Thursday 8 October; a day I’ll never forget! After a couple of weeks of wondering and waiting my mum gets confirmation that she has breast cancer and my world is rocked to its foundation …
At the moment they think it is stage 1 and treatable, but the initial diagnosis has thrown us into a world of further tests and scans, so at the moment I just have everything crossed for ‘no new information’, because I realise that I am simply not yet ready for anything more serious.
For my mum is quite a character; a huge personality brimming with life, mischief and incredible kindness. Ever present, energetic and exuding a sense of immortality…except of course … no-one is… none of us lasts forever and in the past week, as we waited in limbo for the results of biopsies and radiographs, the vision of a world that did not include her hit me like a train.
So when, at orchestra a few days ago, she risked sending me a mildly obscene gesture and cheeky smile as someone asked, for about the 20th time, ‘what bar we are going from?’… it brought a lump to my throat. Whirring round and round in my mins was the voice that said, what if that’s the last time we are at a rehearsal together and I see her face grinning across the room?
Ansd last Sunday night when she called incensed, to discuss the Strictly Come Dancing results show, I wobbled again.
What if …….?
On this occasion, I panicked so much that I cancelled my plans for this Saturday night and arranged instead to go around for a ‘Strictly viewing party’, because suddenly every moment with mum felt too precious to waste. And all the little things… those tiny details we often take for granted … well I realised how important and special they truly are.
So the initial cautious diagnosis, and treatment plan almost comes as a relief from the far grimmer scenarios I thought we might be facing.
I am aware, or course, that no surgery will be easy, as she is over 80. In fact mum’s first question to the consultant is,
“I didn’t know that anyone my age could get cancer!”
Alas; they. In fact, the National Library of Medicine reports that ‘one in ten’ breast cancer patients are over the age of 80. If there is a mixed message, it arises from the cessation of the screening programme at the age of 70 in the UK. This does not, as I’ll admit I thought, indicate a reduction in risk rather that the increase in other health risks results in the programme not longer being cost-beneficial for the NHS.
Let’s be thankful that mum’s cancer seems, at this point in time, to have been found quickly.
For now, I hope and put on a brave face; brave for mum and brave for my children. And only occasionally, usually as I am on my own in the car, do a let a small tear fall ….
When your children spread their wings and head off to live and study in other towns and cities, one very nice outcome for you as a parent is the chance to travel to and explore these new places too…
My Eldest is on placement in Middlesborough this year. Whilst she will admit to missing the bright lights of Newcastle, one upside is that she is a good hour closer the me than usual, so it is very easy to pop over for a day visit. And that is exactly what I do this weekend.
“What shall we do first?” asks my girl, as I rap on the door of her student house around midday.
“Food please!” I reply, hungry after my drive to this corner of North Yorkshire.
A short 5-minute stroll takes us to a great cafe where it is the famous local delicacy ‘parmo’ for my daughter and a truly delicious three-bean chilli for me. So good is the food that I am tempted to try the pudding menu. But my eldest is full and I ruefully remember, my (pretty ambitious) quest to get back into a dress I last wore in the previous millennium(!) for my niece’s wedding so I too forgo a further course.
Instead, we wander into the town centre and waste a happy half hour shopping small luxuries that are beyond a student budget but well within ‘mum-treating’ range.
It is briefly back to the student house to drop our purchases before we hop into the car to explore a ‘pretty beach‘ my Eldest has passed on her weekly GP visits.
And so it is that I discover Saltburn; what a little gem! We park the car in front of an elegant terrace of Victorian grandeur and descend to the cove beneath. Marked out by the imposing Hunt Cliff, the beach may well have been a centre for smugglers in a bygone era, but today is the perfect spot for a bracing walk along the windswept sands. Despite it being the first day of October, hardy children are playing in the streams and paddling in the sea, you could probably surf on a slightly warmer day. We traverse the sands and rocks and then reward ourselves with a drink in a bar overlooking the sea.
Thereafter it is back up the very steep hill to the car and as we stop to catch our breath, we spot the far better way to make this ascent; the Saltburn Cliff Tramway. This small tram-car, was first opened in 1884 to replace a vertical hoist and is now the oldest water balanced funicular still in operation in Great Britain. It is a must for our next visit!
