On Thursday you should be 57 years old. I should have been spending the last few weeks deciding on what to get my insanely difficult to purchase for mother on her 57th birthday. You would have, of course, told us all not to get you anything, but I would have spent every day since Christmas wondering if you’d like that scarf you were eyeing up when we went into town, or if you’d prefer earrings or a necklace. What about those leggings you liked in the catalogue but wouldn’t buy for yourself because I need new glasses or LPE needs a new set of football boots and you’d rather give us the money towards them? Would Blue Grass still be your favourite perfume, or would you have changed it when a new fragrance came out? Would you still keep that bottle of Charlie in the cupboard because it reminded you of spraying an entire bottle on Grandad’s feet back before you got married, because he made fun of you? He still says it took a month for that smell to disappear entirely.
For a mother and child we were so diametrically opposite in so many ways. You hated to read and loved to watch soaps and Jeremy Kyle. I love reading and writing and prefer science fiction and fantasy shows and films. You couldn’t stand the slightest bit of mess, whereas I let it build until the weekend and clean like crazy. You were 4’11 and took after your mother’s side when it came to weight, I on the other hand struggle to maintain a healthy weight and lose it quickly and am 5’6. But I have your eyes, and apparently, your smile too. We shared many a Saturday afternoon singing along to Doris Day and Connie Francis and we both inherited the LB temper.
You gave me a love of 50s music and taught me how to bake at your side. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter whilst you baked when I was just a toddler. Thanks to you, I’ve been able to do my own laundry, make a cup of tea and cook a full meal for five since I was 8 years old. And no I don’t think that makes you a bad parent, I think it makes you the best mother I could have had. You loved to go walking on a weekend if the weather was good, even if a short walk would take all day. You encouraged us to enjoy our passions and never once flinched when I took on gymnastics, ballet, tap, modern, character, national, archaeology club, school dance clubs, drama, running for House Captain, going in for the sixth form buddy system, all of it. You encouraged me to add stewarding at the Jersey Arts Centre to my already horrendous schedule on top of everything I did at home and school and to take on a part time paid job as well. I still don’t know how I did it all. I think your encouragement is what got me through.
You were so proud when I got into uni, so much so you would tell anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. I even once caught you telling our cat, Monty how proud you were of me. Of course you denied it though and consequently said the one word that would guarantee he would ask for what you said ‘Tuna’. It was a distraction technique because you didn’t talk about your emotions and feelings. That wasn’t how you were brought up. But I knew that you loved me, even when we fought, you never gave me any cause to doubt it.
I wonder what you’d have said if I got the chance to tell you that I am attracted to women, that I’m genderqueer, that teaching wasn’t for me, after all. What would you have done when you saw how your husband reacted to me coming out? And most of all, every single day, I ask one question, out loud or in my head, not knowing if you hear me but hoping that you do: do I make you proud?
My children, if I have them, will never know their Meme. They will never be able to run into your open arms have you scoop them up, like you did with me as a child. They will never know that even though you were tone deaf, there was nothing that could make me smile as much as hearing you sing along to The Deadwood Stage sung by Doris Day. They will never see you denying how much you love Christmas only to go all out with the gifts and the food because you want it to be special for everyone.
So on your 57th birthday, I’ll light a candle, have a cup of tea, and sing Happy Birthday for you, just like on the 10 other birthdays you’ve not been here for since you left in May 2001.