I’ve been back on the receiving end of parenting for a few days while I went to visit my 81-year-old Mam (code name: Nana) back at her palatial terraced house in the West of Ireland.
In the last few years, Nana has deteriorated noticeably, while still remaining fairly sprightly, physically. Conversations roll around on a 30-minute cycle along the lines of what we’ll have for tea, how she’s ‘damn lucky’ to be able to get around at her age, and what we’ll have for tea. At the same time, she’s in such good physical condition that she’s still able to sing in her church choir and still has way more energy than I do.
But I was struck over the last weekend by how similar her coping mechanisms seemed to mine, which would make sense as I would’ve learnt them from her. Her withdrawal from nearby family and surviving friends, who had been part of the reason for her return to Ireland 11 years ago, mirrored my urges to hide in the house when I’m feeling depressed. And it seemed such an irresistibly downward spiral of isolation and depression; seems.
So, now that I’m back at the helm of the Good Ship Family, I’m aware of the echoes of my Mum’s parenting in my own life. The times that I leave J-Bone watching CBeebies while I make tea remind me of watching FingerMouse while Mam was in the kitchen with RTÉ radio babbling around her.
I can’t help but wonder if she felt the same levels of frustration with two-year-old me as I do with J. It’s impossible to have a discussion with her about it, and I suspect her mindset, one formed in a very different era and space, would not admit the idea of getting angry with her children, but the patterns of our parenting seem to run way too closely for me to believe she too wanted to escape to the kitchen at least once a day.
As it becomes increasingly clear that she will need some help in the near future, the prospect of caring after the woman who cared for me comes into sharper focus: reverse parenting. It occurs to me that in our oddly mono-generational existences (in which you don’t really get much training in how to look after babies until you have one), we don’t have much training in how to care for elderly relatives. Nanas don’t live in family homes any more, so they become slightly alienated and figures of horrid myth building, monstrous. If we grew up helping out with our ancient forebears, then it would be less scary; wouldn’t it?
Recognising myself in her problems coping with the world outside her small-scale daily routines is scary. The idea that J might look at me with the same dread in twenty years or so also chills my guts. It is, however, more appealing than the alternative: not being around to feel that gaze on me at all.
Having a kid is an existential shock to the system carefully built since adolescence to explain what life is about. I still feel the greasy, black tremors of it tonight. The idea of getting to know someone that you will have to leave behind one day picks at the seams of what I expected to be an uncomplicatedly joyous experience.
Sorry that this is such a rambling post; I’m tired and some next-day editing will definitely be required to try and locate the gist and bring it to the front. But something about my time with my Mam last weekend felt like another dimension being felt for with clueless fingers, some unrealised aspect of parenting, a dark side of the Mam.
If I get a better idea of what I’m on about, in it will go.