of Early March. Like a proverbial Mary Poppins, she has flown around our home, cleaning, cooking, shopping and restoring to white, surfaces that had disappeared under a dusky blanket of dog hair and dust, longer ago than I care to remember! Only my Mother would have the courage to scale the North Face of my Laundry Mountain and within 24 hours restore the cotton Ying and Yang of the household! My son stared into the now empty laundry basket in amazement, saying, "Wow I had forgotten there was actually a basket under all of that?"
She then took on the Fridge. I think she was glad of her Karate expertise, as the contents had moved from jumping to full scale River Dance formations. "You weren't going to use that?" she enquired mildly of a jar dating back to 2007. Peering through the clouded glass I agreed that perhaps we could live without some cranberry sauce which my Ex husband had opened at Christmas ,three years ago. It held no sentimental significance; particularly as I never liked the bl**dy stuff and he was probably imagining smearing it over another sort of breast anyway!
I think my Mother takes stoicism to a whole new realm for the love of her children and grandchildren. When I was newly single, I dragged her on a family holiday to Wales. It rained relentlessly for a week and she remained ferociously cheerful? Heartened by her joie de vivre I decided that the family needed a canoeing experience and on a day when, the contents of the Amazon River seemed to be falling from the skies over Ceredigion; we boarded canoes and paddled upstream on the River Teifi. Perhaps in hindsight, putting a White Water Virgin and a dyspraxic ten year old in a canoe together, was not one of my finer moments... As I ploughed grimly upstream and traversed the rapids, deafened by the barked instructions of my eldest son and the plaintive wailing of my daughter, clinging limpet-like to my back,: I saw through the horizontal rain, the vision of my Mother and younger son, ashen- faced, merrily travelling backwards at some considerable speed downstream, with the fit young instructor paddling frantically after them. As they disappeared over a rapid and were propelled into the bushy undergrowth of the opposite bank, I could faintly hear my mother shouting " Its alright darling it's alright!"
We never saw the Otters, the trip promised. But my Mother was not so easily beaten and although she had to have, " a little lie down" after being prised from the canoe, she bounced back. A day later she was ploughing through the waves at St Davids, armed with a surfboard and to my consternation, looking a hell of a lot better in a wet suit than I ever have!
But back to the present, and despite the almost Dickensian grime and ASBOs of our home, she has been devoted to the task. After the first night however, she alerted me to the fact that she believed the boiler, which stands in the corner of her room, might be about to explode? I replied, rather unsympathetically, that it had sounded like that for years and hadn't blown up yet? How that was ever supposed to reassure her, I had not really taken into consideration? So, on the second night as we got ready for bed, she called me in to her room to listen to the noise she was hearing. Kneeling with my head to the floorboards I was forced to agree that there was indeed a VERY odd noise coming from somewhere in the room and it was definitely not coming from the boiler! In the silence, there came a persistent TAP TAP TAP noise followed by a noise not dissimilar to a marble being rolled along a table top. Further investigation revealed a large collection of sawdust and odd cigar shaped droppings...
Now a lesser woman would have been suspended from the ceiling shrieking in anticipated horror at that point, but to her credit, my Mother simply enquired what I thought it might be? In a flash of inspiration I realised it might actually be our latest rodentine escapee! Before she arrived I had relocated my daughter's hamster to the Boys' bedroom at the other end of the landing. However the tiny Alcatraz expert had made a bid for freedom and in the excitement of my Mother's arrival I had forgotten to look for him?
So we sat companionably, with our knees under our chins and waited until, sure enough, a pointed twitching nose and two pink eyes emerged from under the Toy box. In front of him, this proverbial Samuel Whiskers, was rolling a partly chewed Conker and when he stopped in the middle of the floor, I lunged for him, causing him to shoot like a orange bullet under the wardrobe.
Ten minutes and a long trail of sunflower seeds later, the furry fugitive was captured and my Mother was calmly sweeping up with a dust pan and brush. I apologised profusely, between bouts of hysterical laughter but she wasn't in the slightest bit reproachful of this strange visitor in her bed chamber. Her only concern had been that she thought she was going mad and the noises had been in her mind. I remarked wearily, that horrible noises in my house invariably had horrible origins and I asked why she hadn't woken me up the night before, instead of lying awake in a petrified state of dread? Her answer ? That she "didn't want to wake me because I had been so tired."