As the Autumn sun begins to fade, we return to the student house and, after a fine cup of tea, I it is time for me to head home. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday …
As the Easter holidays draw to a close, I hardly recognise my own home! Cheered on, at times propelled on, by my daughterly duo of retail fanatics, not only does my conservatory proudly boast a new furniture but our aged plastic garden chairs have also been binned in favour of ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners.
Have I taken leave of my senses? Well I just might have done exactly that, because the shopping frenzy all began….with a hot tub!!
Gosh the hot tub! Now that is a long story which at some point demands a post of its own but for now can go down as a fanciful notion floated after some bargain deals bounced into the inbox. And now here it is, at least until my energy price fix runs out in Summer 2023, our very own outdoor spa!
It is certainly an extravagance on its own, yet, scarcely has the froth subsided on our first dip in the bubbles, when purchase number 2 is in the boot of the car. I innocently agree to potter into town with my Eldest, to pop into Boots for a new moisturiser when my girl steers me into a store promising ‘unbeatable bargains‘ on garden furniture. Before I know it, I find myself trundling to the till with four new ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners in my trolley!
“Mum, you have been looking for new outdoor furniture for years!”,
my Eldest smiles reassuringly, as I appear a little flustered. This is true, but I had anticipated at least another half decade of looking and wondering and weighing-up before I actually made any daring dash to the cash-till. In addition, I am not at all sure what ‘zero gravity‘ chairs even are! But, as we try them all out upon our return home, they are very comfortable. And apparently, my offspring tell me, together with the hot tub really ‘freshen up the garden experience!‘
I know what you’re thinking, by now I had surely learned my lesson! But no, as Prom-dress daughter arrives home to swell the youthful and carefree ranks of the household, I am persuaded to head out to Ikea to replace a few broken glasses and try out the new ‘plant balls’. Five minutes! We are there for only five minutes, before we are are snuggling on a new sofa and admiring the display of accompanying rug and table!
“You’ve been looking for ages, Mum”
“Don’t you just love it – so comfy!”
“The poor conservatory has been completely bare for 18 months now!”
They do actually allow me to stop and consider this one, over (delicious) plant balls, mash and gravy. Possibly, I am distracted by the delights of my redcurrant jelly but equally the fact that they are correct and that my lovely, sunny, garden room has been an empty shell, for a very long time, does also register and I decide to go for it, rug, coffee table and all!
At the warehouse, things are slightly complicated. We discover that, despite endless permutations of collapsed seats and car-boot boxes plus much hilarity as the three of us career around the carpark with the weighty beast, the sofa is never going to be squashed into my car. In now rueful resignation, I wave my credit card at the cashier and fork out for home delivery!
So the time honoured clash of their youthful exuberance and that dash of ‘carpe diem’ with my single-mum (crippling) caution. There is a clear victor on this occasion. I’ll admit however that, for once, I am glad to have been defeated. Left to my own devices I would doubtless have a few more £100s in the bank, awaiting the proverbial ‘rainy day’, but the conservatory would still be an empty room and the tired old plastic chairs not up to the task of tempting anyone to sit in the garden this holiday. Whereas, we now live in the conservatory and the new garden equipment has also been fun. It has made the Easter holidays seem pretty idyllic and contributed to me falling a little bit in love with my own home again.
Nonetheless, the bank manager and I do heave an audible sigh of relief as my two shopaholic students set off back to uni-land …
We may open our weekend curtains to thick snowfall. Our first taxi may be a no-show. But we are undaunted. Buttoned up to the nines, gripping umbrelllas for dear life and sprayed by countless cars, we slosh off to the bus stop.
One double-decker ride and a Manchester Metrolink later we step out into the city centre. Our mission? Sprucing up Spring wardrobes … and having a fabulous time! I am happy to report that Cottonopolis does not disappoint. After three glorious hours, we sink into comfy seats for a well earned coffee, brandishing impressive numbers of bags and purchases. Jeans, bargain-jumpers, ‘going-out’ tops, shoes…and we both feel great.
So here’s the question? They call it retail ‘therapy’ but… is shopping actually good for you?
Marie Claire report that it is, in their 2018 article, Shopping is actually good for your mental health and science proves it, and they cite a rather complex survey carried out by The Journal of Consumer Affairs, which examines the role of shopping for those battling with the very serious challenge of grief. For many of us, heading out to splash some cash, will be for more trivial reasons, however, there is definitely commonly a notion of self-care: cheering yourself up, deciding to treat yourself or just to brighten yourself up by have something new to wear. And there are plenty of studies that support the notion that a shopping spree will do just that and lift our mood for various reasons: distraction, social interaction, feeling ‘in control’ and feeling satisfaction at having saved up for a purchase are just a few discussed in WebMD’s article, Is Retail Therapy for Real?
