An interesting reversal of roles is, perhaps, inevitable when you live with your mother in later life.
Mum came to live with me after the February 2011 earthquake in which her 1920s, double storey house was damaged and its integrity compromised. In other words, it was unsafe to live in. My 1930s single storey house fared better, despite some broken bearers under the floor, since repaired. I had no hesitation in welcoming her. There was something which happened to us all in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake: shock, combined with heightened emotions which meant holding family close. We were also braced for action as aftershocks continued for several months.
If I’d known, as a teenager – or even in my 20s or 30s – that my mother would come to live with me, I might have emigrated – or at least moved cities. But, when it happened it seemed the most natural thing. I had left home as a teenager and, for a while after Mum moved in, I reverted to being like a teenager as if I was picking up where we’d left off. I had to give myself a talking to about that. We had already spent time together as adults, including travelling to Europe twice, and found we got on very well. I knew it would work, and it has.
Mum is 94 now and, as I write, she is doing the vacuuming. She does this every Saturday, regular as clockwork which is admirable to a person like me who does not operate like clockwork. Mum is very thorough with her vacuuming – another reason why this co-habitation works!
Mum makes her own breakfast (always porridge, toast with marmalade and tea) and lunch, unless I cook her an omelette or make soup, and I cook dinner. She does what’s left of the dishes after I’ve washed the pots and other cooking things. Mum enjoys baking, usually shortbread and, lately, Anzac biscuits. She does her own laundry: hand washing on Sunday after church (she still has her driver’s licence) and a full wash on Monday (more clockwork). Speaking of clocks, her cuckoo clock cuckoos the hours and, strangely, doesn’t drive me mad. It’s nice that she has her own things in the house: her comfy chairs, books, photos of grandchildren, treasures. I’m learning to read a barometer.
There’s the odd reversal of roles, where I become the mother to her teenager. Mum has a stubborn aspect to her character which, annoying as it can be, I quite enjoy because it is her. A recent example was when she came with me to Ballantynes where I hoped to find her a nice skirt (she never wears trousers). Finding a simple, A-line skirt with pockets has proved quite a mission in the past and at times I have used mail catalogues, but the results have not been great. A helpful sales assistant found us a skirt but Mum refused to try it on! “She’s such a stick-in-the-mud!” I said, frustrated, to the poor assistant. But Mum was simply tired, and it was an effort for her to walk from the car. She was overwhelmed by the visual ‘noise’ of the department store. I thought of going back later and just buying the skirt, but procrastinated.
Finally, I looked online and found a better skirt and there was only one left and it was in her size. I think I showed it to her and got her approval before going ahead with the ‘click and collect’ process! I also made a note of some plain white cotton blouses that might go with it and when I went to collect the skirt I chose one of those (and it was 50% off).
It is a success!
“Anything for me?” asks Felix.