Anger has been an emotion so repressed in me, that I am still on a journey to get to know it. During my more recent adult life, I have attempted to feel appropriate anger and allow it to play its intended role in the healthy balance of life. I can identify two of the first and last times that my anger was spontaneously expressed and the reason for me deciding that anger was dangerous and to be hidden at all times:- A weekly treat, at the caravan, was a yoghurt from the milkman. I usually had apricot, but one week I chose strawberry. As I got near the end of my yoghurt, I came across an enormous lump of pure strawberry and eased it proudly and gently from the pot with my spoon. Daddy was in a ‘good mood’ and began to tease me, saying he thought it was a dead spider and should take a closer look. I knew he was teasing and I was laughing, but still, you didn’t argue. He peered closer, looking more and more concerned and then, snap! He had eaten it. I was shocked and without thinking I took some more yoghurt on the spoon and flicked it at him. I would never do that again. I was spanked and roared at and made to sit on the caravan tow bar for the whole day until bedtime. I also remember once when Daddy came to the square to pick us all up after school – he was teasing again, chasing and dodging, but I caught him and kicked his shin (probably on purpose, but I don’t know). Well, he kicked me so hard that I was propelled several feet and lay crying on the floor. I remember that day as the one when I resigned all anger. I knew it was better unsaid, unfelt, buried.
Mum was always there, I guess, but as we were indoors so rarely, I recall little about her. I do remember that we had a dog called Jackie, that my mum loved. One day we came home from school to find Mum crying inconsolably, because another caravan-owner had put poison on the garden and Jackie was lying dead. Daddy was very angry.
Mum loved the animals and the garden. She had a fabulous array of aromatic wallflowers and pinks, lupines and marigolds. To this day, I adore wallflowers and the scent of them immediately transports me back to caravan days.
Mammy also taught me to sew and to knit. At the caravan, Debbie and I would sit in the ‘lean-to’ and make little fur cats and cushions, to put in empty sweet tins as presents for our friends.
One of the things that did impress me about my mum, when I was little, was that she was academic. Dad could neither read nor write, when he left school, but Mum had me reading, writing and speaking French before I even went to school. It was fun. I enjoyed learning and I did think I was smart when I first went to school.
I remember only three things about school in Calverton – I remember walking to school in a ‘pea-soup-er’ fog, all linking arms and feeling our way along the mesh fence; I remember my sister fighting me in the playground and I remember having to stand on a chair and spell ‘‘nurse’’, which was easy for me, but I went so red in the face that I could see my nose glowing and it made my eyes smart.
When eventually I went to University, my very first essay was entitled “My education so far.” I was astounded at how little I could actually remember of those ‘formative years’ at school, and at how much more I had learned at home. It had a profound affect on my approach to teaching primary school children thereafter. What was significant for me was that I loved learning and it made me feel good about myself. It was something I could do, something I could get right and be praised for and I quickly learned to appreciate that praise, and to rely on it for my growth. I am very grateful that I had that foundation of learning.
Although my memory of primary school is scant and was later much overshadowed by home events and situations, school was my sanctuary, and my joyful world. I was content, because I worked hard and my best was good enough to please my teachers; they at least, actually seemed to like me.
I was sad when home time came. I hated weekends and dreaded holidays.
Mum is home and I get the impression that the journey was a bit of “this and that, and some of the others as well”.
“Can I do anything?” she pleads.
I’ve rescued all the tiny soldiers from the dining room floor – the ones that didn’t stick in my toes this morning – and given Mammy the big broom.
She has been sweeping for ages and looks happy with herself. Now Conor is entertaining her with more of his guessing games.
I finally cleaned the kitchen windows, but I was watching the birds as I put the windowsill bits back and cut my finger on a piece of my stained glass. That brought me sharply back to reality. The birds are so fascinating though. The other day I took a series of photographs of a Song Thrush who was smashing a snail against small stones on the floor and eating the insides. It wasn’t in the least bothered by me. I’d hoped to hear its song, now that I could identify it in front of me, but it was too busy to sing.
I wish I could remember all the funny things that Mammy says. The twists and turns of phrase are so amusing in themselves, but somehow I lose them immediately. I can never remember jokes either.
The only one I can remember just now is a bath time one, but we have similar variations on that theme every bath time.
“How can water be so wet?”
I keep saying that I must get her a rubber duck – although I guess they’re made of plastic now. She asks for one every time she’s in the bath.
“Where’s my duggy thingy? You know what I mean!” she laughs.
Our weekend away was fantastic; the welcome, the host, the house, and the grounds of Sledmere were all superb. The inn was cozy and friendly, and to go to Mass in the family chapel was a very special end to the occasion. Now at last I can identify the rooms depicted in the painting we have in our ‘drawing room’, and Conor was delighted to go back to school with the tour-guide to the house and spout about his posh ‘relatives in law’.