A day of flexing the credit card is, some suggest, also great way to strengthen the mother-daughter bond, for whilst shopping with toddlers is surely a trauma most parents are only too keen to forget, trips out with your offspring, as they emerge into early teen years can be really enjoyable. A great context to allow some time together and to acknowledge burgeoning independence, as your children now start to take control over what they want to wear. Does it work for the teenagers because they like the fact that you are paying and for parents because, if you are like me, clothing choices are ones we tend to feel pretty relaxed about? I am not sure; but I would concur with, Parenthub who observe that,
“This struggle for independence can be fraught with conflict and stress, yet interestingly our results indicate that the shopping environment is a safe place to express this independence.”
It can, of course, be expensive and in our household this simply meant that we only went occasionally. But I reckon that this in turn made our retail adventures seem extra special and times to be excitedly anticipated and cherished.
Whatever the ins and outs, we have certainly had a lovely time today. I do smile as I compare the very different brands we have purchased. Mine bear the distinct hall-marks of established British high street stalwarts, whereas my Eldest has made a bee-line for fresher, trendier more current labels. That aside, it as been a jointly successful day and, as my ‘bargain jumper’ was such a steal, there is even some money left for a cheeky cocktail or two which is a definite “Woohoo and cheers all round…”
Sometimes, as I am scooping spiders out of bathrooms, battling with the lawnmower, jolting around the estate with learner driver Prom-dress daughter at the wheel or shoulder-barging Small boy at basketball, I do appreciate that single parenthood equips you with skills you never foresaw when discussing your life plan with the school careers advisor. And this weekend, marks a true Everest of personal achievements….
After a few covid-19 delays, we are collecting my Eldest from her new student house in the North East for the Summer. She calls midweek with a request,
“Mum, could you bring a screwdriver and hammer on Saturday? I’ve got to make a chest of drawers.”
And so it is, that just after noon and a drive up the A1, I saunter into the student kitchen brandishing our family tool box and drill.
“Oooh how professional! ‘ coos one of her housemates.
And it makes my day! I feel like some empowered, positive role model of female capability and follow my Eldest to her room with my head held high!
What the lovely students don’t know, but the rest of my household do, is that I only really have one professional piece of kit with me in the car… and that is my middle child. But in the searing heat of a third floor attic room, I have been inspired to play my part. Prom-dress daughter has the plan and gives the directions but, doing exactly what I am told: I drill, I hammer and I dowel like a trooper.
We stop for lunch out, in the vibrant and trendy cafe-bar area my Eldest now lives in and, then return to complete our mission. What a triumph! Never has a pretty basic set of drawers looked better in my eyes. The sweat, the plastic burns (long story), the occasional splinter … all worth it! It was, I have to concede, as a former scorner of DIY, strangely satisfying slots and fitting it all together. I celebrate with a murky cup of tea, from the student kitchen that has just run out of milk, and then we hit the road.
My younger pair share a Spotify Account, and we sing our way back down the motorway to their assorted play lists. Weary but happy, we arrive home midway through Saturday evening.
Have I morphed into some building stereo-type, I ponder as a I wave aside a gin and tonic and treat myself instead to a couple of cold beers? And possibly it is the beer talking as I announce that our next holiday project is demolishing the dilapidated old garden shed …. ourselves. Let’s see if I am still as enthusiastic after a good night’s sleep…
At around noon, Prom-dress daughter, three of her friends, assorted luggage …and a mini fridge, set off, in a very small Fiat 500, en route for my mum’s caravan in Wales.
‘Oh to be 18 again!’
Laughter and excitement fill our house as they all assemble. I pop briefly into the lounge, in an attempt to discuss the route, but am waved away with confident flourishes of Google Maps and leave them discussing the far more important issue of what to add to the car playlist! And, as bottles of gin and fizz are cheerfully clanked into the car boot, I realise that now is also not the moment to check if anyone has brought ‘a waterproof‘ or a ‘pair of stout walking boots’.
