Cooking for Two on Mothers Day (An Ode)

On Mothers Day, I’m reminded of my childlessness, that I’ve never carried any number of children, that I bled for 8 days every 21 days for almost 30 years for no reason other than my body said so. But then I look to my silly family of six–husband (one so far), dogs (two), and cats (two), and remind myself of the wonder of the Mirena IUD (No. More. Blood.) and smile.

In all fairness though, I might not have any kids, but spending time away from home with my parents is like being around  tween siblings without internet connectivity.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and we’re at the weekender in Hepburn Springs, our go-to for a bit of solitude. It’s nice here, super low-key save for the cars heading into town (Daylesford) for brunch and a spa treatment, and there’s the odd flock of cockatoos screaming at the heavens. It’s cold enough at this time of the year where we can light a fire and don’t feel guilty about skipping a morning walk. Dad fiddles around with the trees, hacking into bushes and pulling weeds. Today he harvests a bag of olives from the front yard. Jeff and I read on our phones, give the cats our feet to tear up and largely ignore the barking dogs, but make sure to top up the fire. The house is sparse–it’s a weekender, after all–and there’s no cleaning to do, no laundry, no anything. We don’t even have music on because it’s nice to just read and chill after a week of work and to-do lists.

Thing is, mum doesn’t use an iPad, or a smart phone, she doesn’t read anymore and, while she enjoys a soak in the bath, she prefers a shower for its efficiency.

My mother likes to Get. Things. Done. And relaxing quietly is not one of those Things.

Instead, she talks to the animals. My mother doesn’t do silence. So she insists on conversation with the dogs, and when they don’t answer she looks to me and waits for me to answer on their behalf. She remarks about how clean and the tidy the house is, about what she’ll make for dinner, about how she’s happy to make scrambled eggs for mother’s day brekkie instead of going to Cliffys in Daylesford (but I’ve got my eye on a hash brown with aged cheddar). She laughs at the kitten and marvels at her intelligence (trust me, she’s just an average moggy), and tries to catch other, feral, cat as she stalks down the stairs on her way to the litter box. It won’t happen. That cat is not the cuddly kind. She says the dogs are So Elegant in their hoodies (They’ve just had a shave and are freezing. Plus I like to dress them up. Don’t judge!). They do look pretty cute.

My mother stands, a lot, because sitting is frivolous, although she says that it’s to keep warm. Sitting makes her cold. Plus she’s itchy (and needs to go to the doctor to see why she’s so itchy all the time). I go on reading, and when I’ve finished with my cup of tea she swipes it from my fingers before I’ve laid it on the coffee table and takes it into the sink to wash it. She even dries it and puts it away.

There’s no ironing to be done. No grout to clean. No spare room to dust. Dad doesn’t need a clean outfit to wear to the coffee shop or his social club because there isn’t one in Hepburn Springs. Mum’s routine is out of whack, poor love. So she washes every dish as it’s dirtied, and she laughs at the cats and dogs.

I think it must be hard to be the mother of an only child who didn’t have kids.

Mum was the last of her family, and all of her siblings had either died or were married by the time she was born. She lived with a widowed mother, and didn’t learn anything about normal mothering, just that desperation with which my grandmother held onto her because she was her last baby, the one she still had in her womb when her husband died in a bomb blast in the war. My mother was gold to her mother. The last. The only. The most cherished. So she never learned what it was like to be a normal kid.

So when she left her village, in among the linen and cloth nappies, my mother brought regret and guilt with her on the month-long boat ride to Australia, and she’s gripped them both with the strength of fighter. She doesn’t deny it either. She blames her mother’s death on her sudden departure, soon after marriage and childbirth. She regrets leaving. Reckons it’s all her fault.

I would never wish my mother’s mothering on a child. Maybe that’s why I never had kids (although I blame my eggs, actually). There’s far too much anger and sorrow in my mother’s mothering. Oh, and resentment, regret, and a lack of understanding of anything remotely related to kids in Australia.

It’s a little hard for us both on Mother’s Day, I think. Mostly mum, though. She didn’t get that chance to get better at motherhood the second or third time around, and she won’t get the chance to throw all the rules away with grand kids. She wants to indulge someone, many someones (I think), in a way she never could when she was scrimping and saving to pay of the mortgage before she turned 40. Back then she had no money or time to squander on reading anything longer than pulp fiction or an old Italian fashion magazine. She would sometimes spend her bus ride to work re-read the five books she’d come over to Australia with. Mostly, she looked at the regular faces who waited at the bus stop and made up stories about them.

I went to work at the clothing factory with mum when I was 14. I spent the summer in the basement of that factory on Flinders Lane, and 2 hours a day watching the regulars at the bus stops on our way to and from the city and she would tell me who’d missed the bus and who hadn’t changed their shoes or shirt.

Back then, at home, she was like a single mother to an only child, with dad working 80 hour weeks at the factory or with mates at the pub or cafe. There was no time for frivolity, just resentment and rage and the terror that she wouldn’t manage to get everything done before Sunday night.

But with old age comes a little softening, the recognition (perhaps) that there is another way (maybe). She overfeeds the dogs and dances with them. She takes them for walks and indulges them by letting them sleep on the couch in front of the heater. She would make lunch and dinner for us every day if I wanted. She would call and talk for hours, but I’m just too busy to listen. I just want serenity now, because I got so much rage for so long, so I seek the quiet.

My mother tells me how lucky I am to have avoided having kids (geez, thanks mum). She says they’re too much worry. She reminds me of all the travel I’ve done, of all the travel I’ll do, that I’ll never have to cry over a child. She would have been a great nonna, my mum, because she makes her own pasta, still makes Sicilian donuts for St Martins Day, she sings to dusty old Italian tunes, and is an expert seamstress. She would have taught her grand kids how to embroider as though ants with angel wings had sewn the stitches. She didn’t have time to teach me, what with all the preparation for Mondays, but she’s ready to share her gifts now.

I wish I had time for her, but I’m too busy, what with all the preparation for Mondays. I’m too busy seeking silence. I don’t regret not having kids, not at 48, but I do wish I’d given my mother someone, plenty of someones, to share herself with, so she had someone to talk to other than the dogs.