What’s the last number?” asks Mabel, aged 5.
We’re on our way to school. Typically, getting out the house involves repeatedly asking the small humans to brush their teeth, make their beds, put their shoes on and get their drink bottles ready to go, until it turns frantic and then there’s inevitably five minutes of me screaming and shouting. Of course, none of it gets done, not properly. Not like it would in an Enid Blyton adventure. Apart from the shoes, they manage that most mornings, though of course, they are caked with dirt from the day before, and the day before that and the…..
I filled their water bottles this morning whilst cursing four letter words under my breath. One of them did their teeth. Not sure about the other two. Mabel has been known to lick her face instead of washing it. I have come to the conclusion that this is sufficient and so have given up worrying about that particular habit.
So, the car journey to school is generally my wind-down time. The radio is on, I have successfully negotiated another fretful morning and got my kids out the house, if not washed, then certainly dressed, on time for school. The first two or three minutes of the car journey are me silently patting myself on the back for a job well done.
So, it was this morning, that my youngest – sitting in the front, promoted due to her big sister’s attitude – asks me the question.
“What’s the last number?”
“There is no end number,” I smile at her. I see my opportunity to channel my father, the constant educator. To teach my child something, before she has even walked through the school gates. I am aware of a glow of….what is it? Pride…. warming me from the inside.
“Numbers just go on forever,” I continue.
“What about a million?” she asks.
“Well, then you count on, so you’d go to a million and one, a million and two, a million and three…..” I glance across to check she’s listening. She looks like she’s concentrating, so I carry on.
“Even when you get to a billion it doesn’t stop. A billion and one, a billion and two….. a billion and thirty seven, a billion and thirty eight…… one billion, nine million and two, one billion, nine million and three….” To be honest, I was starting to bore myself, but I carried on, thinking my father would be very proud of me.
“One hundred billion, seventy five million and eleven….”
She interrupted me.
“Why do sheep have numbers painted on them?”
I could have sworn out loud. I could have turned to my littlest and asked “WTF Darling?! Mummy was trying to teach you stuff – stuff you asked about. What’s the matter with you!?”
I didn’t. I took a deep sigh and started to explain that it was the farmer’s way of identifying which sheep was which. (I have no idea if this is right, at this point, I don’t give a shit.)
It is constant. The trying to keep up with the conversation twists and turns of my children. Trying to second guess what they’re actually asking or whether I’m giving too much information.
I have written before about my mother and the fact she would HATE knowing where she is. I have also (here) mentioned a moment when my darkest fears glimpsed the light, as I thought she might indeed have an idea of what has happened to her.
The big story for me yesterday was Geoffrey Whaley, an accountant who chose to end his life at Dignitas. He wrote an open letter to MPs to be read out the hours before he ended his life, surrounded by his family and close friends. He chose to be in control of his end and not a victim to a terrible disease that would strip him of his dignity, leaving him in pain and enduring terrible suffering.
You can read his open letter here. It is very moving.
It also struck a chord with me.
My mother is not in the same situation. She cannot tell us what she wants anymore, she cannot communicate her final wishes and so the two situations are very different, but I do think there needs to be a change in the way we deal with assisted dying and the terminally ill in this country. The stories I read are all desperate families, trying to maintain an ounce of dignity in what is a truly horrific and difficult situation for all. It is not about killing someone. It is about giving someone the right to choose.
It is about love.
My kids heard the story on the news. They heard me mumbling about it and about how we don’t treat animals that way.
“Do you want Granny to die?” Martha asked me, a look of horror and shock on her pretty little face.
“Well, she’s not going to get any better, darling and she’s very poorly. I also know she’d hate to be like she is now, so yes, I suppose it would be a relief in a way. Though it would be very very sad,” I add, seeing her face screw up in concentration.
“Granny would hate to be like she is now!” Archie piped up.
“Yes, she would, Arch,” I was slightly surprised at his maturity.
“Could she not have gone to that clinic?”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going but I was in it now and thought honesty was the best policy.
“No, darling. By the time we knew there was anything seriously wrong, it was already too late.”
“Well, why didn’t she do something when she knew she was starting to get poorly?” Archie asked.
“Because, the initial stages of her illness involved massive paranoia, do you remember? She used to think we were all against her and stealing from her. She didn’t trust any of us. Imagine if we’d try to suggest that we give her some pills and put her to sleep permanently?” and I laughed. In fact, we all laughed.
“She’d have gone crazy!” Martha giggled.
“Crazier than she already was at that stage?” I continued laughing. This was funny. “That would have been hard to beat, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” they both agreed.
“She used to talk to the bin!” Archie chortled.
“I miss Granny,” Martha looked sad. “She used to love taking us to the museum.”
“And to play golf!”
I decided to take this back to a more serious tone. “So, in answer to your question, by the time we knew something was seriously wrong with Granny, it was too late for her to be able to make that decision.”
I felt the enormity of the conversation weighing down on me and wondered whether or not this was a conversation I should be having with my 10 and 12 year old kids. Thinking that perhaps I should clarify my thoughts a bit better, I turned to them both.
I found them wrestling each other in the living room, my vase of flowers tipped over by a flailing leg, greenish water seeping into my carpet.
I walked away and did the only thing a mother could do. I poured a large glass of wine.
I miss you, Mum xxx