Sunday, 30 September 2007

Letting Go

I can hardly believe that the day has actually arrived. In 12 hours time we will be on our way to take my youngest son to university.

I am reminded of the occasion when we took our middle son to start university, in the same area, a few years ago. We parked the car, and headed, with all of the other families to the reception area. As we walked, my husband said in a low voice "Did you see that poor woman, in the car parked next to ours?" When I replied that I did not, he continued "She was lying in the back seat, sobbing." It is something that I have never forgotten.

I am easily moved to tears, of late. Something to do with the menopause, and hormones, I assume. Please let me keep my dignity, today. Please don't let me be the mother who is weeping so much that she has to hide in the car.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Magic Mirror

I have a wonderful full-length mirror in my hallway.

I check my reflection every day, before I leave the house. I am slim and of medium height. My tummy has a slight curve to it, but it's bordering on the acceptable, for a middle-aged mother of 3 grown-up children. I leave the house feeling elegant; confident that I am looking my best. Female friends and family catch sight of their own reflection in my mirror and remark "What a wonderful mirror!"

I recently went shopping for a wedding outfit, but I hate shopping, so I have to confess that it was a desperate, last minute affair. In fact, the wedding was only 2 days away, and to make matters worse, I was a bit short of money.

I travelled into the nearest city, heading straight for the only department store. My intention was to get this painful experience over and done with as quickly as possible. I wasn't very impressed with the selection of clothes on offer. It was mostly dresses and loose tops with large swirly patterns. They resembled those that women of my age had given away to charity shops in the 70s. There were lots of black leggings on sale which I remembered from the late 80s, early 90s. I was still gardening in my old ones.

I gathered together a half-acceptable selection of clothing, and threw back the changing room curtain. I shrank back, apologetically, as I realised that there was a short lady, with a thickening waistline, and a rather large tummy, already occupying the changing room. She reminded me of someone. I realised with growing horror that I was looking at my own reflection. At 5'1", I weighed a few pounds less than 8 stone. How could I look like that? Were my legs that short? Shouldn't my bottom be a little higher up? Had it always been so close to the floor? Was my tummy so large? Could that really be an accurate reflection of me?

I mopped up my tears with an old tissue I found in the bottom of my handbag, and eventually managed to choose an outfit. I picked up a splint, for my broken spirit, from the pile in the corner of the changing room, and limped to the counter to pay. The rest of the day was spent in a fruitless search for a suitable jacket, sandals and handbag. In the end, I decided that I would have to manage with those I already had.

On returning home, I tried on my new wedding outfit, and came downstairs. I gazed into the full-length mirror in my hall and smiled. The department store in the city would increase its sales considerably if it fitted full-length mirrors similiar to mine.

I have a wonderful full-length mirror in my hallway......

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Changing Spots

I was re-arranging the throw on the sofa when I heard my middle son return home. "Hello, middle son" I replied to his greeting, as I concentrated on straightening the throw.

"Mom, this is Debbie" he said. I spun round and smiled at the pretty girl, with dark hair, standing shyly in the living room doorway. My suspicions were finally confirmed! I'd had a feeling that he'd been seeing someone special, over the past 2 or 3 weeks or so. His inane grinning over the same period of time, for no particular reason, had been a bit of a giveaway.

A conversation followed, during which it transpired that, Debbie was singing at St Martin's Church, nearby, that evening and middle son had paid £10 for a ticket, so that he could go and watch the performance. "We've picked up a vegetarian pizza, for tea" said middle son, pulling a bit of a face. Debbie couldn't see his expression, from her position standing beside him, both of them facing us. My husband and I exchanged smirks, as the pair of them headed into the kitchen.

Given the choice, our middle carnivore's favourite food would normally be ribs, steak, or mixed grill. Meat feast pizza was one of his favourites, but, as far as I knew, a slice of meat free had never passed his lips.