No this is the glorious age when you are old enough to start breaking away parental supervision, sensible shoes and practical plans, and life can be centred on fun, friendship and freedom. And I don’t feel overly worried or anxious as I wave them off…I just feel envious! My mind wanders back to the halcyon days of my own youth and those early ‘gal pal’ holidays.
My first, aged 16, was also at my parent’s caravan. Ours was an epic journey indeed, involving a National Express coach, a train followed by a steam train, a local bus and then dragging our bulging bags and cases through the caravan park. Once there, I have no idea what we ate and doubt we had a raincoat between us. What I do remember is sunbathing on the beach with a crackly radio permanently set to the ‘Radio 1 Roadshow’, occasional and very tame night-time adventures at the ‘caravan club’, lots and lots of laughter and delightful days drifting by without a care. And that is the feeling I miss, now that I am a grown up.
I say this even after a week when music makes a magical return to my world. The curtain raiser; a trip to the Bridgwater Hall. And here, just as I am sipping on a cheeky white wine spritzer with the opening chords of the overture rising through the auditorium, my phone pings with a request to play in an actual concert.
I’ll confess I feel a little stunned at first, because I am 16 months out of practice. However, I resolve to ‘go for it, slug back a little more alcoholic courage and reply with a ‘yes!’ I spend my week digging out reeds, working on my parts and rediscovering the challenge of scheduling meals, work and life around rehearsals. And it is great. Great to be making music with others again, great to be part of the noise…but it’s not the same as being 18.
At eighteen, I was touring the wonderful Veneto region with the city Youth Orchestra and don’t recall giving my part, my reeds or any solos a second thought. In truth, I’d struggle to name the programme for a single concert! At that young age, it was all about the friends I roomed with, post-concert drinks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sunshine and adventure in exciting foreign settings …without a parent in sight. Old enough to taste independence but still too young forthe weight of responsibility. Was it, for the briefest of windows, a golden age?
Who knows, but here’s to a fantastic holiday for my daughter and her lovely friends. Lets face it, after 16 months of pandemic, they all deserve it. Make memories, make it laughter- filled and, above all, make the most of being young….
With A’level assessments over, Prom-dress daughter heads off to the North East to spend a few days with her sister. Her only worry? The train… its is her first solo journey…
My middle child struggles with the unknown, she always has, and a 2 hour train trip, with one change, on her own for the first time, has pushed her completely out of her comfort zone. We drive to the station in strained silence and sitting outside a nearby coffee shop in the Saturday sunshine, her panic even spills into a few tears. Once again, we go through the route, where to find platform info, how to open the carriage door and where to put luggage. I give her a reassuring hug and she tries to calm down.
Wondering if I have underestimated her anxiety on this occasion, I offer to persuade the attendant to let me through the first barrier so that I can see her get onto the first train. How I love her reply!
“Do you know what Mum, I think I just need to go for it and do this on my own!”
And she does. I have my phone ready and I probably get over 25 texts in the next 10 minutes, checking and asking about absolutely every detail. But, as my lovely girl finds, that she has actually successfully boarded the correct train without any help, I know that her confidence has rocketed because I scarcely hear from her again. One brief text letting me know that the change at York has gone well and then… nothing at all. It is my eldest who lets me know that she has arrived safely and it makes me smile… it takes me back to Day 1 at High School…
Day 1 at High School was the bus journey. We’d done a dummy run and for extra support on that first morning, we’d arranged that I would shadow her on the bus too. I’d get on, sit as far away as possible, avoid eye contact and generally act as if we’d never met. But, if anything went wrong, I would be there.
It worked a treat, but the clearest memory I have is of the moment we all disembarked. By this time there was a throng of unformed pupils all treading the route to the school gates and I can still picture my daughter turning round and giving me a tiny wave… it was a wave goodbye, a wave to say ‘Okay on my own now Mum’ , a wave for me to let her find her own way. And I often say that by the time she came back home that day, she was already a different child. More confident, more independent and more free.
And I think I know that when she comes home next week, she’ll have changed again and be a different young woman to the one I dropped off this morning. More sure of herself, more ready for autonomy and more excited about opening the door to embrace the opportunities that life offers as you start to make your own way in it.
These are important milestones and good steps to take. These are times to feel quite proud, as a mum, to sit back and let them be ‘okay on my own now ‘ …
As the sun sets on Mother’s Day 2021, the saddest of events in the UK has left me wresting with a pretty challenging maternal dilemma…
The death of Sarah Everard in London, murdered as she walked home from a friend’s house, strikes a terrifying chord with most women this week. And I am not only a woman in my own right, I am also a mum to two wonderful daughters. What advice do I give them that allows them to live their lives, freely, boldly and with adventure but also keeps them safe?
