My mother is with us for a few days because my father was called away to Ireland. My mother said: "I can manage." Words which put the fear of God into me. She cannot manage. I said: "Of course you can." Then, we went to pick her up. She is sleeping in our bedroom; we are in the study. Last night, she got lost in our bedroom. I am not sure how long it took her to find the bed again. She said: "It's very dark in there." She is blind. I am sure it was.
I love my mother. I love her as my mother. I love her as my new child. When she visits, she still wants to do things for me. Folding clothes, washing up. Sometimes, I wash clothes so she has some to fold. Do not tell her that. Yesterday, I went to sit with her on the sofa. She said: "I wish I could do more to help. You need help." I said: "Mum. I have help. You do not need to do anything for me. You have done enough." She said: "I want to do more." Her face crumpled, pinked up and her traitorous eyes wept out their salty frustrations. I do not expect my mother to help me anymore. It is my mother who expects to help me. It is my mother who feels let down when she has to sit down.
My mother is not perfect you understand. I was once getting a manicure. The glossy girl doing the manicure was horrified. She said: "Didn't your mother teach you to do your nails? Didn't she teach you to look after your cuticles?" I smiled in apology and then shrugged. The girl in her smart white tunic with her own pretty, buffed up hands, was very young; too young for the unvarnished truth. My mother was too busy telling me to read books, to teach me to look after my nails. To this day, I blame her for my shoddy cuticles.
It takes some time to realise when you are a child, that your parent has become your responsibility. When we are out, I do not know whether to run after the four-year-old in case he flings himself into the road or stay with my hesitating mother for fear she trips and falls. I hover, equally useless, between the two of them.
Today, I took the baby and the four-year-old to a little play park in sight of a castle. My mother sat on a bench and the children sat on the swings. When we finished, we walked past the cricket green and stood by the road. I am pushing an over sized buggy; the baby has refused to get into it and is clamped to my hip with my left arm wrapped around her. The baby's refusal to cooperate leaves me with one free hand. I realise that I cannot cross the road with my four-year-old, a buggy, a baby, my mother and her white stick. I think about getting the four-year-old into the buggy but I could not then manoeuvre it down the pavement and up the other side. I think about getting my mother into the buggy but she would never get out of it again. I think about climbing into the buggy with the baby, dangling a leg either side, getting the four-year-old and my mother to hold on and straddle-walking it across the road. I decide that would kill us all. I abandon the buggy. I think: "I will cross the road with everybody and come back for the buggy." I start doing a complicated minuet. I hoik up the sliding baby, arrange my blind mother on my free arm and instruct the four-year-old to take granny's hand. Suddenly, a stranger waiting for a bus says: "Let me help." And I do. I let her help.