A while later, as middle son passed through the living room alone, I asked him whether he had enjoyed his first vegetarian pizza. "It wasn't bad, actually" he replied. I glanced at the clock, noticing that there wasn't much time left, for my son and his new girlfriend to get to the church.

"Do you know how to get to St Martin's church?" I asked, innocently, nudging my husband, as we sat side-by-side on the sofa.

"Yes thanks, mom" grinned my middle son, understanding the joke, but refusing to be drawn.

A short while after their departure, my husband looked out of the dining room window, onto our drive, and called to me in amazement. "They've walked!" Sure enough, middle son's car was standing on the drive. Since passing his test 3 years ago, middle son had only ever walked to the 'pub and back. Any other journey, which would normally take 2 minutes or more on foot, necessitated compulsory use of his car.

Several hours later, after an enjoyable evening, son and girlfriend had returned from their outing, and were settling down to watch a DVD in another room. Middle son passed through the living room alone, once more, on his way to make drinks in the kitchen. He was grinning inanely, again, for no particular reason. I raised my eyebrows, put my head on one side, and enquired with a little smile "Was there much fighting in the mosh pit, tonight, then?"

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Caught Snacking

I have a confession. Jamie Oliver, cover your eyes! (I know he reads me.) I am well aware that we are living in an era whereby healthy eating is becoming, not so much encouraged, as insisted upon, but in our household, we still possess an (open)secret snack cupboard. It is situated in the kitchen, and contains all manner of delights.

There is a tin of cashew nuts and a box of chocolate miniatures. There are a few bags of crisps, 2 types of small savoury biscuits, a bag of large pretzels, and a box of breadsticks with black pepper. Around Christmas time and birthdays, there could even be the odd box of chocolates.

We take turns to be caught out, as we sample its delights. The squeaky hinge on the cupboard, and the crackling of the packets is a constant giveaway to anyone with half an ear. "Hope no-one's snacking in there!" chorus other family members from the living room.

None of us is overweight. We don't replace meals with snacks. The fruit bowl is replenished and the 'fridge re-stocked with far more frequency than the snack cupboard. It's a family tradition, and a bit of fun.

Some time ago, I was sitting quietly, using the computer, in the corner of the dining-room-part of our kitchen/diner. A friend of my eldest son's had dropped by, and the two of them were talking in the living room. "Can I have a snack?" I heard the friend ask, somewhat cheekily. Eldest son answered in the affirmative, and aforementioned friend strode into the room, seemingly without noticing me. He opened the door of the snack cupboard and surveyed the contents. Perhaps his mouth watered. I smiled to myself, keeping wickedly quiet and still, as I watched him for a couple of seconds. "Shall I make you a sandwich?" I asked, trying to keep a straight face.

I was relieved that he didn't literally have his 'hand in the cookie jar', otherwise I am sure that he would have dropped it on the floor, and smashed it to smithereens, at the sound of my voice. If only I'd had my digital camera!

It took a while for his complexion to pale from puce to pink, and for his apologies to finally shrivel and die on his tongue, but I think he still managed to enjoy his little snack.

Past times, when sons and friends were younger, I would have been concerned about said friend 'spoiling his tea' and perhaps earning a dressing-down from his mother. He was some way past 21 years of age, at the time it happened, however, so I didn't lose too much sleep over it.

Did my son set him up? Probably. He comes from wicked stock.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Growing Old Disgracefully

I returned home, today, from my walk into town, with 2 fairly heavy carrier bags. I walked along the public footpath, running parallel to the strip of garden at the side of our house, through the small garden gate, and approached the side door. I was hidden by the high hedge, as I struggled to unlock the door with my key. Once more the key refused to turn in the temperamental lock.

I could have walked a few extra feet around to the front of the house, via the 6 foot square of grass lying between our house and our neighbours', if it hadn't been for the picket fence, forming a barrier between the square of grass and the top of our shared drive. Somewhere in the house, there was a key to the small gate incorporated in the fence, but its whereabouts remained a well-kept secret.

