Feeding, Seating and Sleeping Twenty Two
My mother is a superwoman. Not the 1980s stereotype of a shoulder-padded business woman juggling a briefcase, brick-sized mobile phone and four babies; but a woman who never, ever stops moving whilst she is conscious.
Not once does she ever lay in bed, too sick to get up and "do her bit" for her family, mates and work. I don't even remember her visiting a doctor: we had a friend who was a doctor who, on social occasions would occasionally give her the latest hayfever medication to try out but that's as far as any active search for healing that my mother had time for.
She managed to successfully raise three children (I rather hopefully include myself as one of her successes), stay married, stay sane and develop a lot of her own interests, social networks and activities whilst also showing her love through many acts of kindness.
When Dad decided to get into bee-keeping as a hobby, she remained relatively calm, despite being so badly allergic to their stings that she risked going into anaphylactic shock and dying within 30 minutes if not rushed to hospital. We all considered it rather decent of Dad to choose to leave his hives several kilometres away in farmer's paddocks so that they'd gorge themselves on Salvation Jane/Patterson's curse. This meant that the only bees seen near Mum were the dead ones swimming in the brimming icecream carton full of honeycomb we'd chew over that night.
We weren't exactly rolling in money during my childhood but didn't starve either. Dad was a high school senior teacher and Mum stayed at home. They are the four most inappropriate words, aren't they: Mum Stayed At Home. They unfairly insinuate that the mother lazes about on the lounge, eating food and plonking the baby in front of the TV. My mum, on the other more reasonable hand, was never seen blobbed on the couch, nor immersed in her own rather naturally gorgeous appearance or spending the household budget unnecessarily.
Instead, she designed and sewed costumes for the local stage and musical group; helped out in the school canteen; had a weekly Meals On Wheels run; played tennis; umpired netball; sang in the church choir; read and recorded news articles for blind people and somehow made a garden thrive in a town whose sky was more often orange with dust than grey with rain.
She'd be the first to admit that house cleaning and cooking weren't exactly her strong points, but we had plenty to eat and lots of choice - just as long as we chose fried lamb chops or 'stew'. This necessary chore was counter-balanced by her obvious enjoyment of baking - even these days her little cakes are legendary, especially the ones with white icing and red raspberry lollies on top, also known as her 'Little Nipples.' Her chocolate bar cakes were fantastic and as my brothers got older, lankier and hungrier, she would no sooner put the cake on the rack to cool than it would be inhaled with gusto by the two goons as soon as she had her back turned. "Can't you at least - oh I don't know - admire it for a second?" The funny thing is, she was never caught eating a slice herself.
Manners were very important. Every single day, she'd farewell us off to school, sport or a sleepover with, "Remember your manners!", which was then followed by, "Don't forget to take a hanky!"
In the evenings when we were all bathed and in our pyjamas, she would find the time to do some mending, ironing, sewing and to produce some apples and oranges that she would peel in long, unbroken curls. To me the fruit just tasted so much nicer after she had done that, and I'd enthusiastically get my vitamin C in front of 'The Sonny and Cher' show via her clever method.
In 1973, Mum was the leading lady in the musical, Show Boat. The Bridge Players and Singers were staging the event in the high school hall, and rows of plastic chairs were set out on the wooden floor in front of the stage. In one scene, mum was being dragged away by her on-stage father. At the age of four-and-a-half, this proved far too scary for me and I protectively rushed to the edge of the stage, yelling "Don't you do that to MY MUM!" There is no memory of how the story ended, so it's a fair assumption that my embarrassed Dad had to hustle me out of the hall and get me home to bed.
A wartime birth meant that Mum wasn't expected to do any more study than year ten, despite attending Adelaide's secondary school for gifted students. Somehow, in 1976, she managed to do night time adult matriculation classes in between all of her other activities: many times after school I'd see her rapidly banging away on the manual typewriter before we barged in and demanded to be fed, entertained, bathed and scolded. She didn't need to prove anything to us about her intelligence, but it must have given her a great deal of personal satisfaction when she found that she'd come second in the state.
Nowadays, in her 67th year, Mum is still busier than a blow fly on a barbecue plate. Probus club, Country Women's Association, Fellowship, musicals and costume-making, working in the local Lifeline second-hand shop, writing and performing comedy scripts at fundraising shows, gardening and trying to learn how to slow down long enough to learn how to play lawn bowls. Oh and get the brand new caravan 'Pauline Ready' for travelling in style and comfort.
She and Dad have set up their comfortable beachfront home as the ideal place for them, us children and their grandchildren to set up camp and stay. With our own 'wing' - three bedrooms, a playroom and bathroom to ourselves, she always ensures that each bed is always freshly made, towels are behind the doors and there are enough 2-litre bottles of Farmers Union Iced Coffee to keep the local tradesmen in her council district happy at morning tea time. We are always welcome to drive over and stay for a day, a weekend or a fortnight, and we have on many occasions.
Of course making it all look so easy and welcoming means that Mum is never off her feet, no matter how hard we try to make her sit down, relax and let us look after her for a change. "Don't worry Robert, I'll get that...", "Dave, you go and have a surf before tea and I'll pop over to the shops for the meat for tonight's BBQ," or "MillyMoo, didn't you say that you had some shorts of Sapphires that are too big in the waist? Why don't we get them out and I'll take the seams in?"
When she's not ensuring that we have all slept well, found our towels and noted that the bathroom is stocked with enough loo paper for a Curry Convention; she ensures that the kitchen bench has at least seven different packets of cereal to choose from, plus the jams, peanut butter, vegemite, honey and marmalade for the 4 kinds of breads available to toast and the dozen varieties of tea bags next to the kettle for the next day's breakfast. Aside from that, she's gone for her power walk, watered the garden, done the children's talk at church and closely noted the goings-on in the park directly across the road.
She is often heard to mutter, "I hope there's enough cake/cherries/buns/coffee cups/chairs/napkins/bubble bath/pillows/extra blankets/sun hats for everyone..." I always respond with, "So Mum, when is this mythical gang of twenty two guests going to turn up without notice, expecting a bed, somewhere to sit, a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits?"
For someone born in 1940 to strict Methodists, she loves a good fart joke and can be reduced to uncontrolled squeaks of laughter if they are observed, talked about or audibly demonstrated. She's always up for a game of Rummy-O (accompanied by several flavours of Cadbury chocolate of course) and knows more about what kids of today enjoy than any of us thanks to her toy-sorting work at the local LifeLine second hand store.
Never seen without a good application of lippie, she's a fascinating mixture of the old ways and the new ways, and her handbag is like Dr Who's tardis - much bigger on the inside. With this leather receptable alone she's been known to supply stingose, provide sugars for takeaway coffees, pencils and pads for weary children, new pantyhose, a toothbrush and assorted snacks with varying use-by dates.
She's the mistress of organisation, a whirling dervish of road-runner-like speed and boundless energy that she is just dying to use to help out someone. She embodies the concept of showing her love by doing. And she has 'done' so many wonderful things for me, my family, my friends and her friends.
I love you, Mum.