It is taking some concentration, but I am slowly managing to piece together the whys and wherefores of the family that I have become one with.
I had over 24 hours without Mammy and it was good for us all, I think. She looked so pleased to see Conor and I coming to collect her again and she was in great form.
Saturday morning hadn’t been quite so easy – her things were packed and she had been told several times about the overnight stay at the care-home and seemed fine, but clearly something was happening and causing her anxiety. I went to give her a bath, this time using the new seat that the Occupational Therapist had got for Mum’s safety. Anyway, we had the rubber duck banter and she got in – rather, she squeezed herself into the space in the water, to the back of the seat. Suit yourself I mused, removing the seat.
She enjoys the hair-washing/head massage now: “Have you done this before?” “Who does yours?” are typical comments.
Well, all was going swimmingly, as they say, until it was time to get out. We have had some problems at this point before, which is why we were experimenting with the bath seat, but this day was different. “There’s nothing to hold on to” is a frequent complaint…
After fifteen minutes, I suggested finding a handsome fireman – or two – to lighten the tone, but it didn’t help. I tried very simple instructions. I left the room in case I was intimidating her (because she could never do things when Daddy was watching her and because I was becoming a little frustrated too). I had long since let the water out of the equation, but after about forty minutes, I knelt down, apologized, hugged her and prayed. Then I turned her knees to the side and this time she let me lead her up and out of the bath. Phew.
Shower or bath-seat from now on.
Another busy morning: the O.T. came to go through the getting dressed routine with Mammy, and to see if she had any new ideas to make life easier for her. I had to remember to have her come down for breakfast in her dressing gown, then the O.T. took Mum back upstairs. I took Conor to school and came back to find Mum dressed and ready to go to the bathroom for a wash. Then I got the call from the ‘grab-rail’ people to ask could they come this morning – I suggested 10:30am, thinking I’d be back by then. Mum goes to another Day Centre on Wednesdays – just a ten minute walk in the other direction. The O.T. had been very thorough and has a lovely way about her. She nods as she speaks and you find yourself nodding and agreeing with everything she says, whilst also feeling very much affirmed. We seem to be doing everything as well as we can with the morning routine, but we are going to have to think about some way for Mum to know whether or not it’s time to get up of a morning, because it does stress her out. One idea would be to have a big clock face with just one hand and clear numbers saying ‘1-ish’, ‘2-ish’ etc. Maybe I should design one and patent it?
This morning we had another “long night” with “so many things happening…people and things moving about all over the place, so I just stayed there in bed!” Not a good night for Mum and then the trauma of having a stranger go through the getting dressed scenario with you – albeit a lovely stranger. Poor Mum was looking rather jaded. Then, I had to rush her off the loo and trot down to the Day-Centre, before the man from the ‘grab-rails’ was due. – I had left a note to say I’d be ‘just a jiffy’ – and he was there waiting when I got back, puffing and panting from my little run.
Anyway, that’s another few jobs done. The O.T. will be back next week to see if she can be more successful than I was about some artistic endeavours with Mum.
Mum used to paint in the Orkney Isles.
I had ordered a monthly ‘Watercolour’ magazine for her, years ago, and sent her a posh set of watercolour paints and pencils one Christmas. Later she also did an evening course in Stromness with a good friend called Tony. I have a few of the sketches and small paintings that she did, but it seems she was reluctant to have an audience whilst working, and so did very little during the actual lessons.
I understand that feeling. I really dislike anybody watching me work, at all, even in the garden or the kitchen and definitely not when being artistic. I never got used to a grown-up audience whilst teaching either.
So I don’t know how successful this planned crafty exercise will be. The last time I tried with Mum, I gave her a large sheet of white paper and put four bright colours on a palette and left a choice of big and small brushes. We talked it through and then I left her to it. She produced two small squiggly lines and a lot of disquiet within herself, so I abandoned that. But she does like the idea of trying again, so we will.
I was struck by Mum’s comment today as I rushed her down to the Day-Centre:-
“Thank you, Dawn,” she said, giving my hand a little squeeze. “You are very patient…I used to think I was patient, but you are much more patient…”
Thinking about how badly I’d coped with the last two days, I could only say, “I’m glad you think so, but I think I need to be more patient than I am. Thank you, Mammy.”
It must be so difficult for her. She was so happy in her independent world on the island (Graemsay): gardening; knitting (she once had her own knitting business and label – ‘ORKNIT’); building dry-stone walls; spending time with her friends, singing and playing guitar.
22 years ago she was running a clothes shop here in Nottingham and only 5 years ago she was managing the Post Office on Graemsay. Of course meanwhile she also had had a family to bring up – and I suppose she did her best at that, even if the result was not too good.
And now she can do so little for herself.
She has good days and bad days. I’m just glad she has some good days.