The Mother of all Mothers.

I first wrote this blog post just over three years ago in 2017. With Mother’s day here on today’s sun cycle , I thought it was worth revisiting. I have made small amendments and some additions as our lives have changed.

There was a time when the expression ” mother of all mothers” would have only be uttered in relation to a hangover I endured or a row I had engaged in.  However with the upcoming celebration of Mothers Day, I got thinking of my own Mam and my own mothering experience thus far.

Between us, my Mam and I have approximately 79 years experience in the business of mothering and that is just cumulative. If you take each child as an individual in their own right requiring their own specially tailored skill set  we have a combined total of just over 300 years experience….find me a CEO or management team with that kind of  record. OK she has accumulated the lions share of that, but I like to think she taught me well and as you know I’m entirely comfortable with the concept of piggy backing and/ or hanging onto someone else’s coat tails. She is not the cats mother.

I can remember her vividly on numerable occasions saying “Just wait until you’re “A MOTHER”.  It came across sometimes as a thinly veiled threat  and at other times as an overt warning. One which I now get, but obviously a bit too late  as I am mother to five children. I also  remember with some clarity (actually I think I made many the list over the years in the back room of the Cork Road) the indignities , the rules and utterances that I promised myself I would never ever ever ever visit on any future offspring I may have. I have to confess epic fail on that one. If memory serves me right some of these may have  included :

  • Any forced interaction with relations that involved any possibility of song, dance or recital of any kind.(Fail)
  • Any unnegotiated  bedtime…. actually bedtime in general really. My children were going to follow their own body clocks(Fail)
  • Any interference in the choosing of a hairstyle (haven’t done too bad on that, shame about school rules.)
  • The saving of the really nice food for the guests and feeding your children the LEFTOVERS. (Different times….we’re talking about when a tin of Heinz Vegetable Salad was the height of luxury)
  • The lack of Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. ( not guilty of that)
  • The denial of freedom of movement outside the house . (HA  ha  … Fail)
  • The repeated overuse of  outdated cliches…..(mmm yep Fail).
  • Having to wear a hat when the wind came from any of the four directions bearing in mind that according to my mother the east wind had super powers when it came to my re-occurring ear infections and it merited the donning of nuclear level hat defences. (Bar the provision of a hat box and a odd roar in my children’s  general direction, I’m grateful if they’re wearing matching shoes)
  • Being in a state of fear going within 3 feet of the hot press door. The hot press was situated in our living room. I swear my Mam could hear that door opening from down the road by the grotto. The military precision like folding of its contents meant it was guarded like Fort Knox. There was absolutely no need for CCTV footage..she knew if so much as a facecloth which would have been ironed had been moved, (Bar the odd whinge about the state my children leave it in , they have full access.)

I have no doubt that my beloved children have and will screenshot  probably not such tame lists regarding the vagaries of my mothering style.  My mothering style is sometimes not even in the same library or book, let alone on the same page as my mothers. My Mam, was of her time, as I am of mine and we were reared in an Ireland that will soon only be known about in history books given the seismic changes in Irish society.

My Mam, whose womanly lifeforce has been a constant in my life, is very much a woman’s woman; not holding on a conceptual level the male of the species  in very high regard. Individual men whom she loves, likes or admires, of which there are quite a few, enjoy her warmth and friendship.

A woman who, reduced, reused and recycled way before the word ‘green’ entered our lexicon. A woman whose ninja like ability to reduce rooms of domestic detritus into neat manageable piles to this day leaves me in awe. My Mam, who wrote to me at least once a fortnight for the seven years I  lived in London and who pulled me up when she thought I was getting an English accent after only being there a couple of weeks.

My Mam who was happy to make her own bed and lie in it. Rejecting her fathers preferred match (” some very old farmer”) in favour of my lovely dad. A woman whose favourite time is around Spring and Easter with all it’s rebirth and new beginnings. A woman who could knit from her head and re calibrate  a pattern with the exactitude  of an engineer. A woman whose shin beef stew and apple cake would set a high enough bar for the celebrity slow cookers of today’s world. My Mam, a woman who instilled in me a love of reading & letter writing, an interest in politics,  and the thrill of a good bargain.

My Mam, who through her relationship with and how she talks about all of her grandchildren has shown me the love and pride she undoubtedly must have felt about me & my siblings. There is a softness there, that I think Mam didn’t have the luxury of, when she was rearing us. The fact that, I think she never has had to wait up for any of her grandchildren wondering when the hell they were actually going to arrive home probably helps too. Though she probably didn’t have to do that for all of my siblings either.

Mam sat every exam with us and given that she got all four of us through third level that amounts to a fair load of exams. One of her two contradicting ‘cliches’ was “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, the other being “Work hard in school/college, whatever else they take from you they can’t take your education away from you”. Given that we knew nobody, more emphasis was given to the latter pronouncement and I have never figured out who ‘they’ were.

I would love to report that all due diligence was given to these utterances and that I was a dedicated and hard working model student but if I said that, my Mam, who has editorial control over this blog post would make me stick out my tongue and then she’d find that black mark that ‘fibs’ leave.

My Mam who in my own mothering career, has and continues to provide equal measures of sympathy and practical advice. She has provided hours of housework, the continued mothering of me, hours of baby holding and associated winding, soothing etc. and the proverbial kick up the backside and calling out on my sometimes bullshit whinging. As my children have grown older, she has been quite quick to point out that many of the traits that I sometimes find annoying in my children are ones that they didn’t pick up off the floor.

My Mam comes from a generation that had a much harder existence than mine or my children. It beholds me to remember that. It took me years to cotton on to the soundness of her”spend a little, save a little” advice. It took me an equally long time to realise the merits of having at least one or two clothing items of “Sunday Best” status in my wardrobe not to mention the importance of good clean underwear just in case the Doctor might be needed . Mam would say of me, “if you had something new you’d wear it to a “cat fight down the road” and “if your sister had something new you’d wear that too”.

Even as I as I hit middle age and had matured somewhat, she still had the ability to deliver invaluable life lessons.   When she turned eighty about eleven years ago now and I hit my fun filled forties, she came to stay for a few days. I discovered during her stay whilst doing the laundry that completely of my own volition, I was buying and wearing the same knickers as my eighty year old mother. Knickers that even Bridget Jones would think twice about wearing on a bad day!  Enough said, even after five children, my pelvic floor muscles didn’t need that amount of support, so into a bin bag they went. Subliminal sartorial advice at skin level.

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that my Mam’s mothering achievements amount to much more than just being the catalyst for my underwear drawer overhaul. I am certain each and everyday that she has my back, that she will always be in my corner. I will never be too old to be beyond a gentle rebuke verbal or otherwise. “The look” never lost its’ effectiveness.  I will always be her child and even though we still sometimes don’t see eye to eye, have different world views and ideals, we have forged a good, indeed a great relationship. A relationship  like one,  which I hope to enjoy  with my children both today and for all of the tomorrows.

This coming Mother’s day will be the first one for Mam, where my brothers signature will be missing from the annual card that was sent. At 91 it is fair to say that she did not expect outlive any of her children..what parent does? I know if she could have a struck a bargain with’ whatever powers that might be’ she would have done so in an instantaneous heartbeat. Age, wisdom and accumulated life experience do not lessen the burden of grief or reduce the feelings of loneliness and longing that underpin her days. I cannot lessen her burden either. We talk about our irrevocably sense of disbelief, the void in all our lives and our sadness. The changes wrought by John’s death are far from imperceptible in the essence of my Mam’s being and still she mothers me.


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