Mum and I both have:
Zero aptitude for languages
A hatred of coriander
An abiding love for Roger Federer
A mortal fear of cane toads
Mum has but I don’t have:
A calm disposition
An innate sense of style
An organised pantry
And I have but Mum doesn’t have:
A love for modern art
The ability to make a pavlova
A Twitter account
A short fuse
That’s enough in common to make us close and enough differences to keep things interesting. And Mum and I have always had a great relationship even though she was never one of those ‘I’ll be one of the girls’ type of mothers. I grew up in the eighties, and the idea that Mum might have wanted to see Culture Club with me gives me shivers even now. (It actually happened to my friend Lisa whose mother Deidre ‘Call me Dee’ did come to Festival Hall with teeny tiny Boy George braids in her hair. Lisa’s still dealing with the trauma).
Enviously, Lisa would say Mum and I were like perfectly cooked grains of rice – close, but not too close. I think that’s still true, although over the last few years the dynamic has changed. One thing we once shared but no longer do is a killer backhand. When I was a young teenager, Mum and I would spend Sunday mornings on the tennis courts at my school. We’d invariably play three sets then chat over a milkshake. It was a highlight of my week and I like to think it was Mum’s too. I can’t quite remember when our Sunday morning tennis stopped but it was probably when I started going out on Saturday nights and my life centred more around friends than family. And it’s to Mum’s credit she let it go without remarking on it. If nothing else, Mum’s a realist. She understands that nothing stays the same forever much better than I do.
When it became clear that if Mum and Dad needed some help to stay in their own home it was me who leaped to the conclusion that the help should come from my sisters and me. Mum, I think was always all right with the idea of having some help, but was unclear on what that help might look like. So she soldiered on while I blundered around, trying to do it all myself, bossing my sisters around, sometimes making Mum and Dad feel less capable than they actually are.
Instead of talking about how many more Australian Opens Roger might play, or the best way to keep toads out of our respective dogs’ water bowls, we were talking about little more than logistics. I was bored, she was bored, and I think it crossed both our minds that this might be the new normal.
When, finally, with the help (read: intervention) of friends I realised that organising some ‘outside help’ for Mum and Dad didn’t mean I was an ungrateful failure as a daughter you could almost see Mum exhale with relief. Neither of us knew who would provide that help and we hadn’t even sat down to work out what exactly they needed but the moment I realised it didn’t have to be me, the pressure on our relationship was released.
It took a little while to get everything sorted, but once it was, we went back to being us. But better. The people who are now in Mum and Dads lives, helping with things like shopping and gardening have made our world a bit bigger, when for a while it was growing smaller.
Like so many Gen Xs, I’d misjudged my parents. I’d thought that simply because of Mum’s age she’d resist change when in fact, she embraced it. And I did too. Now I can add that to the list of things we have in common.
‘I’m a writer by profession as well as a wife, friend, mother and daughter. I’m surprised and unprepared for the fact that the ‘daughter’ part of that resume is becoming the dominant one as I approach fifty. As I was growing up there were all sorts of articles and discussions and TV shows about building a career and raising a family but nothing at all about what happens when your parents, perhaps suddenly, need your care when you’re still up to your ears in career and kids. I suspect in the next decade we might see a Netflix drama (or even a comedy?) called ‘Sandwich’, but until then, I’ll write my thoughts for Five Good Friends. Because thinking leads to talking and talking means we’re not alone.’
* A pseudonym to protect this family’s privacy. The story is authentic.