So we were on a family outing this morning, driving to meet friends so our kids could go swimming together. We’re navigating our road which is perilous with its careless free for all parking, reckless oncoming drivers and the occasional mobility scooter just for fun – something you wouldn’t believe of a small English seaside town stuck in the 50 – when my mum announced:
“This is worse than Bressuire on market day – let’s get out of this benighted country. I want to go home”
You have to have actually driven through Bressuire on a market day to appreciate the acuity of this remark but she was bang on. More to the point, this was the first time she’s wholeheartedly endorsed the ‘Big Idea’.
You’ll have gathered by now from the heavy reliance on the personal pronoun that I’m the one driving this – partly out of a need to stay positive and focused on something, partly because I’m scared shitless about getting another job, partly because I don’t want another job, at least not one that’s office based in an atmosphere percolated with fear and backstabbing – had enough of that, thanks. And very largely because I want that freedom and opportunity and excitement and – let’s be honest here – adrenalin rush of doing something reckless and dangerous and just plain fun.
We’re an interesting household, balancing the different generations, generally holding the tensions in check. I know my mother would like to be more of the ‘fun’ grandparent not just the one who has to play ‘mummy’ when I’ve messed up the work/life balance again. I know she’d like to laugh more and feel the sun on her face more and probably even get drunk more and sing show tunes more. Instead she’s seen her life narrow down into that of a suburban drudge, a self described ‘Widow Twankey’ who washes and tidies and watches TV when actually she’s brilliantly funny, sharp witted, a born entertainer and raconteur and the best hostess.
And I feel guilty for trapping her in this big old Victorian house as an unpaid housekeeper and babysitter. Guilty for taking her away from the life she loved in France. Guilty in the way all daughters feel about their mothers, especially when I’m so reliant on her in so many ways.
When my father died, the expectation was that she would sell up and go back – not my mum. It was my dad’s dream to live in France, one that she went along with and gradually embraced and then made her own when he was no longer there to share it. So she didn’t sell – she stuck it out and made friends in the community and opened her house to strangers who she made friends. She exercised her considerable design skills in transforming our stencil bedecked, fluro walled house into something warm and comfortable and the epitome of ‘French provincial’ chic. She hosted great parties. She counselled and consoled and created. She learned to love cats though she never learned to drive – though she did learn to dry stone wall to repair the havoc she wreaked in trying. She opened her life out into something unexpected – she didn’t just cope with her grief, she transformed herself through it.
And then we came back to the UK with the promise that we’d go back to France one day but as the years passed, that dream seemed to diminish, or move further away beyond the horizon of jobs and work and childcare. She settled for moving to the country because she’d decided we were never going to go back, not in her lifetime.
So whether I’m driving this adventure or not, I could have cried happy tears this morning to hear her say she wanted to go ‘home’.