To be honest, it’d be easier to title this ‘Things my mother tried to teach me’. My mother is the kind of practical, resourceful person, product of a 1950s childhood in Norfolk, who can tackle pretty much anything. God knows, the poor woman has tried to pass on things to me, but I am utterly cackhanded and irresponsible compared to her.
She was taught to sew and knit by her mother, and when I was about eight, she decided to pass on her knowledge by teaching me cross stitch. We were both amazed and delighted by how quickly I managed to master it and I undertook my first ‘project’, sitting on the sofa in the living room. It was a success! Right up until the moment I stood up, and realised that I’d managed to sew my project to my stripy Chelsea girl wool leggings.
Skimming stones. I know I used to be able to do this. I distinctly remember standing on the edge of the lake at UEA with Mum and feeling the joy of seeing my stone bouncing across the surface of the water. Determined to impart my knowledge to The Boy a few months ago, I confidently demonstrated my skill during a walk at Blickling. The first stone sank like…a…stone. The second stone did the same. Third stone, I followed through a bit too much, my front foot skidded forward in the mud, my back foot remained rigidly where it was, I nearly did the splits, fell on my knees, and the fecking stone stubbornly refused to skim. Mum selected a stone, span it across, and it bounced five times before it vanished.
I would love to know the things my mum does. The names of plants, trees, birds… The kind of information it’s actually useful to know, and good to share with others. She must have told me the same things over and over again for the last 34 years, and yet, nope. None of it ever sticks. It’s as though I expect her to always be there to tell me these things, so my brain tells itself ‘No need to worry, you can rely on Mum to tell you, go into standby mode.’
I am magnificently lazy. An absolute slut when it comes to housework. It’s not that I’m lavishly messy or grubby, I just can’t be arsed to clean the windows. But my mum doesn’t just do the stuff that has to be done (washing up, laundry, emptying bins etc). She actively seeks out housework to do. Honestly. My house is never cleaner than when she stays with us. Firstly, because I go into a mad cleaning meltdown ahead of her arrival, but mostly because I’ll come back from the school run to find her descaling the iron I never use, or polishing brass. How do you train yourself to be that kind of person? The type of person who doesn’t always have at least one dusty glass of water on the bedside table? It’s a skill she hasn’t managed to transfer to me.
Or liking sport. She is 62 in six weeks time, and she is healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my adult life. Growing up, if Mum wasn’t at work, she would be taking an aerobics class, or playing tennis, or having a squash lesson. Now it’s slightly more sedate activities, like golf and going for U3A walks, but still. She tried, again and again, to turn me into an athlete, but it was always doomed to fail. Like the tennis class where I was the oldest by four years, and got soundly thrashed by bloody six year olds every week. The time she tried to get me to go to the gym (pulled a ligament, couldn’t walk properly for weeks). The gymnastics class where I hit my head on the wooden floor, puked with shock, could never face going back. The only thing I was ever any good at was swimming, but that withered up and died when I was a teenager and became very aware of what I looked like in my costume.
But for all that, she has taught me a lot. And we are more similar than we are different. I am a demon at creating brilliant meals out of sod all, thanks to her. I never go long without laughing, thanks to her. I love to sing, loudly, thanks to her. I dance around the kitchen, thanks to her. I love to go for walks, thanks to her. I’m not, and never have been, a helpless girly girl, thanks to her. I can be hugely bolshy and bloodyminded, thanks to her. I watch people, and notice not just what they say & do, but also why, thanks to her. If I’m faced with a challenge that people think I won’t conquer, I go all out to do it, just to prove them wrong, and prove to myself that I can do it, thanks to her (this is known as her ‘Christmas Tree’ and my ‘High Tor’ mood). I know the lyrics of every Beatle song recorded, thanks to her. I know the history of my parents, their parents, their lives, thanks to her. I know the value of a handmade kangaroo, given to a three year old girl.
So to a wonderful mother, with wrinkly skin*, thank you Memmy. Thank you for teaching me what is important.
*There are two people in the world who will get this joke. I am one. You are not the other. Unless you are my mother.