Our back garden was totally enclosed by a 6 foot fence, in addition to a padlocked gate, so I picked up my carrier bags, resigning myself to the extra long walk along the remainder of the public footpath, and down another road, before I could reach the front door. I smiled to myself, as I remembered being in the same situation a few months ago, during the dark days of winter.

I was running a bit late, back then, so I was quite frustrated at the thought of wasting precious minutes, trekking around to the front of the house, by way of the public footpath. I sized up the picket fence between the houses, in the darkness, and decided that I could scramble over it with ease. My lack of length in the leg department, would easily be made up for by my determination. I walked softly across the grass, glancing at my neighbours' window, as I passed. The light was on, but the curtains were closed.

I was able to position the inside edge of the sole of my shoe, on the piece of wood positioned towards the bottom of the fence, even though my foothold was a mere fraction of an inch in width. I quickly flung my left leg over the fence, only to find that there was no corressponding foothold on the other side, resulting in my left leg flailing about wildly, a few inches short of the ground. I clung to the top of the fence, trapped momentarily by one of the pickets, which had lodged itself between my buttocks.

I prayed, for an instant, that my neighbours had not been disturbed by the rattling of the fence, and that my neighbour-who-did-not-like-me would not choose this moment to sweep up the shared drive in his 4 x 4, capturing me, with his headlights, in startled pose astride the picket fence. I quickly pulled myself together, and somehow managed to flex my right knee, thereby thrusting myself upwards, and clear of the wicked picket, which had temporarily immobilised me.

I sized up the fence for a second time, and made a last-ditch attempt. I gripped the fence with both hands, found the foothold and lifted myself upwards, positioned, between the pickets, on this occasion. My left foot landed on terra firma, and with a couple of quick hops, I was able to lift my right leg over the fence, so that both feet were now firmly planted on the ground. I straightened up, adjusted my clothing and headed triumphantly for the front door.

At 5' 1" and 54 years of age, I had managed to climb over a picket fence, with the speed, agility and recklessness of a 14 year old boy, whilst maintaining my dignity at all times. I hadn't 'put out' my back, or even broken a brittle bone. There really was some life in the old dog, yet.

The Sock Incident

There is a pair of socks outside our bedroom door. They have been there for several days, and I have finally mustered up the enthusiasm to try and trace their owner.

My 2 older sons are missing, so I pick up the socks, which are obviously in need of washing, and head downstairs, in search of the fourth male-who-knows-everything in my life - my youngest son. I find him in the living room.

"Do you know who these socks belong to?" I ask, turning them to the right side.

"They're 'Playboy' socks. They belong to *******," (eldest son) he replies.

"Oh!" I say. "I wasn't sure whether they belonged to ********" (middle son).

"No, those are his," he explains, pointing outside, in the vague direction of the patio. I walk closer to the window, and see a pair of socks over the back of one of the garden chairs.

"Obviously," I mutter, with as much sarcasm as I can muster.

"What?" He looks at me, wide-eyed and incredulous. I open my mouth to try and explain. A few words fall out of my open mouth, but they do not emerge in any intelligible pattern, and I realise that I am unable to explain. It all makes sense to him. I am feather-brained, so I should not concern myself with such a complex problem. I admit defeat. At least I know what to do with the socks.

I go back upstairs, and add them to my eldest son's pile of laundry, which he insists on keeping on the landing, outside the door of his seething pit. I remember that he has been staying at his girlfriend's house for the last few nights. I pick up his laundry pile, and drop it on the floor, just inside his seething pit. I close the door with a grin of satisfaction. The landing is now clear of clutter. I could even vacuum it, if I was so inclined. I am not.

