I Come From My Family

  1. Sylvia. A Meditation.

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I’m on a lawn chair, a giant green umbrella shading me. I’m half wrapped in a towel, the blond hairs on my legs spiked in response to the sea breeze. In front of me is a pool: armpit height water, warmed to just below body temperature, slightly salinated, deep blue. And in the pool is my Mum.

I’ve brought a book with me  – Sex Matters by Osho. And if anyone looked at me, with my sunhat, book, glasses shading my eyes, towel and lawn chair, they’d think: this woman is “lounging” personified. And I am. But that’s not all.

I’m also spying.

As I pretend to read, I peer over my book at my Mum. With this camouflage – for a few minutes, maybe 5 – I have the quiet luxury of watching someone secretly.

She’s absorbed in the water, moving her arms and delicately splashing her hands on the surface with an attention that is equally present and absent-minded. Twisting her wrists so her palms are facing up, sinking her hands and then turning them over again, the backs of her hands breaching the water’s membrane. Two tiny whales.

She wrinkles her nose, a gesture that I’ve inherited. It’s not a nose wrinkle of distaste, it’s more like: “Hmm and imagine about this and what if that happened or what’s that noise over there and aren’t those colours peculiar and OH well what is life.” With the wrinkle she slowly floats over to the edge of the infinity pool, feet on tippy-toe, the ballerina glide that is necessary when moving through such sensuous water.

She rests her elbows on the side of the pool, water flowing underneath her and down, a mini waterfall to the pool below. I follow her gaze for a second, taking in the beauty of the coast, waves and infinite ocean. She’s floating here, slowly propelling out her legs behind her, kicking in a pool of honey.

I’m curious in what she’s thinking. As she gazes on the view, the nose wrinkle is accompanied by a short, sweet phrasing of my Mum’s best facial expressions: an eyebrow lift, a slight forehead crease, accented by another quick nose wrinkle, a brief soft sigh, a lip purse. And repeat.

As this song passes on her face, her gaze shifts from the view down to her arms, with the pool water gently flowing under, over and around. Her quality of attention is that same present-but-not. I imagine her mind is deliciously wandering, lightly touching on topics that catch it, whether it’s the breeze, or what the rest of the day might entail, or an idea she has for her classroom. Nothing holds for too long though, and how can it, when you’re swimming in paradise.

I mean. Who knows? Right?

Maybe she’s thinking about war, difficult conversations, arc of relationships, money, taxes, sex, politics, global warming, hunger, unemployment, sexual violence, the rise of the alt-right, death, people she has lost.

Maybe she knows I’m watching her, and is performing for me.

However, as I was lounging and spying, none of these thoughts occurred to me. What I thought instead was: 

this is the woman who made me
this woman is a mum but also a woman
her and I are mother and daughter but also women on holiday

she is her own person, linked to me but also not 
she has a perspective and an inner monologue I will never know, even though 
I was once as inner as her thoughts.

  1. Breakfast In Bed (circa 1998).

This was the second thought that came to me this morning. The first was how cute my boyfriend’s humming of the alarm tune was, this heart gushing, filled with sleepy love moment. We woke, he turned it off, hummed it sleepily in my ear and then cuddled back into me. Warm sheets, sun underneath the curtain, below zero outside. A Friday morning in Toronto, January 2017.

This second thought came out of the bedroom air, out of nowhere? Rewinding the clock 20 years back. Breakfast in bed.

This was a ritual my sister and I would do on Important Days for Mum: mother’s day and her birthday. I was around 11, my sister 9. Mum and Dad were pretty early risers, so they’d be getting up too and one of us would run to their room and angrily, with little girl fury and crossed brows tell them “Stay in bed! There’s a surprise.”

In the kitchen we’d be fighting up a storm. My sister is, and was, the better cook. Even at 9 she was a lot more confident at working the stove than I was, but I was the elder and bossier, and probably felt like this was a place that big sisters should excell. So the process of making breakfast was fraught with us arguing over the “right way” to do things.

