Anyone who knows me, knows my mum even if they have never met her because I talk about her all the time. I talk about her because she is what is commonly known as “a character”. But when I started to think about what to write about my mum on Mother’s Day, I didn’t know where to start. There is too much material. My husband calls her “omnipresent” and he has taught Noah to call her that too. (He has also taught Noah to call her “doolally”…).
To put my thoughts into some kind of order, I am going to write ten (slightly random) facts about my mum which will hopefully serve both to depict her character as well as show what she is like as a mother.
- She always gets what she wants
I am my mum’s first born child. She wanted a girl, a princess, a dolly to dress up. When she was in labour, her midwife was listening to my heartbeat and told my mum that she was having a boy because of the heartrate. “I’m having a girl,” Mum said with absolute certainty (obviously, they never used to tell you the sex from a scan in 1981). The midwife disagreed; she was sure I was going to be a boy. Mum was more sure. Experience and expertise amounts to nothing when my Mum is sure about something. Obviously, I was a girl. In my Mum’s own words: it’s better to be born lucky than rich. Mum was definitely born lucky. She somehow always comes out on top. As my nan used to say, if my mum fell down a manhole, she would come up with a bunch of flowers. My family like a good proverb.
Except there was one time she was wrong…She was convinced Noah was going to be a girl. She was so sure that she bought girl’s clothes in the Monsoon sale almost as soon as she knew I was pregnant. When I had my 20 weeks scan and found out I was having a boy, I was in a state of disbelief. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked the sonographer. She pointed to his hazy little willy on the screen (which I couldn’t make out myself but trusted she knew what she was talking about). I had so much faith in my mum’s certainty I was having a girl, that I felt a bit shaken. We had actually been referring to the baby as “Nellie” after my Nan. Then I went into Baby Gap and bought lots of boy’s clothes and all was fine with the world. And I wouldn’t change my Noah for no girl.
- When I was pregnant, I nicknamed her Granzilla
My god was she excited she was going to be getting a grandchild. She was, quite literally, delirious with excitement. She bought him several £60 baby grows. Here is an excerpt from one phone conversation a month before Noah was born:
Granzilla: (excited tone) The knitted outfit I ordered to be made has come. It’s so cute! Knitted hat, cardigan, mittens, leggings and booties.
Granzilla: He needs to keep warm. It’s so cute!
Me: What colour?
Me: (incredulous tone) MINK?
Granzilla: (stern tone) You’d better tell me if you don’t like it because it was expensive.
Me: I don’t like it.
Granzilla: Wait until you see it first. Nina thinks it’s cute, don’t you Nina?
Me: I don’t want my son looking like a giant squirrel.
In the run up to the birth, she couldn’t sleep a wink. She said if she could give birth for me, she would. At the time, I thought she was being ridiculous. And then I gave birth. And I understood.
- She could have been anything she wanted to be
She has the kind of brain that can wrap itself around anything. If something’s broken, she will tackle it until it is fixed. When she is reading a detective novel/watching a thriller on TV, she always knows who dunnit. But she left school when she was 15 without any qualifications. She went to work in the family driving school business and later became a driving instructor. She is like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes scroll over with pound signs. She has expensive tastes (e.g. one babygrow for the price of six) and that was no different when she was a teenager. She would save her earnings to buy designer items. “Buy cheap, you buy twice,” she often tells me, lover of Primark and Asda that I am. She has always worked hard, sometimes seven days a week for seventy hours. Even now, approaching 65, she shows no sign of slowing down. Her work ethic is incredible. My sister has inherited it; I have not. I work hard to be the best teacher I can be but I am not interested in making any more money on top of that doing hours of tutoring. I’d rather be poor and have time to read a book.
Of course, she is the best driving instructor there is.
- She is a glamorous woman
My Mum’s outfit for my sister’s wedding cost more than my wedding dress (and my wedding dress wasn’t cheap). She saw a picture of Helen Mirren in a magazine at some awards ceremony and admired her dress. She admired it so much that she scoured the internet until she discovered the source of this dress. My Mum, my sister and I traipsed up to London to this exquisite dress maker and looked at her designs and materials. They were beautiful. Mum designed herself an outfit with minimal help from the shop assistant and picked herself a matching hat. As we left the shop, she decided she wouldn’t get that dress, it was too expensive. A few days later she had decided that yes, she would have that dress: your daughter only gets married once (she hoped). Imagine how many driving lessons she has had to do to pay for that dress. But it made her happy and that’s what’s important in this life, right? “You’re a long time dead,” she says. It was the dress of a film star or a Queen and she deserved it.
