Take it easy (take it easy), better slow down girl … I swear my Mum was Abba’s secret lyricist. From the age I started toddling she was always telling me to get more sleep, to slow down, to stop doing so much. I was only toddling and trying to hide all the horrible food she kept trying to get me to eat. Cheese sandwiches with tough old crusts? REALLY? I wanted crisps. Home-made beef burgers the size of a frying pan with no salt or onion? NO WAY! I wanted chocolate mice thank you very much. And don’t even get me started on chopped raw liver in lumpy mash … yes, yes, I know … she was desperately trying to get me to eat healthy food, but I was a toddler. I toddled. I saw other kids eating rubbish and I was desperate to be a teeny weeny bit like other kids. To fit in by eating similar food. To look the same and wear proper school uniform – not red hot-pants or ballet tunics. Of course I’d applaud any mum going against the system now and encouraging their children not to conform to the norm and lose their identity, but I don’t have kids, so what do I know?
To this day Mum still thinks I do too much and is often discouraging me from driving from London to Bognor Regis to see her. As if that’s going to stop me. When I rang ahead a couple of months ago, one of the wonderful carers said “Oh – we didn’t think you’d be coming, Margaret says that you’re resting and that you don’t like driving in the rain”. I chuckled to think that they’ve obviously got me down as a sensitive, insomniac soul who’s afraid of the world and doesn’t sleep properly. Decades ago when we shared a house for a while I was greeted by a very angry Jamaican lady brandishing a bible in my face the minute I walked through the front door. YOU’S A SINNER ! YES, YOU’S A SINNER! I beg your pardon? YOU SIN – YOUR MOTHER TOLD ME. Sorry, who are you and what are you doing in my living room? YOUR MOTHER INVITED ME TO TALK TO YOU. Yes, she was shouting, hence the capital letters. It was like some nightmare scene where everything goes into soft focus and all you can see in front of you is a mouth shaping words you can’t quite comprehend. OK, OK, please calm down. My ears were hurting. Where is my Mum? SHE TOLD ME TO WAI… ok, quieter please … She told me to wait for you and help you mend your ways. And what ways are they exactly? YOU DON’T COME HOME AT NIGHT. Yes I do. YOUR MUM SAYS YOU DON’T SLEEP IN YOUR BED. No, that’s true. Sometimes I am up late and I have trouble sleeping, but what the hell has that got to do with you (with respect?). YOU DON’T COME HOME AT NIGHT. Yes I do come home at night, you’re getting confused … is it that Mum told you I don’t sleep properly in bed, not that I don’t use it perhaps? OH !!!!! The penny dropped, then at top pelt THERE MUST BE OTHER SINS. WHAT ARE THEY? So now she was asking me what I should be telling her to bollock me about ! I politely asked her to come back another time when Mum was in so that they could confuse each other and leave me out of it.
And … breathe … take it nice and slow.
I met Mum at work once. She was working for a hospital trust as a cleaner and kitchen assistant. I found the office and said that I was Margaret’s daughter and could I wait there to meet her. “So, you’re the one with the dinners?” Sorry? “The dinners, on plates, you’re the one that needs the dinners”. You’ll have to explain as I’m not sure what you mean. The woman sniffed, did that really annoying super slow blink and looked back down to her desk. I asked her if she could explain as I was pretty sure that I didn’t need hospital dinners on plates. Apparently, Mum had been forcing the kitchen staff to put whole dinners on plates, cover them in clingfilm and then she’d brought them home and left them in my fridge. They’d all protested of course, saying that the food was for patients, not even staff and certainly not lazy daughters of staff who couldn’t be bothered to make their own dinners. It didn’t help that Mum has always been 5’1″ and a size 10 and I’m 5’7″ and NOT a size 10. You could almost feel the ‘lazy cow’ vibes. When Mum finally arrived she pushed me towards the blinky woman saying “Here she is – my ballerina daughter”. The woman choked on her sweet, literally. Hacking great coughs, streaming eyes, thumping her desk with her fist. “You wanted to be a nurse, didn’t you Sonia darling – you can help her with her cough”. The woman held up a weak hand, miming “STOP. STOP!” as she recovered her breath just in time before I thumped her on the back. She rasped “Nice to meet you” and limped out of her office. No doubt on her way to the kitchen to order them to stop putting any more dinners on plates. Mum , bless her heart, has always remembered the naughty toddler who didn’t eat proper food and had made it her life time’s ambition to bring me nice food and the hospital dinners felt like a safe bet I’m sure. The mystery was finally solved as I’d often asked how these plates had arrived in my fridge and she’d denied all knowledge ! But she knew … she knew … does your mother know? Yes, she does. She’s just fibbing.
Two examples of Mum getting my wellbeing slightly topsy turvy, but there have also been confusing times when she’s obviously been going through darker times and in “destruct” mode – for herself and also for the family.
I used to belong to a fantastic amateur drama group – and we were a gang. I could never really tell Mum too much about them all as it was always dangerous for her to get hold of real names and God forbid, phone numbers. There was one chap with whom I got on extremely well. We were super buddies and then one day it stopped. He avoided my eyes, would walk to the other side of the room whenever I approached and avoided any social situation where I might be present. It was very confusing. I tried calling him to see if I’d inadvertently upset him, but he never responded. When talking it through with another group member I could hear my words and worries out loud in the real world and that rattly old penny went clanging it’s way down a deep, dark, spooky well. THUMP. Mum ! It must be Mum. I suddenly realised that I’d probably not actually lost my address book – she’d nicked it. I cornered the distressed man in the kitchen and asked him if he’d by any chance heard from Mum. A grumpy “hmm – as if you don’t know”. Well no, I don’t know, that’s way I’m asking you. All I got then was a nasal exhale and flared nostrils. Please tell me. I know she’s been in touch as I’ve lost my address book and am now terrified that she’s phoned everyone in it. PLEASE. “Does your mother know that we’re good friends?” No, I don’t really tell her anything like that – I’ve told you that. “And is it true? IS IT? Is THAT what you really want?” Oh blimey, this was serious anger, not confusion, proper anger. Please tell me. Mum had phoned him, told him that for his own sake he should back off, because I was seeing 4 men and only had him in my sights to father my future children. She’d then berated him about showing off his meat and two veg in public and and told to keep his flies buttoned up. And the final pay-off to make sure he backed off well and truly .. “All that girl wants in life is money, money, money and 4 children.” SILENCE. Deafening silence. So even if it might have been on the cards that we would go out together, that certainly wasn’t happening. He did laugh about it weeks later. As for the 4 men … I’ve no idea who she was thinking about as I was firmly single and had been hoping for a date with aforementioned bewildered, angry man.
Mum told me to take it easy over Christmas, to slow down in life. And with all this panto piano playing, work and running a business – that’s no way to go Sonia Darling. See? Abba Lyrics. Does your mother know? They say mothers know best … so in some crazy way, she probably did if you dig deeper into the origin of the sentiments behind the stories. But there’s one thing that she’ll never know … it was ME, the apple-hating toddler, who hid all those horrid apples in her wellington boot. It was ME, the junior ballerina who’d let them rot for months in the hope they’d never be discovered and it was ME, the liver-hating, chocolate mice wanting, confused child who was responsible for the mouse problem in our flat – after all, what’s a toddler to do with all that nasty old cheese apart from to throw it under the bed to make it disappear? She pretended not to know, but she did … oh yes she did.