Growing into my Mother's Shoes
I’ve been thinking about mothers this week and the ideas they plant in us which we take as absolute truths. Remember how the one definitive response to any childhood argument would be “I know it’s true because my mum said so!” hurled at some dirty kneed, pig-tailed combatant? For some reason the argument I had most often was over the pronunciation of the letter ‘H’ which just goes to show you what a pretentious little madam I was.
I grew up in the 70’s and my school had those awful pictures in the library of some sickeningly smug girl with bulging eyes assuring you that “Slow and steady wins the race!” or “If at first you don’t succeed…” I write it without the end part because the sentence was split into two with the “try, try again” part at the bottom of the poster being hidden by some books. For years I thought that particular moral just kind of trailed off into a kind of hopeless shrug – and I have to say that’s the only guidance from those picture I have been able to follow to the letter. All the other posters were lost on me because I could never imagine why I would want to emulate the pigeon toed, finger sucking idiot that appeared beside each quote.
For some reason parenthood seems to me to be an endless quest for various types of shoe. The first shoes of course are terribly important and my mum firmly believed that shoes and beds should always be high quality - since you are either in one or the other. I remember buying my kid's first shoes and I still have them for no reason other than to periodically discover them in a box and say “Aaaaahhhh” through misty eyes. For me every memory of school shoe shopping is etched into my mind because – since my mother insisted on “good quality” shoes – it invariably involved traipsing all over the place trying to find something that both of us could accept. Clarks was the only brand we were allowed to wear. On their website currently the slogan reads “Comfort in your soul” but in the 70’s and early 80’s I think it was something like “High quality meets low self-esteem” or “Chastity in Shoe Form”. Oh my how I HATED those shoes. Have you ever tried to do a full day of work or school while attempting to keep your feet from view? I have and it’s exhausting. I would generally hold my school bag down in front of my feet thus kicking it with every step. It was worth the crushed packed lunch of crumbs and a pulpy banana to delay the fatal moment when some kind friend would notice and say “oh .. you’ve got new shoes … they’re ……… shiny” while looking with ill-disguised revulsion and what appeared to be a Cornish pasty made of leather and decorated with ‘piping’ apparently made from the lips of a dog. Not only did they look awful but somehow they were the loudest shoes in existence, with every movement marked with a sound similar a very vocal guinea pig playing skittles or a donkey singing you the song of his people while negotiating a wooden bridge wearing clogs. At least during PE we got a break from regular school shoes and got to wear our ‘plimsolls’ which I believe are made from old bicycle tires sewn into shape using thread made from the tentacles of a box jellyfish.
You know those times in your life when you feel like you’ve been doused in icy water? One of the most memorable moments of my schooldays is the day when someone noticed the smug girl on those moral lesson posters wore the same shoes as me and called their friends over so they could enjoy the hilarious coincidence too. Sigh. I think a layer was peeled from my very soul that day.
The thing I’m attempting to say is that my mum loved me enough not to need to be my friend during those years and that she taught me that being loving is not always appreciated, caring for your children and pleasing them are not the same thing and that most often the wisest and most helpful thing you can say is .. nothing.
Thanks Mum xx