Nuala McCann: On Mother's Day I think of us on the beach again

My mother was the fairy godmother who waved her wand and gave us a good night's sleep. She was special that way. She was there for all the rough times and still is

Heading for the beach – big Donegal ones are best

SUNDAY is Mother’s Day – hadn’t you noticed? The city shops are drowning in pink fluff and glitter and boxes of chocolates.

My other half feels the weight of all these 'days'. “First Christmas, then your birthday, then Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s Day,” he sighs. What to get the woman who has everything?

All those 'days' creep up on you. You might say it is a cynical capitalist plot to keep you spending.

You might say that you have only one dear mother, loving, kind and true, there’s no one else in all the world who means as much to you.

My own mother has a little white vase bearing that particular poem which was bought by one of her chicks over 40 years ago.

She also had one that says: Who took you from your nice warm cot and put you on the cold cold pot and made you wee if you would or not, your mother.

Needless to say, the kind loving verse wasn’t from me.

Ours is a tougher, biff baff kind of a love. Not literally, of course. But we metaphorically sock it to each other occasionally. I like the rough and tumble, the outrageous nature of her at times.

She’s a feisty bag. She could do a rousing version of 'We shall not be moved'.

She has foibles that I still cannot fathom; my foibles drive her silly... we rub along.

But you can’t beat a woman who abandons her life to take a bus up to Belfast once a week and look after her new baby grandson in the early sleepless days.

I’d ring her and sob down the phone. It was the shock of never getting a full night’s sleep that hit me.

Our boy was beautiful but when he awoke for his feeds at 12 midnight, 3am and 6am.... I felt like the man from the myth who was tied to the rock and had his liver pecked out by a bird every day, only to have it grow again overnight so that the whole process could start over again. You get the gist.

Like his father, our boy had an inbuilt timer that would put the speaking clock to shame. The clock strikes the hour and up he pops like a Jack in the Box, demanding more food.

“He’s sleeping now, but he’ll be up at 3am again,” I sobbed down the phone in those early baby days.

Wise owl mother told me to put the phone down and go to bed. And then, she arrived up, a night a week and let the two weary parents dash up the stairs to blessed sleep while she kept her grandson downstairs tucked up in his dog basket (a family heirloom) with the bottle beside her to give him his feeds.

Those nights were divine. Oh, the bliss of uninterrupted sleep. If a wicked witch had appeared at the bottom of the bed and cursed us to sleep for 100 years, I’d have turned over, muttered “Thank you very much” and snuggled down happy.

My mother, on the other hand, was the fairy godmother who waved her wand and gave us a good night’s sleep. She was special that way. She was there for all the rough times and still is.

The time I had to drink the radio-iodine, pee in my own personal toilet, eat from my own plate with my own knife and fork and stay away from our son for a couple of weeks was a true bonding experience for both of us.

There I was in my mid-30s and back at home with mum and there she was in her mid-60s tholling me.

“Tholl” was the word. If you are two grown women in a household, it takes one to be very wise.

At times it was tense. I think she didn’t take kindly to my takeover bid and my moves to organise her. So, occasionally, I would drive myself off down the coast and look out at the sea.

And later, I shall remember the day she and I were heading off to Donegal with our boy who was all of four, when she confessed that the door into the kitchen was locked tight shut and wouldn’t open (it may have been my fault but she was too kind to blame me).

Her solution was to go out the French windows, walk around our back and enter the kitchen via the garage back door so that she could boil the kettle, returning via the same route with a tray. It was a heck of a handling when you wanted a cup of tea.

We often headed off.

Those were the days of big Donegal beaches, long empty ones and my mother and I and our fella drinking in the blue hills and the far horizons.

So on Mother’s Day, I think of the three of us on the shore – she, a small figure, strolling off into the distance along the sands, her grandson pottering with a toy spade at the water’s edge – and me, in the middle, half way between childhood and age and blessed, just blessed to share good times with the two of them.

Happy Mother’s Day.


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