Over the course of an hour, we’d put together a tray of things we would see people eat in bed in movies. I’d pour a bowl of weetbix, with milk, and set that on the tray first. The weetbix would quickly congeal as we’d continue bossing and fighting our way to make some toast with butter and marmalade. With that on the tray, now soaking in its own steamy pile on the plate, we’d turn our attention to the big challenge: eggs. More often than not, we’d have a quick explosion of necessary conflict, maybe over whether the eggs should be boiled, scrambled or fried. My sister would threaten to run into Mum and Dad’s room or, even worse, walk off the job. Worried that she was going to spoil the “surprise” I’d acquiesce, because we both knew that there was no way I was going to attempt the eggs by myself.

She was pretty nifty with a spatula and a short 15 minutes later we’d have eggs alongside the soggy toast and stagnating weetbix.

It would be at this point true crisis had hit: we’d forgotten the cup of tea. Mum has a British particularity about her tea: piping hot, strong, with a dash of milk.

For some reason (I cry laughing as I write this) we’d decide not to boil the kettle to make this tea. I have no idea why: perhaps we were only now conscious of how much time we’d taken? Of the quickly cooling eggs and sludge of weetbix? Or I vaguely remember being scared of pouring boiling water into the cup and scalding myself with the steam.

Well, the reason will stay with the 11 and 9 year old in their nighties in the kitchen, but regardless, the finishing touch to Mum’s special surprise would be a cup of tea made with water from the hot tap in the kitchen. I’d run it until it felt hot to put my fingers under, throw a tea bag into the cup, fill it up almost to the top and then remember the milk. Perhaps a 9 year old’s dash isn’t quite the same as Mum’s, because as I’d place the concoction on the tray it would look like a lukewarm mug of watery milk. The only giveaway that it contained any type of ceylon would be in the tea bag, bobbing half heartedly just below the surface.

As the elder sister, I’d proudly pick up the tray, and my sister would go ahead to herald our arrival and tell Mum and Dad to get ready. They’d prop themselves up in bed, lay down the newspaper and with an admirable amount of good cheer, receive the tray I was giving them, with the eggs now lying in a small pool of lukewarm tea-flavoured milk.

Mum, in her retelling of these episodes now would always laugh at this point and say although lying in bed for an hour with Dad, hearing us yell and cry and crash in the kitchen, the most excruciating was yet to come. The two of us would climb up onto their bed and watch Mum like a hawk, proud and indignant if we suspected her faking her enjoyment of the breakfast. We’d point out the marmelade (a thing we thought was disgusting but knew that adults mysteriously enjoyed), the fried eggs (actually pretty decent) and the milk with tea “just as you like it Mum!”.

She’d gallantly try everything, making a big fuss over what a surprise it was and how special she felt and then she’d be too full to finish everything and invite Dad to help her out. With a few swift mouthfuls Dad would clean up, declaring the weetbix to be perfect and that we’d prepared them to his exact liking. We’d start to soften by now, our egos intact, proud that we’d done a nice thing for our parents. The tray would be put on the dresser, with only the mug of “tea” still left. We’d snuggle into Mum and Dad, laughing about his stinky armpits and Mum’s cold feet. We’d stay like this for moments, a tight, warm family unit and then slowly, Mum or Dad or both would start to extract themselves, contemplating their late start to the day, and the kitchen in tatters.

I imagine now the pleasant hilarity this must have brought on as parents. The impatience and frustration, yes certainly! But also the pride at having your daughters proudly bring you an affectionate token of their love. The thought of us two little girls plan and carry out something as elaborate as breakfast in bed (something that even now I’d wouldn’t be able to carry out without a fair amount of “oh shit” moments and poorly timed toast to egg to cereal sequences) fills my heart with love.

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2 thoughts on “I Come From My Family

  1. Anna Jaine

    I has tears of laughter running down my cheeks by the end of the breakfast making scenario. Absolutely love it Corrie, you write so well and naturally X

    Like

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