“Maa, I’m ready!” I shout at age six, when the whole toilet procedure still requires her help.
No answer. I can hear her on the phone in the other room.
“Maaaa, I’m readyyy!” I repeat, more melodically this time, exaggerating each vowel.
No answer. The person on the phone makes her laugh.
I wait a few more seconds before bellowing a final urgent: “MAA! I’M READY!”
Strange to remember a time when going to the toilet required help. One of the many things my mother will teach me to do by myself.
When I’m seven or eight, I ask mum if she’s ever been drunk.
‘Once,’ she says, ‘And it was horrible.’
At age 12, when I’ve fallen out with my best friend in a big way, Mum tells me that it isn’t, in fact, the end of the world, and that some girls really aren’t worth it.
By 14, she has become antagonist to all that is fun and daring.
I do what I can to navigate the many rules and curfews that imprison me. I roll my eyes when she says it’s harder to say ‘no’ than it is to say ‘yes’. Actually, I roll my eyes at most things. I feel guilty when she catches me out in a lie.
The state of imprisonment goes on for a few years. Despite this, Mum is still the best person to talk to when things go wrong. The various occasions when the end of the world is nigh. I am lucky that we get along so much, much more than some other girls and their mums. Except when I break the Rules of Imprisonment.
I am embarrassed by my parents. Mum often asks, lightheartedly, whether I think she gives a shit what my friends, and in fact any teenagers think. “Well you don’t give a shit but I do,” I think to myself.
“You know, the great thing about getting old,” she says, “is that the older you get, the less you care.”
All through school and sixth form she reads my essays. Sometimes criticism welcome, sometimes irritating. It’s the same with my clothes – at times she raises a quizzical brow at my outfit, as though it’s the oddest arrangement she’s ever seen. “Whats wrong with it?” I ask angrily, as I’m already late and have spent hours agonising over clothing options. But I always go back and change, as she is probably right.
When I am doing big exams at 18, she wakes me up with a cup of sweet tea. If I’m lucky, and with enough persuasion, she will sit on my bed and chat to me till I’m ready to get up. We can chat about all kinds of things, big and small, serious and not so serious.
At University, I start to see Mum as a bit more of an ordinary human being, and less this unchanging constant with a set of fixed responses and reactions. It’s nice that we can have honest conversations and we can even swear.
I begin to understand the old Rules of Imprisonment and their various benefits. It doesn’t matter now, because there are little to no rules and I’m less inclined to break them.
Soon I find myself beginning to like the things she likes. Clothes, music, lifestyle choices. I realise that she actually has pretty good taste. I begin to regard her as pretty cool. Unthinkable to teenage me. I value her opinion very much, even when she says what I don’t want to hear.
Just like me, she isn’t perfect. She’s a person like any other, with a history, one that stretches long before me being born. She, too, has had a childhood and youth and 20s.
We laugh at the time she said she got drunk once, and it was horrible.
I sometimes hear myself talk and am shocked by how much I sound like her. My brother teases me and says I’m becoming Mum.
I joke that it frightens me, but it doesn’t. I don’t mind a bit.
I was embarrassed once, but now I’m just proud.