The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.

Monday, May 09, 2005

In Praise of my Mum

I’m standing with my mum on an empty London street and the air is alive around us. Snowflakes dance and spin and sparkle like constellations, falling stars from the slate grey sky. It is beautiful and unreal. Next to me my mother grips my arm and squints at the blank windows that rise up either side of us. She hasn’t been here for over twenty years. But this used to be her world.

It is as if we are tuning in an old television set, glimpsing a signal amidst the white noise and static. Through the snowstorm I begin to assemble a picture of her past, of the girl she was and the woman she became. We walk the streets of her youth, pressing our faces up against windows, slipping between parked cars and vivid memories. She shows me where she got her first job, where she worked when she found she was pregnant, the last door she walked through before leaving this life behind forever. How she carried me with her as she exchanged this world for another. She holds on to my arm a little tighter and we both smile. I try to imagine what it must be like to be a mother, shielding another person with your skin, protecting them with your flesh and nourishing them with your blood.

Earlier, sitting in our front room, I ask her whether she has any regrets about giving up her career to have children. She looks me straight in the eye and tells me she wouldn’t swap the time she had with me and my sister for anything. She tells me that there were days where she spent whole afternoons just sitting here holding us in her arms. I want to cry at that moment because I understand just how much we mean to each other.

My family life is scarily calm. It is worryingly free from argument and hostility. The rare exception being me and my mum. We yell and scream, we tear strips off each other, we hang up phones and slam doors. My dad and my sister look on bemused because it just doesn’t occur to them to act like that. But it is part of who we are that we feel things deeply and completely. We recognise these qualities in each other and I think it rubs us both up the wrong way sometimes. She doesn’t want me squandering my potential and I’m forever trying to gain her approval for my actions but can tell instantly when I don’t have it. We can’t stay mad at each other for more than ten minutes though. If I phone her back after an argument, the receiver doesn’t even get a chance to ring before she picks it up again.

I read a lot about my generation, about how we don’t have values or role models to aspire to. I can’t find any correlation to that in my own life because I am surrounded by people who engage and inspire me. I look at my mum and I see all the qualities I hope to one day possess, images of her like a string of paper figures decorating my life.

My mum speaking to hundreds of people about her faith and her hunger for justice.
My mum sewing me another super hero costume … and one for my teddy bear.
My mum sitting with her family and just quietly glowing with happiness.
My mum’s look of resignation as another treasured possession shatters on the floor.
My mum holding my dad’s hand for no other reason than that they belong together.
My mum cooking for the twenty teenagers that just turned up on her doorstep.

My mum standing on a street corner with snow in her hair, telling me stories about a time before I was born when pound notes floated down from the sky - making me feel so lucky to have her and so blessed to be able to share in the story of her life.


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