In every little girl’s life there comes a time when she realises, as much as she willed it not to happen, it has. She has turned into her mother.
I think my time has come.
I am taller than Mum ever was. And leaner. I have the brown-green eyes of my father, not her soft grey ones. My hair has her thickness and her curls, but not as much. She was also much greyer, or maybe she gave up dyeing her hair at an earlier age! I have certainly inherited her slightly olive skin, a throwback to some spaniard who washed ashore in Ireland many years ago.
I guess I must resemble her because sometimes when my father introduces me as his daughter to old friends, they tell me I look like my mother did.
But it’s the other things. I have similar priorities as she did. A good book and or a spot in the sun should never be wasted, especially on mundane tasks like housework. Many the time I remember trudging home from school to find my mother sitting in the sun, cup of coffee at hand, and either a book or knitting on the go. She always had both.
She was a very creative woman. She knitted and sewed many great pieces for her family, and when we preferred shop brought, she made clothes for the needier people in our community. She was also an accomplished artist, and in her last years enjoyed painting watercolours. I am pretty adept at stick figures.
Mum and I share the knack for the written word. Mum published numerous short stories. One of her best was called “The Empty Nest”. Totally autobiographical it was about a mother’s desire for her fledgings to learn to fly and leave the nest. With some artistic licence and the Irish gift of the gab, some of her children’s exploits were exaggerated, but we could all see ourselves in her writing.
I am gently encouraging my eldest bird to take her adult wings, her cat, her dancing boards, her dirty undies off the bathroom floor, and make her own nest. By gently encouraging, I mean I tell her “it is time for you to move out now. Good bye!” Juliet is off to London in 15 days for a five week trip. Three girls, a few dancing competitions, catching up with old school friends and university mates who are on exchanges. They will have so much fun. Maybe coming home will be too boring afterwards and her wings will feel decidedly clipped.
I started to flap my own wings at 17, going flatting with two girls I worked with. It was a damp, cheap, grey summerhill stone brick flat, on Lincoln Road overlooking a bikie gang. I have no idea what my parents really thought of my stamping my independent foot.
My Jonny turns 18 on Thursday. He also shows no desire to move on. He is working in an office, learning the skills associated with that and also the importance of personal hygiene and how to iron a shirt. There are mutterings of going to South America at Christmas.
South America??? I was thinking he would leave first for a uni hostel in Dunedin or take a camping to Kaikoura. Not South America! There are drugs and drug lords and pirates in South America! Murderers! Violence! Coups! Wars! Jonny doesn’t even know where he left his, or his father’s, eftpos cards. How will he cope in another continent.
After six months of flatting, when I was just 18, I flew to London with a girlfriend. Stayed away a year. Nannied the kids of the privileged and idle. Did the whole Britrail youth hostel month in the UK and bus/camping trip around Europe. Again I don’t know what my parents thought of this adventure.
The youngest, only 15, is still at school. He is a little concerned because I keep talking about if/when we rebuild post earthquake, we might replace our four bedroom family home with a nice two bedroom retirement unit. Not implying Andrew and I are ready to retire, but more a comment on how slow the process is. Robbie is most indignant that “Juliet and Jonny get to mooch off you for ages and as soon as I leave school you are forcing me out?!” I don’t see the problem.
Children come into the world so cute and helpless, loving you with all their might because they need you so much. Then they grow up and want to do things on their own. It is cute when an indignant toddler states, “me do.” Later they even push you away. Hopefully, eventually after a period of teenage angst/rebellion/self-absorption the frustrated gangly ugly ducklings return as beautiful adult birds.
A good parent has to let them grow. I want them to go. Life is outside in the world. Even if it can all be accessed by tapping on an ipad screen, I am proud that my kids feel confident enough to go and explore it in reality. Of course, they have had such sheltered middle class lives and are completely naive, but Mum, Dad and the credit card are on the other end of the virtual apron string.
So Mum, I wonder what you would make of your grandchildren now. It has been more than 10 years since you saw them. The little children you knew have evolved into adults or almost adults. .
I wonder if you would find sweet justice in what goes around, coming around. I wonder how many of my exploits contributed to your grey hair.
I look forward to the day in the future when I can watch my children struggle with their children stretching their wings. Or not.