Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sliding doors of life....

Even before the film Sliding Doors appeared, I often lived parallel lives. As a child, at unhappy times, I would literally live another life in my head, while my real life carried on. (Often this other life involved lots of interaction with Michael J Fox, but that's a whole different blog!).

Then, for many years, my sliding door to a different world stayed shut, the reality of my life good enough to experience in and outside my head - only occassionally would I become an intrepid traveller again as I washed the dishes, or rescued orang utans from the wild as I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea for the 63,839,586th time.

But now, I find myself living parallell lives every day. Not some wild escapism, not some far flung adventure, but simply the imaginings of what would have been, to soften the blow of what is. Three months ago my life changed for ever, for the worse. Since then I have tried to come to terms with loosing the mum I knew and adored, while learning to deal with the reality of a mum who barely knows my name and who will never share my life again. From the second hubby came into my hospital room in the dead of night to tell me my mum had had a massive stroke, my life split into two - the life I was planning and the life I am being forced to live. The last three months as I struggled with a new baby, I have dealt with the reality of waiting to see if my mum would pull through and then deal with having her settled at home, incapable of rational speech, thought or action. In my head though, I have lived through daily phonecalls, regular visits where she would hold my baby in her arms adoring her with song and praise, while sending me off to bed. I lived the experiences I knew we would have had, enjoying a cup of Earl Grey and a Butlers chocolate, showing off Ruby to strangers in the queue, reading stories to the girls. As I stood alone in my kitchen, the phone in my hand but no number to dial, I closed my eyes and pictured her coming off the Belfast train - 100 memories merged into one real moment, the smell of 'Beautiful' greeting me with her warm hug, tales of her conversations with strangers on the seat beside her keeping us company all the way home. As she walked through my front door she would say, "I love coming into this house, " and we would sit down with a cup of tea, children scurrying around us and she would be proclaiming Ruby to be the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. I lived every memory of the past to get me through the present.

And so it was at Christmas. Mum and dad were due to come down to us this year, and like every year, I was going to take Mum to the National Concert Hall, and on Christmas Eve we would all sit down to the Christmas Ham dinner and then wrap ourselves around the fire, wine glasses glistening in light of the flames, stuffing Santa sacks. In the morning, as the girls giddy with Santa surprises would be shouting "Nanna Look!" when her bed-bedraggled head curled round our bedroom door, she would sit on our bed and share their excitement. We would have a walk in the snow and then, a little drunk perhaps, try to produce a christmas dinner in the right order before finding just enough room for a couple of chocolates by the fire at the end of the night. Instead, their car did not arrive this year, bringing bags and bottles of goodies. I didn't book any tickets at the National Concert Hall. I hung up the lights and carefully placed decorations knowing they would never be seen by the person who would appreciate them the most. And when it hurt too much, I slid open the door and lived the version where their car drove up and they bundled into the house laden with love. I heard my mum say the house looked beautiful.

And on Christmas day, as my mum lay in her bed and we pretended to be merry the sliding door jammed and I could no longer soften the blow. This is how it is now. I have to organise our baby's christening knowing my mum won't be there. Plan a family holiday without her. Walk past the phone and not pick it up. But at least for a while yet, I can climb onto the bed beside her, the smell of my Beautiful rubbing onto her skin, and hold her hand. The past and the present still in tune.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who's the mummy?

Life used to be simple. Clear cut. Black and white.

Roles were defined and refined. We all knew were we stood. My mum was my mum. I was her daughter. Then I became a mum and I had daughters. So far, so simple.

Now... the roles are blurred, the lines in the sand rolled over by the waves of catastrophe and stress. Now, my mum no longer looks after me. I look after her. I brush her hair and put on her makeup. I clean her house. And my daughters? Well, I do look after them too - although they do their fair share of brushing my hair and applying makeup - some days I look like The Joker. Although I'm not laughing much. The angst of my mum's demise, and the sleep-deprived stress of a new baby have combined to make me 'grumpy mummy' as now defined by Daisy. "I'm not grumpy all the time", I insist, but she gives me that look that only children can give. The look that says, "yes, but it's the grumpy times that count."

And to rub it in, she brought me down to earth yesterday. As only children can. I was in my usual 'get-out-the-house-with-two-children-and-a-baby-dressed-fed-and-somewhat-intact-by-half-eight-in-the-morning' mode when the final hurdle of getting laced runners on Daisy's feet (why oh why did I not buy velcro???) was a hurdle too far. I lost the plot and threw a tantrum. It was quite impressive too. At one point the runners where hurled across the room.

As I strapped everyone into the car I took a deep breath and sheepishly apologised for my outburst. "It's just hard," I explained, "Getting everyone out in the mornings with no help from you." Daisy looked at me - not unlike my mother used to, it has to be said, when she was making an annoyingly accurate point - and said, rather aloofly.
"Yes mum, but we are little people, and you are the big person."
Ouch, but true. I am the big person, and no matter where the lines are, or what the roles are or even if I have no idea where I stand anymore, I should remember that at least. Parented by my child. Sounds just about right at the moment.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lessons of life...

My mum has taught me many things. How to bake. How to sew. How to knit. How to make a mean gravy. How to stack a dishwasher.... the latter something I never quite grasped much to my mum's annoyance. And as I ply my knowledge on a daily basis with the girls, I now pass on many of those skills. As I pour the cake-mix into the tin, two little voices squeal for me to leave some in, their hands already delving into the bowl, their faces smeared with chocolate goo. A flashback. My face. Mum smiling as she passes me the bowl and puts another cake in the oven.

As I make some Christmas presents, sewing on buttons, Daisy asks me to teach her and so I hand her the needle and guide her to push it in, and pull it through. A flashback. Mum making my dress for my first formal dance, allowing me to sew a few stitches.

As I fight the urge to delve under my duvet for a stolen moment despite the hungry mewls beside me from Ruby, two little heads peer round the bedroom door, and seeing me awake, leap onto the bed and snuggle beside me chirping and chattering under the duvet. A flashback. An uncountable number of mornings lying beside my mum, putting the world to rights. And not just as a child.

I am still shocked by what has happened. She lies downstairs, bedbound and trapped, while I wander round her bedroom upstairs, her things as she left them. Her clothes hang in the wardrobe, many bought with me on one of our outings. She will never wear them again. Her jewellery glistens in the drawer, each piece with a story. She will never wear them again. Her photos, her books, her momentoes of life scattered around the room like moments in time. She will never touch them again. And I realise what her most important lesson has been. None of those things mattered. She was always insecure about not finishing school or having a big career, or having any accomplishments. Yet, everyone who knows her, loves her. She invested her time on people. What she didn't realise is that the things that make a person great is not a list of accomplishments or a long CV. At the end of the day, as the last few weeks have shown me, the only thing that matters, the only thing that determines greatness is the love you leave behind. And if the love we leave behind is the greatest accompishment of all..... then my mum is the most accomplished person I know. And I will do my best to pass on that lesson too....