In this one of many millions of similar instances, I saw what a Mother's love truly is; selfless, patient and uncomplaining. The sort of love that drives from a Work Commitment, 300 miles away to see her newborn Granddaughter only to have to have drive straight back again. The sort of love that takes her eldest Grandson on a horrific ride at Legoland, despite being terrified of heights; the sort of love that makes a open-ended commitment, to look after an Autistic Spectrum Grandson, that no school can cope with; the sort of love that watches her Daughter cock things up again and again and again and yet always finds a way to tell her that she is a wonderful Mum and daughter and how proud she is of her. There are no words to say thank you for that kind of love, nor enough flowers or diamonds in the Universe to make recompense? And yet she asks for none of these. My only hope is that one day I can live up to the extraordinary standard she has set and that will be considered a fair return on investment.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Moments that money can buy!

I have had another birthday and whilst it brought the usual moments of self doubt and the odd twinge of dismay that, I m getting older and I still haven't reached where I want to be, on the whole this was a pretty good birthday. It is a sad fact that I look forward to my Birthday primarily for the Birthday Money I get sent by devoted and overly generous relatives. Now this may sound crass and greedy, but actually a little financial flexibility, affords me the luxury of spoiling those I love,with treats, whilst still being able to pay all the bills!
So, at the sound of the first Birthday Card plopping on the doormat, I was all primed and ready to race to the bank before closing, so that the awaited cheque would clear that working day. Now I must be clear that I am not angling for sympathy but just reflecting on the "State of Play" that many parents find themselves in, these days. Single Parent or Happily Married the recession has landed many in families in hot water. Middle Class Parents are no longer tossing up between a holiday or a new car but between school fees or the mortgage. Either way it's a no win situation, unless you happen to be the blessed couple who collected the £56 million lottery rollover! But being very British everyone has rallied around and Wives and Mothers have proved themselves endlessly resourceful. Many Mothers I know, have swapped roles with their husbands as City jobs came crashing down around their ears and the newly crowned Househusbands group together for comfort in the playground with the demeanour of shell shock victims. Meanwhile their wives have raced off to the office or classroom secretly hoping no one will discover spare knickers for a potty training two year old, in their handbag?
On the back of the strained financial climate, those of us lucky enough to have jobs clamour like starlings for more hours to try and bridge the deficit between income and expenditure.
Into this dark crevasse falls; the summer wardrobe winking up from the glossy Boden catalogue, the holiday deposit (now camping in a Yurt in Devon instead of Club Med), the Ballet lessons for your youngest, the school ski trip for your eldest.
But in those rare moments of solvency, one experiences a lightness of heart almost like a suppressed giggle. Suddenly you can book an excursion or a treat for the family and the payment clears! My Birthday Money paid the Water Rates; bought a much deserved bunch of spring flowers for my wonderful mum and booked 6 seats for the WWE wrestling for myself, the children and two friends. As I sat on the folding seats at the local Leisure Centre, accompanied by five near-hysterical children, I pondered the contradiction that, although I was way outside my comfort zone and about to watch an event that held zero personal appeal; my children were ecstatically happy. And that, in a nutshell was all it took for a deep sense of contentment to envelope me as I sat surrounded by an ocean of waving, giant foam fingers!
A mother behind me leaned over and asked "Wrestling Virgin?" I nodded and she announced cheerily" Ah, me too, I have to do all this stuff since my husband of 22 years left me six months ago!"She too had a fleet of overexcited small boys accompanying her. " I can't really afford it" she whispered conspiratorially " but you do anything to make it better don't you?"
She settled back to enjoy the show and I did too. It was surprisingly good fun, but for me the highlight was watching my children's faces glowing with delight and anticipation and I was profoundly glad that I had brought them. The Mother behind me poked me shortly before the end of the show and the Compare announced that three little boys had Birthdays that day. They had been granted Back Stage Passes to meet the WWE wrestlers and her son was springing up and down on his seat in delight. "Beat that, Dad!" she muttered through gritted teeth, winking at me.
It seems there is nothing that Parents won't do, to secure those golden moments where your children are ecstatically happy. In a World where nothing is certain and where a Parent cannot even promise their children, that the family they have so painstakingly created, will stay together; then the struggle begins, to create happy memories from the scattered remains of the ideals you once held. Money can't buy Happiness; but the sad truth is, that it sure as hell offers a helping hand, to those of us upon whom, the sole responsibility to create a happy childhood, rests. I asked my son what the best bit of the evening was and his reply was "Seeing you having a good time, Mum!" And it is true, on those rare occasions where I am completely reassured that my children are happy, I do let down the wall I put in place three years ago, at the start of my solo voyage. That in itself is a gift to me, for which I am profoundly grateful and has made this a Birthday to remember.