When I was really small….
One of my earliest memories.
An Irish traveller came to the front door. Selling chamois leathers and little bunches of heather wrapped in tin foil.
I stood next to Mum in the doorway.
The woman motioned down to me.
And said to Mum. In a mystical sort of way. That one day I would be a source of huge love and comfort to her.
Years later. Mum told me that she’d thought:
“‘What, Angela?… Yeah, right!”
She said it was lucky she’d had my brother first.
If it had been me. There wouldn’t have been any others.
To be fair. I was a horror of a child.
Bordering on mental.
I’d never sleep. Mum would have to drive me around in the back of the car.
Desperate for me to nod off.
I had more energy than EDF. You could have stuck a jump lead on me and I’d have powered Las Vegas.
I’d headbang the floor for fun. Staple my fingers together. Get ice cubes jammed in my throat.
I was in A&E so often. Social services were sent round.
Mum said she’d been mortified.
I can imagine.
As much as I was hyperactive. She was hyper sensitive.
A proper worrier.
Her ability to always find the worst possible situation in something. It was a talent.
Growing up. Every sore throat or headache. Was treated as a case of suspected meningitis.
We knew the symptom check in our sleep:
“Angela! Can you touch your chin to your chest?!”
I probably spent half my childhood in that manoeuvre.
Like a nodding dog. Or trainee contortionist.
You see. Her overriding motivation was to be a mother. It was what drove her.
As a teenager. I’d calmed down by then. Every morning she woke us up with breakfast in bed.
I told her not to.
But she wouldn’t listen.
A bowl of cereal. A cup of tea. All neatly assembled on a tray. Even with a proper napkin.
I grew up thinking this was normal.
Until I told my friends.
It was like a form of middle class child abuse.
Years on. And still her ‘little chickadee’.
Text messages every day. “Morning my little chickadee. Did you sleep well?”
That. Or Angie Baby. Or. Angelina Ballerina.
My favourite though. Going over to hers. Walking through the back gate. Her flinging open the back door and exclaiming:
“Here she is. My little bobby dazzler!”
If I was wearing sunglasses she’d add:
“Ooh, who’s this supermodel coming down the path?!”
Have you ever seen a supermodel that looked like Richard Hammond?
She’d usually be cooking up something amazing and ambitious for lunch.
We’d dance together in the kitchen. To whatever was on the radio.
Put our arms around each other. As if slow dancing. And jig around the kitchen floor.
One of us would sneakily pinch the other’s bottom.
And then the other one would do it too.
Before long, a full-on bottom-pinching match was underway. All the time, still jigging around the kitchen.
Must have been quite a sight.
Like a couple of crabs. Mating.
If it was Mother’s Day. Or her birthday. I’d have brought her a present.
Mum was always more interested in the accompanying card though.
The home-made card.
You see. In the 1980s my ‘talent’ for making Mum cards started.
This is an example of one of my cards from during my. Erm. ‘Neoclassical’ period:
And this is from during my ‘abstract expressionist’ period:
And this one.
Well. This is my personal favourite.
A rare example of my very early work:
Hmm. Not sure quite what period that is.
The ‘time to call a child psychologist’ period, perhaps?
But it didn’t stop there.
No siree. My creative talents have no limits.
Because inside the cards. As I got older. I started including odes.
I forget when they started. Teens sometime, I think.
The first was a one off. A few rhyming lines. About how special Mum was. What lovely pins she had.
It was cheeky. ‘Les Dawson’ cheeky. And more than just a bit silly.
But she loved it. Declared me a genius.
The next birthday. Or Mothers Day. I did it again.
And then it just sort of stuck.
It had become a tradition: The Ode to Mumsy
Every time I did one. She’d get all weepy and emotional.
Anyone that called her that day. Had the ode recited to them. Down the phone.
Whether they liked it or not.
In her eyes. I was the Poet Laureate.
Seriously. She couldn’t get enough of them.
There was one year. Much later.
I’d moved out and was living in London I think. Life was busy.
I sent her a card in the post. Dare I say it. Without an ode.
And my God. She was so disappointed.
I didn’t realise how much they meant to her.
I managed to cover it:
Of course I’d written an ode. But. Erm. I was planning on bringing it with me. In person. That weekend. When I saw her!
I wrote it in the car. On the way over.
And never forgot The Ode to Mumsy again.
After Mum died. I cleared out her things.
It took me ages to feel strong enough.
In fact. It took me over two years. If you’ve not read that post yet, you can play catch up here.
I went through Mum’s clothes. Her pieces of jewellery. Notebooks.
I found her old tin of paints. Packed with partly-used oil tubes.
The distinctive smell. Linseed and turpentine.
Transported me back to being a kid.
Fuzzy memories. Me in school uniform. Coming home at the end of the day.
Mum absorbed in painting. Lost in the linseed and turpentine.
Then. At the back of her wardrobe. There was a box. A cardboard box.
I reached in. Narnia-bound. Pulled the box forward.
The top came loose. Revealing the contents.
It was the cards.
And the odes.
That I’d made for her. Over the years.
All of them. The full collection.
She’d kept them all.
In that moment.
Over two years on from her death.
I felt totally and utterly loved.
As if she was right there with me. Slow dancing around the kitchen. Bottom pinching.
It was pure. Unconditional love. With my name on.
That love from a mother. There’s nothing quite like it.
It took losing her to realise just how unique that love is.
To feel secure.
Loved. No matter what.
Without it. Once she’d died. All at once I felt incredibly alone.
Finding that box of odes though. I realised.
I may have lost her. But I hadn’t lost her love.
It was still there. Still making me feel secure.
Loved. No matter what.
And it’s not just the odes. Of course. There are signs of it everywhere.
Everywhere I choose to look.
In the pictures I have of her. With my brother and I.
And even. Within myself.
I look in the mirror. And I see her eyes looking back.
The values I hold important.
The things I’m good at.
The outlook I have on life.
They are all a reflection of her love.
A mother’s love.
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