I have already achieved something, today. I have tidied away a pair of socks, and a pile of laundry. I live in a household full of men. I have learned to be content with very little. I am content.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Mischievious Reddish-Brown Bullock

Whilst my husband (H) and I were out walking at the weekend, we found that the track was leading us across a large field, through the middle of a herd of about 30 cows. Each head slowly turned towards us, as we approached, and I suddenly realised that they were most probably, not cows, but bullocks. I was quite relieved, when those to the left of the path ran away from us, until I realised that they had joined up with the rest of the herd, so that they could all trot along behind us.

The bullocks stayed with us, as we veered to the left, after spotting the gate we needed to get into the next field. H stopped, periodically, to shoo them away, but they only galloped around to re-form, and trot behind us again. He lagged behind, so that they were not too close to me, calling, at one point, "Look, I've got a little friend!" I glanced, quickly, over my shoulder, to glimpse H smiling, as a reddish-brown bullock trotted at his heels. I could have sworn that the bullock was smiling, too. At that stage, if I had thought it possible to outrun them, I would have made an attempt.

I stumbled over the uneven ground, walking progressively faster, towards the gate. H walked faster, too, but only to keep up with me, apparently, as he insisted later. The bullocks also increased their pace. I fumbled with the catch, when we finally reached the gate, but was unable to open it, as the grass was too high. H tore open the gate, and I leapt through into the neighbouring field, only to shriek, as my trainers were sucked into the mud.

I struggled to find some firm ground, and keep my trainers on my feet, as H fastened the gate behind us, and consulted the map. I took a few paces forward, into the waterlogged field, as the bullocks jostled with each other to get closer to the fence, and the reddish-brown one manoeuvred into position behind me. His nose was inches from my back, and I didn't need to turn to know that he was still smiling. H looked back, frowning, into the field behind us, and I suddenly found my voice. "I'm not going back into that field," I said quickly.

Eventually, after skirting a very overgrown piece of ground, and crossing a rickety bridge over a stream, we spotted the next landmark. The bullocks watched, as we slowly disappeared from view. I couldn't bring myself to look, but H turned around so many times, I eventually found myself asking "They haven't found a way through, have they?"

"Were we getting a little bit apprehensive, back there?" he said, grinning.

Later, in the pub', I admitted that 'we' were terrified. We burst into helpless laughter, startling the locals considerably, as I confessed that I would rather have crawled, on my hands and knees, over a dozen waterlogged, overgrown fields, than have faced those bullocks again. "Well, we survived," said H. "The only downside is that I've lost my sunglasses."

"I know where they will be," I said instantly. "That reddish-brown bullock will be wearing them!"

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Sleeplessness and University Angst

I couldn't sleep, in bed, last night, as I had already slept on the sofa, in front of the television. I have learnt from sad experience, that 30 minutes' sleep, on the sofa, equals up to 4 hours' wakefulness in bed, so I accepted that I had turned into my mother, and attempted to embrace my punishment.

I knew, absolutely, that I was the only person awake in the whole of the universe, as I disciplined my thoughts and penned the following:

Our youngest son informed me, yesterday, that he would not be taking up his university place, unless he passed his driving test, which he is due to re-take a little later in the month. My jaw dropped, as I remembered multiple zoomings, up and down the motorway, to take him to interviews, in various parts of the country. My mind flashed back to overnight stays, early breakfasts, when it was still dark outside, and the destruction wrought upon my only umbrella, on a particularly wet and windy day in Chester.

The visit to the uni, with the grubby canteen, and the local in-bred students, in the place-I-dare-not-name, was an experience I definitely would have chosen to have lived without, had I realised that we were simply involved in an exercise of futility.

Further questioning of my son, in a somewhat strangled voice, revealed that the son, who wanted to attend a university as far away from his parents as it was possible to be, had now decided that he wanted to come home every weekend, and could not suffer the inconvenience of public transport.

Aaaah! He is my little innocent! He imagines that his tank will always be overflowing with petrol, that his key will still fit the lock, on his return, and, even that, we will still be living here, 5 days after he has moved away.........