Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Being Indispensible

Vocabulary in our vicarage is limited. If a bishop strays by, we may muster dialogue on theological ethics and we are capable of whole sentences on Haagen Dazs ice cream flavours. But mostly the family gets by on a catch-all three-letter word: mum.

It serves as an expletive: 'M@!*M!! (You made me drop my iPod!)
As an SOS: 'Muuumm! (There's a ghost under my mattress...)
As an imperative: 'MUMMM!' (Come and get Barbie's hair out of the plug hole)
As a warning: 'Mu-um!' (Don't dare wear that corduroy to school)
As a prevarication: 'Ask Mum...' (...why you should iron your nightie for your wedding night)

It is a privilege to be indispensible. But privileges can be wearing. The word is a prefix to almost every communication. And it is a prefix I am obliged laboriously to acknowledge before these communications can proceed, even if I am alone in the room with the speaker.

'Mum?'
'Yes?'
'I've changed my sneeze. Do you like it?'

'Mum?'
'Yes?'
'Are you a mum?'

Lately, I've made attempts to ban this most irritating of words. 'Just say what you want to say!' I bark as it cuts across my efforts to conquer the oven timer. In retaliation the children have upped the ante.

'Mum?'
'Yes?'
'Nothing!!'

'I say, Mum...'
'What?'
'Nothing!!'

When they are dispatched on a five-day holiday camp, that wretched sound is silenced. I indulge in leisurely pursuit of my deadlines, my assistance unsought and my approval uncalled for. I am briefly expendable and the novelty is beguiling.

Then: 'Mum!!' shrill two voices across the school hall as I arrive at the end to collect them. I realise that the three-letter word has a meaning that I'd missed and the sound of it suddenly enchants me. Those childless days were revitalising, but I've missed being indispensible.

On the drive home I resolve to be unstintingly maternal and to deserve that cherished sobriquet. Then the 10-year-old fears she has forgotten her stuffed elephant. I glance in the rear view mirror and brace myself for the onslaught. When it comes, it conveys rage, grief and recrimination in a single slaying syllable:

'MUM!'









15 comments:

  1. Remember when you were desperate to hear the word trip off of the tongue of your first born child.....If I had a pound for everytime I heard the word Mum or Mummy in a day I would be the richest woman who ever lived. Syd can say Mummy 17 times in a row without breathing, just because he is enjoying having mastered its pronounciation. But as you say, once not heard for a few days it briefly regains its magic. Briefly. xx

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    Replies
    1. I'd forgotten those early days when it was a novelty. The word that cursed me through toddlerdom was 'Why?'

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  2. Ha!!!! Why is it never Dad?

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  3. I tried to ban the word 'mom', it didn't work, they said it more. I, instead, just found a good place to hide.

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  4. Sometimes I'd love to be plain old Mum again. My kids have developed a series of alternatives. Mother (is nice), Mudder (less so), Mama (from our days in America), and Mastress (because they call Husband 'Master' and have worked out their own female form).

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    Replies
    1. I'd always been 'Mummy' until my daughter realised that it undermined her street cred and my son watched too much Angelina Ballerina.

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  5. During the school summer holidays I have never heard my 'job title' yelled out so much! So glad the little darlings are going back to school, my ears are exhausted!

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  6. Oh I love this post. I was just telling some offline friends today about the Story of Mum. We agreed that being a Mum is so complex, that once you are one, you crave freedom, but as my own Mum said after my Dad died, "It's terribly lonely not to be needed by anyone." Being a Mum is such a paradox of desires.

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