Friday, 25 November 2016

Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

I am having one of those days where I miss you especially. It’s not any special anniversary, not a notable year (13) or a significant day. It’s just a wintry Friday and I wish you were here.

Quite frankly, you are well out of 2016. It is a catalogue of horrors and you would have been so sad and so angry. You would have been marching almost constantly, I think, assembling outside the Minster with the usual suspects, all the university and Quaker stalwarts, older and wonkier but still just as indignant at the lack of compassion in the world. Everything is a grotesque mess, a garbage fire, my friend Benjamin calls it, even dad is depressed by it and you know how ebullient he usually is. But even so, I still wish you were here to commiserate and to galvanise me into action.

There are good things. Of course there are. I wish, God, I wish, you could see my babies. That plump, delightful, drooling creature who was just learning to walk when you died, just starting to put together short sentences featuring dogs and cars, is a giant. He wears Chanel Sport perfume, which makes his dad apoplectic and proud all at once and shaves and can lift me up like Mrs Pepperpot, which I do not enjoy at all. I adore him like Judith Starkadder adores Seth: he’s confident and maddening and funny, a gorgeous reprobate, his presence in a room gladdens my heart. I worry about him, of course. There's always worry, you knew all about that. The ever-lengthening list of bad things that might happen and the ways I might have inadvertently facilitated them. It’s hard to be a parent when they reach this age: this comes as no surprise to anyone who has met a teenager, but I feel the truth of it every day, feel lost, feel my own ineptitude.

And that baby you only knew as a bump, barely even a bump, lord, how I wish you had met him and how I wish you had been able to know him through all these years. He would have made you laugh so much, with his stubborn premature independence and his headstrong naughtiness and his insistence on being a parrot for several months in 2008.  At nearly-thirteen, he’s dryly droll, often sarcastic, always kind. He plays the fiddle, mum, you’d love that and Julia is playing hers again. At last, some musicians in the family! And he decided he wanted to learn Chinese four years ago, so he does and he’s brilliant, I’m in awe. I worry about him sometimes too, of course. He’s hard on himself, a perfectionist, and he holds things tight inside. But he's sound: he has good friends and laughs a lot with them and plays stupid killing games I disapprove of on the computer.

I wish they both had you, too. More, almost, than anything.

You’d love our stupid dog, too, so elegant and vacant.  And we have chickens! I’ve discovered a passion for chickens (I’m watching our fat white hen chase sparrows around the garden indignantly, as I type). I know you would like our scrubby little back yard with the maple tree and the lilac and you would like the excellent frites the Turkish men in the chip shop round the corner make. I’m learning Dutch, too, which would amuse you after that year you spent in Ghent when you didn’t realise that half of Belgium is Dutch speaking and had to live off oranges and liver pâté. There are books I know you would adore (Tana French’s Dublin detective novels and H is for Hawk, how you would have loved that book), television programmes you would have laughed at, restaurants I want to take you to (the one near here which is all smartly dressed pensioners tucking into oysters and vast steaks, especially). Oh, and we got married a couple of years ago and it was tender and right and lovely and we all missed you. I’m angry on your behalf at all the joy you have missed, this family stuff but also the stuff that was entirely your own and which I knew nothing about. You should have had all of it.

But selfishly, I really want you here for me.

My friends are good. I did well on that score, there are people I love in my life and we talk, really talk, about the barest, least prepossessing bones of our characters and our lives; the dark 3am thoughts. Women in mid-life can be wonderful for each other, can’t they? It's the special consolation of this time of life. Les and I are friends now too, which I think would please you. I think we both feel a little bit of you in the other when we speak, a connection, across time and space. When I drink a mug of tea in her house in Appleton, sometimes, I feel closer to you than anywhere else (your grave is beautiful, we did well when we picked that spot and the stone Joe had made is perfect, Love and Be Loved. But you aren’t there for me). My friends all live far away, though, and I’m cautious of boring them, wearing out their kindness.

I want to tell you how lost I feel, sitting here in the selva obscura in the middle of my life, still not quite sure what I am supposed to be doing with it. I’m 42 tomorrow, the answer to life the universe and everything and I have no answers, none at all. I want to talk about courage, and why I seem not to have any and how I wonder if I will ever find a reserve of it. How consumed I am with envy at others’ achievements and loathing of my own shortcomings. How my brain feels useless, insipid and flabby, like a blancmange. You were so impressive, so determined, but I know you had tough patches too. I remember the years after Julia was born, the leggings years, the saggy jumper years, the tiredness. I’m right in the middle of my leggings years now, without even a new baby to excuse it. I wear make up once a month, if that, and all my clothes could, without inconvenience, be worn by a working farmer. I want to understand how you came through the leggings years, maybe get some clues about how I can find a way through my own.

It’s not that I think it would be easy if you were here or that you would just clasp me to your bosom and tell me I am wonderful (I’d like that, though). I don’t actually think you’d be too impressed with me right now. I’m pathetic (I just said that out loud to myself as I wrote it. I do that most days). You’d find a way to tell me I’m selfish and self-absorbed and there are plenty of things I could be doing that are better than sulking in the attic. There might be some stern words, some shaming words. I give myself plenty, but yours would carry more weight. Because I would want to show you I can be an OK person, eventually.

Of course, if you were here, I would be taking you for granted. I wouldn’t be telling you any of this stuff, I expect. I’d probably be being prickly and dismissive,  insisting everything was fine. But eventually you would soften up my defences, because you were good at that. And I might have cried a few angry tears and you would have told me some hard stuff and some kind stuff, then we could have had a nice lunch, because we were always good at that. Afterwards, I would have tucked my arm, gratefully, into yours and we would have huddled together against the cold of this bright, hard winter day and for a few minutes everything would have been right with the world.

Everything is right with my world really. It will be fine. We are fine. But I miss you.