I think comparing ourselves to others is pretty natural. I see my kids do it with each other and with their contemporaries…Archie tries to hit harder and better than his friends at tennis. Martha asks if she can get the same swimming costume / shoes / coat as her friend Lucy. Mabel just wants whatever her brother or sister have and happily (or rather, unhappily) screams the place down, until she is either removed from the room, put on the naughty step (yes, we have one and it has kept me sane over the last 9 years!) or …. we give in and she gets her own way.
I believe we have something in us that wants the best of what others have – we strive for it in a “keeping up with the Jones'” type way, whilst thanking whatever God we believe in that we don’t have the worst bits. The bits that look painful, or hard, or look like they make life trickier than it needs to be. My hubby always says that if you put everyone’s problems in a pile and they were all up for grabs, then you’d walk away with your own every time. It’s that gamble isn’t it? Stick with what you have, or twist, to see if you could have done better. I used to think he was right and would merrily and quite smugly dole out his advice to friends who were having a hard time. The message being, I suppose – stop moaning, we all have problems, it’s just that at this moment it’s your turn.
I have a friend – one of the mums at school – whose dad was diagnosed with cancer last year. I had not mentioned what was going on with my mum, I wasn’t ready, but I did listen sympathetically to her about his treatment and poor prognosis. She came to the school playground after the summer holidays and I asked her about how he was doing. “9 months!” she said, “they’ve only given him 9 months.” She was devastated, quite understandably and I was sad for her and I listened.
Then, on my way home from school with the kids in the car, I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face. I’d give anything for 9 months with my mum! I was comparing our problems and I’d have swapped with her right then….9 months felt like a lifetime at that moment and I’d have loved to try and pack a lifetime of memories into those precious months with my mum. You see, she was taken so sneakily – it’s like this bastard illness crept up slyly, slowly, at first so we didn’t really notice, then WHAM, she’s gone. Or, the best parts of her are anyway.
I was talking to another friend (predictably, another school mum ) whose own mother is having a tough time with her partner. This has affected the whole family and Christmas was spoiled and family occasions will never be the same again. She was making me laugh last week as we moved on from talking about the sadness of it, to her telling me about her mum’s funny habits when she comes to stay….. Like diluting all the hand wash in her bathrooms, so that it lasts longer (which drives my friend and her husband mad!) and taking the liberty to move the towels from the downstairs loo, as the cat’s litter tray will emit “poo fumes” and they will infect the lovely clean towels. Oh, we giggled! I’d never heard the term “poo fumes” and it made my tummy hurt laughing. On my way home from our coffee catch-up I reflected on my friend’s relationship with her mum and tough as things are for her right now, again I found myself envious and ready to swap in a heartbeat.
Mum hasn’t had a good few days. We think that visitors (me and the kids, on this latest occasion) unsettle her and this leads to increased delusions and confusions. No one really knows why this happens – perhaps it is a change to her routine that causes it, or the increased anxiety in her, brought on by a pressure on her to try and “keep up” with conversation, or for her to make sense of the kids’ questions, or ….who knows, it could just be that this is how it is. And, it is shit.
Every so often, at least once a week, my mum wants to go and see Bob and Jean. A couple she has known (not particularly closely) for a few years. They are a lovely, elderly couple, who used to go with my parents to a local dance class. Mum now insists on visiting these poor people a few times a week – and they (God love them), don’t seem to mind. Dad, has on occasion, allowed my mum to walk up the road to their house on her own – with Bob calling to confirm that she has arrived. You see, many times, she doesn’t want my dad anywhere near her – she is actually trying to escape him and the ‘other men’ in the house. She sees Bob and Jean’s house as freedom from this prison that she now imagines she inhabits. It’s not though, by the way – their house is lovely, with a large, beautiful garden, smartly decorated rooms and all the home comforts you could wish. Its decor was put together by my mother, so of course, it is gorgeous.
Today, she was agitated, cross and unsettled. Coat on, boots on, ready to go out the door to visit Bob and Jean – her friends (“you don’t know them, they’re my friends from long ago”). Dad let her go. Sometimes he is done fighting and you can almost see the last bit of fight left in him physically leave his body, in a huge sigh, or in a slump of the shoulders. I imagine that is exactly what happened today – she went, on her own and it was nearly a disaster….
Some neighbours found her, crossing the (fast, busy) main road without looking, causing the cars and lorries to all brake hard and stop, waiting for her to cross. Dad told me about it when I rang early tonight. “Worrying”, he said – no shit ! So, now my dad can no longer let her have the tiny piece of freedom she craves, because she is completely unaware of anything around her and is, therefore, a danger to herself and others.
So, I am sad tonight. Sad because my dad’s life, yet again becomes a touch harder and sad because my mum shows more signs of obvious decline. Part of me wants to scream – another part just wants to cry and I have a huge urge to throw all these problems into a bloody big pile and hope someone else draws them out. But, then I suppose I’d have to sacrifice the good bits; my amazing, idyllic childhood I am privileged to have had. The constant support and love by both parents, never doubting in their belief in me or my siblings. The security of knowing I am loved – and have been all my life. The countless times they have rescued me, financially, emotionally, physically. Their ability to make me feel worthy – worthy of love, worthy of success, worthy of good things in life. I wouldn’t give any of this up, I wouldn’t give my mum or dad up, not for anything. Not for 9 more months of lucidity, not for a different parent who made me laugh about “poo fumes”. They are mine and I am theirs and I feel, all of a sudden so bloody lucky. Yes, my mother is very ill and she has a debilitating disease that has robbed her of her retirement years and of enjoying being a granny (which, she was amazingly good at), but she is my mum and I wouldn’t trade her, even now, for anything. I’ll stick, thank you.