Rae Earl’s mum has come to visit for three months. And you know what? She’s bloody delighted.
She isn’t here for a couple of days or till the end of the EastEnders omnibus. She’s here for THREE months. That means THREE months of non-stop critiquing, harassment and total domination over the television remote control.
And I love it.
Christmas never used to be like this. During the wilderness years of our relationship, which lasted roughly from adolescence to my early 20s, I was planning my festive escape from about September onwards. Boyfriends, friends, voluntary work… Anywhere was better than Christmas with my arch-nemesis, and her eat-an-entire-Battenberg-cake-as-a-snack bodybuilding husband. I wanted bread sauce, Quality Street and harmony – not turkey and sprouts on a tray in my bedroom. It was dreadful. Not even Christmas Top of the Pops and a 25 quid Argos voucher was going to save that festive season.
Then came the thaw.
Not neat and Disney-like, it’s been a long time coming and it’s been worked on. Attitudes have been adjusted, and tongues have been bitten. Nearly off in some cases.
“Every night I say to her, ‘Good night. Love you.’ My mum replies with ‘Piss off.’ This is our tradition.”
The deluded brat in me has grown older. Life and experience have mellowed me. My mother however, has become even more eccentric. Age has fermented her eccentricity like a barking mad bottle of port.
On her arrival she inspects my bedding for softness. Domestos is pumped into sinks with scary regularity. I have been reminded today that washing machines should be regularly cleaned with either Listerine or vodka, but that I shouldn’t be drinking anyway at my age because my skin shows it.
She watches programmes about murder ALL DAY, but then won’t watch the news because it’s full of death. You’re not allowed to speak when John Nettles or Rick Stein are on screen, but when you’re holding your breath through Homeland while Carrie is foiling a chemical terrorist attack on Berlin, she is telling you that people with arthritic hips can still have sex using the spooning position (she read it in a leaflet about keeping your heart healthy).
This morning I woke up to her singing the Sister Act 2 soundtrack. You get the idea.
The weird thing is, all the things that drove me mad as a teenager I now find utterly lovely in middle age. The irritation I felt when I was younger that I had this unconventional mother who didn’t bake cakes but did marry a Moroccan kickboxer, has been replaced with gratitude for a parent who I can tell absolutely anything. A mum that is basically unshockable and very, very funny.
We are friends. There’s no agenda. She just wants the best for me. She always did. But it got lost in a fog of hormones. As many of us do when we are with our parents, I regress when I’m with her. When she joined in with a choir singing outside a shop this morning, I feigned a 14-year-old’s levels of embarrassment and mock outrage.
Yet underneath it all – there was neither. I thought she was rather magnificent; but sometimes you need a straight (wo)man in your life to confirm your behaviour as suitably silly. She winked at me. We both know. This is how it works.
Mother and daughter relationships are complex. Love, much like Christmas, is not perfect. It isn’t a John Lewis advert. There is love in so many things. There is love in her endless piss-taking. There is love in my complete inability to iron. She didn’t want me to be, in her words, a domestic slave. “Rachel is better at writing than getting creases out of trousers.” It’s actually a major compliment.
“When she joined in with a choir singing outside a shop this morning, I feigned a 14-year-old’s levels of embarrassment and mock outrage.”
We are British. We don’t do gushy. Living abroad makes you realise how British you are, and it makes you appreciate those who are 10,500 miles away from you. I have become a little more expressive. Every night I say to her, “Good night. Love you.” My mum replies with “Piss off.”
This is our tradition. Her “Piss off” actually means “I love you too.” You may not get this, but it does. Likewise, over the next three months when I tend to my Mum’s corns, that’s actually my way of showing her how much she means to me. We have found ways to express our affection for each other that we are comfortable with. Swearing and podiatry.
It’s not all plain sailing of course. She hates my cat. She still drives me mad when she assumes I remember everyone from my hometown from the past 40 years. And she’s still trying to turn me into a ‘proper girl’ with dress suggestions, but that’s just mums isn’t it? Why not let them watch Inspector Morse, and massage their cracked heels? For the next three months I plan to do exactly that. You may find it difficult to live with them. But it will almost certainly be a lot more difficult without them.4222 Views
Rae Earl is the writer of 'My Mad Fat Diary' and the 'OMG!' Hattie Moore series. She has never, despite three decades of trying, taught a cat to show jump. @RaeEarl