I argue with my mum. Like, a lot. I usually blame her (of course) but it’s definitely more of a 50:50 type situation. Just occasionally will we both really upset each other—most of the time, one of us laughs or makes a cup of tea and it’s all forgotten. In a way, I’m grateful for these fights… because they come out of the fact that we communicate all the time. I tell her almost everything about my life and we spend a huge amount of time together. It saddens me that some people don’t have this with their mum or dad.
I think one of my earliest memories is this huge feeling of love toward Mum. It sounds strange, but I can just remember feeling totally overwhelmed by how hugely important this person was in my life. I couldn’t quite understand how so much love could fit inside my tiny little being. And what was I supposed to do with it? It was almost too much to handle. How did I express it, did I have to let it out? Eventually I realised that you don’t really have to do anything with love. You just feel it. You just live your life in it. That’s enough.
As we get older, we realise something that feels both good and bad: our parents are not our friends.
They are not there to get along with us, though it’s nice when then do. Sometimes, we might not even like them. This is not important to a parent. A parent doesn’t need to be liked. They are not afraid to make us angry or upset for a little while, even to make us say “I hate you!” (we never really mean it) if it means the rest of our life will work out better. That’s all parents want, for things to work out for us. For their children to be the best they can be and have a happy life. This does not always mean being liked.
My mum has never been afraid to play “bad cop”, and actually I think that takes a lot of guts. I’ve never really been able to do that—I often bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone, only to realise later that telling them my real opinion would have saved a lot of trouble.
I grew up in Suffolk, close to the border with Essex. Mum was worried I’d pick up an accent and start saying “free” instead of “three”, or the dreaded “ain’t” instead of “isn’t” or “aren’t”. Any time I said “wa’er” she would mimic and mock, telling me to “speak properly!” I used to get so frustrated… what did it matter, anyway?
It matters because the way I speak now makes people think I know what I’m talking about, even when I don’t. It makes me sound more mature and sophisticated than I really am, so people in job interviews tend to think I’m an ideal candidate before I actually say anything of substance.
From the age of around five, I was FORCED into swimming lessons. I hated, hated, hated them! I didn’t like the teacher, I hated the rigmarole of getting dressed and undressed, and I just couldn’t see the point. “Swimming is a life skill,” she’d say. Whatever. She’d sit in the balcony overlooking the pool every day, flapping her arms in the most irritating encouragement. It was the worst. (Of course, at the time, it never occurred to me that she too had a million better things to be doing).
We did swimming in school the other year and I was pretty good, actually. I am useless in almost every other sport, but the swimming was really fun… because I could do it! While other people struggled, I enjoyed ploughing through the lanes. Then after I had my operation, I went swimming just to take the weight off my spine… and loved it.
When we moved, I was homesick. I disliked my school and as I’ve mentioned I didn’t have the best time making friends. For this reason, I sort of associated our old home with another life where everything was perfect. I would cry for hours and say over and over: “I just want to go home.”
She reminded me that this was home now. That our old home belonged to someone else. That home was where your family was, and ours were scattered around the place anyway. It was not what I wanted to hear… but it was what I needed to hear. I learned to make a home.
Until recently, I have never been allowed to go out of an evening. I was banned from all the social activities that seem so important at the time: teenage discos and so on. It made me feel so left out because everyone would be going out on a Friday night, having a lovely time, and I’d be sitting at home grumbling about how old-fashioned my parents were. Didn’t they want me to have a life? How was I going to make friends, or eventually meet a boy?
I got interested in other, much nicer things. I joined clubs and societies. I made a heap of new friends with the same interests as me—really nice people. And eventually, I did meet a boy. Someone I highly doubt I would have met at a disco.
Recently, I was under a lot of pressure. People were expecting the world of me, and I was being a bit hurt by them in return. It felt awful, but what could I do? I still had to see these people and be nice to them, or, God forbid, others might think less of me. They might think I was weak or mean.
Mum took the decision out of my hands. She told me I was to stop involving myself so much if I was just going to end up on the receiving and of all this stress all the time. She said in no uncertain terms that she would not allow it. Mum was not afraid to be the boss, to be the bad cop, and to take the blame for everything. It didn’t take me long to realise she was right and it was all for my happiness—something she, of course, had known all along.
The most recent thing that epitomises my mother happened on Friday evening. I hadn’t had time to even comb my hair all week, let alone remember Mother’s Day. I felt awful: it’s clear how wonderful my mum is, and I hadn’t bought anything to say thank you. She came home from the shops with a potted plant and said to me: “I thought you might like to have bought me this for Mother’s Day.”
She didn’t ask for a present. She understands that I’m under pressure and scared about my exams. She knows that I love her and she will always love me. Even though the dessert I’ve made her today has turned out crap, she won’t mind that either. That’s just who she is.
So I’d be lying if I said I always liked my mum—I bet the feeling’s mutual there. But I can say with complete honesty that I love her more than anything. I might, like every other teenage girl, complain constantly and not see the point of anything she says, often until it’s too late…
But, painful as it is to admit, I have finally learned that mother really does know best.