- She delights in winding people up
In December, I received a text message from her informing me she had bought me a new set of bathroom towels for Christmas. Towels?? Towels? I didn’t care whether they matched my new bathroom perfectly. I phoned her straight up, full of outrage. I didn’t want towels for bloody Christmas. Ha ha, only joking, she said. Wind up. Noah can often be heard roaring at the top of his lungs, “STOP WINDING ME UP NANA!” and she loves it.
- She is the most generous person I know
My sister and I have always had everything we wanted, as well as everything we needed. We both had sparkly new cars sitting in the driveway on the morning of our seventeenth birthdays. We had the best education. We had the best clothes and the best toys and the best birthday parties and the best holidays. There was nothing we didn’t have. (Of course, this is due to the generosity of my Dad as well as my Mum). It’s the same with Noah. My Mum loves to give. Everyone she knows gets a Christmas present. Do you have to buy that person a present, I ask (usually because I have been tasked with finding the present whilst “nipping” to Lakeside)? Another thing about my Mum: she like to delegate.
- She had the worst gallbladder that Princess Alexandra Hospital had ever seen
A week after my sister’s wedding, my Mum took herself to A&E and was admitted to hospital. Her gallbladder was choc-full with gallstones. They had spilled into the bile duct and were blocking it. Her gallbladder was inflamed and infected. It would have to be removed. Because she was born lucky rather than rich, it was a week after the wedding and not a week before. Last February, she went into hospital to have it removed. It was a procedure that would take 45 minutes. She would be out later the same day. Except it didn’t and she wasn’t. It took five hours and later that same day, she was in intensive care. The surgeon started to attempt to remove the gallbladder by keyhole but had to call in his superior. It was the worst gallbladder they had ever seen. The nurses later told her that she was the talk of the hospital. Hadn’t it been causing her any pain? She shrugged. What is pain to my mother? A minor inconvenience.
It was the worst day of my life. My dad was prowling the corridors of the hospital trying to find out where she was, what had happened? I was at home with Noah and my sister, waiting for news. When she finally came out of surgery, we kept being told “she’s in recovery”. This went on for seven hours and I came face to face with my biggest fear: would she recover?
But she did. After the surgery, she had an infection. The thing that scared me most was that she was out of radio contact. Usually, I hear from her several times a day. She was in hospital for two weeks. She had a week off after that and then she was back on the road. She’s my superhero.
- We have no secrets
It’s hard to keep anything from my mum. She asks a lot of questions. She likes to be aware of every little thing that’s going on. I speak to her every day, sometimes several times a day. Even in Vienna, we Skyped every day. When I was at university, my mum and dad went on a cruise. Mum told me to call her, rather than the other way around because calls from the ship were £4 a minute. My phone bill came to £350 that month. It seems that calls to the middle of the Caribbean ocean cost £8 a minute from a university landline.
She was there at Noah’s birth. Yes, she likes to be involved, but it wasn’t just about that. She’s given birth twice and she wanted to be there to oversee what was going on. It wasn’t just that she wanted to be there for the birth of her grandchild; she needed to see with her own eyes that her daughter was okay, rather than waiting in the corridor for news. Every time I had to be examined by the midwife, I sent my mum into the corner or behind the curtain. Even I have to draw the line somewhere.
It’s unusual to have a mother who knows everything about you, but that’s not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is that she can’t keep a secret to save her life. One of her sayings: “I know something you don’t know!” said in a singsong, delighted voice.
- Her family is her life
My husband calls us “hillbillies”. My Mum is one of four children. I am one of eight grandchildren. At one stage, we were all living off the same road: us, my grandparents, my two aunts’ families and my uncle’s family. Now my grandparents are gone and my uncle has moved away, but my mum and her sisters are still there, the three witches (Mum being Chief Witch).
- Her love is fierce
It’s the fiercest thing there is. I didn’t really understand how fiercely you could love someone until I had Noah. Sometimes, when I have contemplated whether I will have another child, I have wondered aloud how I could possibly love it as much as I love Noah. How would I find the space inside myself for all that love all over again? How could I carry that much love around with me? Surely it would break me? “Don’t be ridiculous,” my husband once said in response to these musings. “You have your mum’s capacity to love.”
My mum’s capacity to love. But I am not as tough.
I hope I can be half the mother to Noah that she has been to me.
Mum, when I’m with you, I’m standing with an army (as Ellie would say).
Please note: The photos of my Mum in “the dress” were taken by the fabulous David Michael at David Michael Photography who was the photographer at both my wedding and my sister’s. Mum chose him without consulting me. “I’ve booked the photographer, ” she rang me up and told me one day. And I’m very glad she did.