In a midweek call, my Eldest wants to talk running shoes. Let me re-phrase, she want to talk about me paying for running shoes!
” You’ll be so proud of me mum! I am taking up running!“
I am pleased, but one question, screaming in my head that I try so hard not to ask, is not about distances or training schedules or Strava….
“Who will you be running with?”, I eventually blurt out
“Mostly just on my own… like you do mum!” comes my daughter’s cheery reply
And my heart goes cold. Do I now have to tell my lovely girl how I run by myself: always in daylight, always on a busy main road, never through a park, a wood or a country track, never with headphones… the safety measures go on and on and on. Do men have these thoughts? I just don’t know. What I do know however is that I have been having them since the age of 13.
Thirteen was third year at school and coincided with the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror. Our teachers spoke to us about it in lessons. Some girls had sisters at Leeds Uni and we prayed for their safety and courage for their families. Although 25 miles away, we were also told to be careful. And I was petrified. Haunted in sleepless nights and dreading… just dreading each day, the long, dark and lonely walk from the bus stop to home. When he was caught, I thought I might feel safe again. But, once planted, the worry and fear never goes away completely.
Even now, the walk back to the car, on my own in the dark still panics me at the end of every rehearsal and concert. I no longer use the car boot, but instead have perfected a technique of hurling my oboe, stand and myself into the front seat as quickly as I can before hitting the locked door switch. My first solo rung on the property ladder, at the age of 28, was a flat, because it felt safer than a house with a garden and rear access. If I do have to head out, on foot, in the dark for any reason, I walk in the middle of the road and with keys firmly gripped between the knuckles. It is very sad and what shocks me to the core this week, as I listen to various radio phone-ins, is the sheer numbers of other women who also live like this.
Ninety seven percent! That, in research by UN Women UK, is the staggering statistic, giving the proportion of women aged 18 to 24 who report being sexually harassed. Surely unbelievable? But, as I look back, I do recall episodes from my own past. Running for cover, as a teenager in France, when man exposed himself to me and my friend and ‘pleasured himself’ all over our picnic rug. In my twenties, followed back to the hotel in Portugal and bombarded with calls to our room, from the reception desk throughout the night. Chased by a group of young men in a car and then on foot, when a friend and I once did cut through a forest path a night. And I am sure of this. We didn’t report any of these incidents to anyone. We didn’t expect anyone to protect us. We admonished ourselves and expected to modify our behaviour. Only go out in groups of four or more. Stay closer to the hotel compound. Keep to the busy main roads. I now realise that this cannot be right. Cannot be fair. Cannot be acceptable. But how will it ever change?
And what to tell my daughters right now? Or, as some commentators suggest this week, what to tell my son? For me however, it seems far easier to bring up the subject and find the words for a chat with Small Boy. Hey, he is currently reading ‘We should all be feminists’, he’d probably be able to offer me a few pointers! Plus I remember the lovely men I grew up with. Such as my boyfriend’s pal J, who would walk 18- year old me home every Saturday night from our Metro stop. It was about 30 minutes out of his way, but at the start when I’d bravely say
“Oh you really don’t have to – it’s such a long way!“
He would laugh and make light of it,
“I know I don’t have to, but you are doing me a favour! Mum –I did know his mum- will kill me if I go home this drunk! The walk will sober me up!”
“You say it a long way, but it’s still nowhere near long enough for you to explain how on earth you think The Style Council can ever compare to The Jam!“
And later, when I was honest enough to just say ‘Thank you’ he replied,
“It really is nothing and it stops me worrying about you all night !”
Yes, he was worrying too. And I am sure that many dads, brothers and good male friends also find this situation intolerable.
But is still leave me wondering, what to tell my daughters. The national debate, demands that we aim to re-educate and change our culture completely. But I decide that I cannot wait that long. Many authors have described violence against women as the ‘hidden pandemic’ and I certainly fear it more than I fear covid-19. Abhorrent as it is to accept that my daughters too may face a life of caution and unease, the thought of them coming to harm is even more chilling.
The balance between freedom and safety makes a fateful tip. I hit the facetime button,
“So, running on your own is fine but you might want to think about these few pointers….