Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

When the Vicar marvelled over a recipe for 'Penis Stew' in a Two Fat Ladies' cookbook, my mother roamed the Home Counties in search of an abattoir that would supply a bull's glory to expand his culinary repertoire.

When intuition told her that I was ill was during a phone call from university, she got in the car at 5am and drove 120 miles to nurse me.

When my newborns wore me down at night, a dressing-gowned figure would emerge from the guest room and bear them away till dawn.

When I admired a garment or a garden plant it would turn up inside my luggage when I reached home.

When the children grew, the bottom drawers in two chests were cleared to become treasure stores and were filled with novelties when they visited.

When, the day after her accident, I was clearing the Christmas presents she'd begun buying, I found she'd remembered the rose hand cream I'd once raved over and predicted the 11 year-old's craving for a jewellery casket.

Everything she did for us was a tribute; everything we did for her she deemed a favour to be acknowledged with notes of blissful gratitude.

Now it is we who look after her - wheeling her in her chair as she once pushed us, cutting her food, cleaning her teeth and calming her terrors. It's painful to see the family pillar so dependent. But it's a privilege to have the chance to repay her.

This Mothering Sunday is a poignant one.  We so nearly lost our mother. The woman who survived is more child than matriarch, but even through her anguish she exudes still that wondering gratitude for her family. And as I adjust to mothering her, I appreciate more fully the years she has toiled for us.

When parents go, there's no buffer generation between us and eternity. I once took her devotion for granted; now it's the only thing to have survived that November night intact and I'm conscious that, for most of us, every day that we still have our mothers is a blessing.

Happy Mothering Sunday.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Life Essentials

The Vicar has confiscated the 11-year-old's iPod. 'You may as well,' she sobs, 'take away my life!'

Upstairs she sags desolately, contemplating 24 hours without Instagram, Jesse J and hair-styling videos on YouTube. I am fascinated by her grief. Self-sufficiency, I tell myself, is one of the perks of maturity. Fate might rob me of any of my possessions and I'd be none the poorer, provided health and loved-ones remained intact.

I enjoy the smugness this realisation causes me and, leaving her adrift without her prop, I go downstairs to make breakfast. Then the blow strikes. Someone's scraped out the last of the Marmite. The jar is empty. I have to face 24 hours without Marmite toast inside me.

My complacency evaporates. I am not invincible. Shaken, I start to ponder the material objects to which I'm enslaved. The length of the list dismays me. I feel sudden empathy with my bereft daughter for I realise that I would struggle to live without:

My wellies. Hunters, don't you know, bought to mitigate the embarrassment of my M&S labels at the school gate. Faithfully they have seen me through stream-wading, pond pick-axeing, mud-floundering and parents' evenings. Every mud splash is a memory. They are removed each day only to accommodate my slippers.

My fountain pen. It and its two predecessors have endeavoured to make sense of my days through thirty years of diary entries. It has maintained friendships when long miles have intervened and relieved my mind when my thoughts have tangled.

Bendicks Bittermints. Lent is a misery without them. I am a misery without them.

My hot water bottle. It's elderly, dust-rimed and spattered with the fall-out from family flossing, but I turn in with shameless speed after dinner so urgently do I desire to embrace this bedfellow.

My bottle opener. Every night for eleven years this has heralded respite from my children. As soon as they are in bed I flee to it. Tin openers, tea spoons, corkscrews are feckless things, always absconding from the kitchen drawer, but this friend is a faithful presence in all emergencies.

I shan't, of course, confess my new empathy with my daughter. Instead I tell my children that material objects are of illusory worth; that love, courage and kindness are the only meaningful legacy we leave behind us. When the Vicar announces the death of a parishioner the 9-year-old assumes an expression of pious sorrow. I hope he's about to repeat these newly-learned insights.

But - 'Poor woman,' he laments. 'Fancy having to die before they've released the iPhone 6!'

What couldn't you live without?