…well, first things first. When people say ‘I’m turning into my mother’, they don’t usually mean it as a compliment to her. Of course there are the things I hear myself say that are accompanied by an instant flashback to childhood, generally when I’d done something wrong and the same stock phrases were trotted out so often that they lost their meaning: ‘How many times do I have to tell you?’, ‘It’s like speaking to a brick wall’, and the time-honoured: ‘I won’t tell you again…’ – swiftly followed by me telling Bigger or Littler exactly the same thing again. But in the main, the similarities between my life and my mother’s are at best positive, or at worst neutral. And I’m not just saying that because I know she’ll be reading this.
It is not so much that I’m turning into the person she is, but that I am finding myself leading the life she led. My mother must have played with us a lot, but mostly I remember her as a comforting presence while my sister and I got on with something else. We’d be eating biscuits and drinking milk in front of the TV, brushing My Little Pony’s hair and dressing our Sindy dolls in inappropriate apparel, and in the background would be the reassuring noises of my Mum creating something in the kitchen. I am now the source of biscuits, milk and other treats, my boys depending upon me to provide them. Either that or they just raid the cupboards themselves. Anyway, they rely on me to cook them a decent meal each evening and I try to do that, ensuring of course that most of it is wholegrain and nutritious and will therefore takes hours of scrubbing to get its fibrous residue off walls and floor.
We don’t have a car – our vehicle is the stroller – but the same rules apply as they did when my sister and I used to sit in the back of our Austin Maxi. Our father drove, and our mother did everything else. Mostly we just saw the back of her head, but from her would emanate a steady stream of sandwiches, fruit, chocolate biscuits, tissues, wipes, drinks and any other provision we required. Then, most importantly of all, she would be on hand as the receiver of all empty wrappers.
Those car journeys must have been trying. Apart from dishing out refreshments, my mother’s second most important job was holding up the music sheets while my sister and I played our recorders. We subjected our parents to excruciating renditions of ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ and ‘English Country Garden’ while they pretended to enjoy it. No wonder that in the end, when she had lost all feeling in her arm from bending it backwards so that we could see the music properly, my mother would resort to that old favourite: ‘why don’t you just rest your eyes now?’ She must have done a triumphant, imaginary air punch when she looked round to see we had fallen for it and were firmly in the Land of Nod. My boys aren’t quite old enough to play musical instruments but I’m always relieved when they fall asleep after hours of boisterousness – and the older one is showing an interest in drums, so he has years ahead to torture me yet.
The two motherly activities I’ve most recently got involved in are a babysitting circle (with an electronic points system rather than the collection of buttons my mothers and her friends used as currency in the 1980s) and a book club. Maybe the book club isn’t exactly motherly, but a person who enthusiastically commits to reading a book by a certain deadline isn’t usually the same person who whiles away her evenings in a bar or a club – and neither do I want to, which only goes to prove my point. Having said that, my current addiction to Mad Men is putting my progress with our latest book in serious jeopardy. I hope I don’t get thrown out of the club for choosing to spend my evenings with Don Draper (who wouldn’t?) rather than The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Being expelled would be distinctly unmotherly.
So no, I am not turning into my mother, but although I’m doing this job thirty years on, many elements of motherhood never change. With it has come an acute appreciation for what she did for us. I knew I had become a mother in my own right when the other day I overheard Bigger say to Littler, ‘come on, let’s go and play in the living room while Mummy cooks our supper, and then she’ll come and get us when it’s ready’. Well, I thought to myself, I chose to be his mother and even though he doesn’t know that, I’ve now been well and truly put in my place by my son. And how wonderful for him.