I didn’t know whether to be grateful or horrified.
I was sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with my mum during a recent visit to her house, when she leaned over and peered at my face.
Suddenly, she got up, went to the bathroom and returned brandishing a pair of tweezers.
“What are you doing with those?” I asked.
“I’m going to pluck that hair that’s growing out of your chin.”
My hands flew to my face in panic, feeling around for this alleged chin hair.
“I don’t have a chin hair!”
Mum begs to differ.
“You do. It’s huge.”
Then she starts telling me about the bearded lady she saw in the newsagents, and how chin hairs grow coarse and black as women grow older.
Great news. Next she’ll tell me they’re sprouting out my ears.
Her intentions are good. I mean, better she points out this fifty-foot chin hair now, before I trip over it, right? But I feel angry. And offended. And old. And guilty for being cranky when she’s just trying to be kind.
I’m convinced mothers and daughters were put on this earth to drive each other nuts.
We lock horns over stupid little things. I neglect to ring her when I should. She worries about me getting mercury poisoning from eating too much canned fish. I snap at her for fussing over me when I’m sick (“Mum, I’m forty-five, not five!!”) then crack the sads if she doesn’t. The poor woman can’t win.
Then there are the disagreements we have over my eight year old son (her only grandson):
“Don’t you think he needs a warm top on? He’ll get cold.”
“He looks a bit pale to me.”
“Has he had any vegetables today?”
“Has he done a poo today?”
Though it irritates me, It’s only now that I’m a mother myself that I understand where she’s coming from. I now also understand the challenges she faced as a mum, when my brother and I were teenagers.
I was fourteen when my dad had a stroke which left him in a wheelchair, paralysed down the left side of his body. It was confronting and distressing and our lives changed overnight, as Dad struggled through months of rehabilitation and Mum came to terms with the day-to-day reality of Dad’s disability.
I burn with shame when I remember the way I behaved back then. I didn’t think about how Mum’s life had been turned upside down. I only thought about how it affected ME. I was a self-centred little cow. But she loved me all the same.
Because that’s what mums do.
Eventually, Dad was able to get around with the help of a walking stick, but passed away a few years later. It makes me shudder to think that when Dad died, Mum was only a few years older than I am now. By that stage my brother was in the army and lived interstate, while I had just scored my first job in radio, hundreds of kilometres away.
Mum was all on her own. But as we loaded up my clunky old Honda Civic for the long drive north to begin my new life, she made it clear how proud she was of me. Not once did she make it feel like I was abandoning her. I’d cried as she helped me shop for new clothes. We’d sorted out what I’d wear on my first day at work. She made it all about me. When it should have been about her.
Because that’s what mums do.
Now, almost twenty five years later, I watch with pride as she heads out her front door to the beach with my son, boogie boards under their arms. She might be pushing eighty, but she looks fantastic in her fluoro tankini, and she has a better social life than I do.
A thought suddenly occurs to me. When I’m her age, I want to be like her.
Yes, we drive each other nuts. But Mum, I love you to bits.
What’s your relationship like with your mum and has it changed since you became a mother?