The 2012 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
Ladies and gentlefolk, my mother.
At some point in the last year–I can’t remember precisely when–my mum made a passing comment to me about how she was sure all of my friends must think she was a terrible person. She was referring to the friends I have met since leaving home, and who only know her through the stories I have told about her, and never met her in person. It was an untrue statement–they think no such thing, although it is true that they are often surprised to discover she is not a fearsome Margaret Thatcher type so perhaps there is something in the way I describe her. I can imagine it comes from the way I tell the story of my coming out–my mother who flatly informed me I was too young to know, and proceeded for the next few days to avoid being in the same room as me, until I was forced to leave and go stay with my siblings. When I relate that story, people are shocked. I was with John a year and a half before they knew of his existence, and then only because I was moving in with him and could hardly keep it quiet any longer, and my housemates were the ones who had to sit me down and calm me after the terrifying phonecall through to my mum to tell her. I’ve had many a glare down the years from John because I will tie myself in knots to avoid pronouns or names, or talking about him, or revealing anything about my ‘gay’ life to my Mum, shaking his head that I will lie or hide to avoid awkwardness. People wonder exactly how terrifying a mother she must be to make me this scared of being honest about my life.
And the simple answer is: absolutely nothing. It’s unfair, and the last few months have made me realise this. So this is my chance to redress the balance.
In the rare moments when I ever had a real conversation with my father–also, coincidentally, the day I came out–I knew that he had always felt outside of the loop of my Mum and I, and I can understand. All the activities that I did as a child, all the life that I saw and most of the experiences, were because of her. We were members of the National Heritage, and nearly every saturday we used to go visiting some castle in another town, some heritage event with knights and jousting, or occasionally what would turn out be little but some rocks in a field. She also used to be the one who walked with me up to the library–carrying her books in the rolling shopping basket. That bloody shopping basket–I remember it fondly, but I also remember feeling embarrassed and set completely apart from all the other kids that hung around my village, being seen with that, and when we had graduated to driving to the library at Scunthorpe, and I had to walk past the Church Square where, god forbid, people I knew might see me with my mother, I used to power on ahead to avoid it. I thought it wasn’t obvious, but in retrospect, it was, and its one of the things I regret. These days, if I see a teenager out with their parents who is managed to not look embarrassed, I find it very sweet and want to cheer them.
She is the person who taught me how to sew and cross-stitch. (I see your raised eye-brows. After I came out, she banished candles from the bathroom a sure sign of homosexuality, but I’ve never had any word on whether she considers my solid background in embroidery a factor.) That and all sorts of other creative things–my mother incredibly capable and creative. When I was young, she made me a doll called Luke, who was the same size as me when she gave him to me. He had entire matching sets of clothes to me (and its a tradition that she’s carried on with the grandchildren.)
On the flip-side of that, she is also the only person in my household capable of wielding an electric saw and drill, and wiring up electric lights. She builds dolls houses–incredible scale miniatures with full working lights and conservatories and greenhouses and furniture. They are incredible. When I was young, we built a castle–and many other half-complete projects–and, memorably, a giant frame that fit over the head-boards of a single bed onto which we landscaped around an electric train set.
And she cooks. I never truly appreciated the level to which her cooking is astonishing until I left for university and lived on pasta, but the ability to produce an entire Sunday roast for ten people without even really thinking about it is something that I feel everybody should learn. And then there’s the signature chocolate roulade…
That really is the marvel of leaving home. I had all kinds of misgivings about my upbringing–how restrictive and limited it had felt, and my problems with religion, and of course my problems upon coming out. But then you realise–I grew up completely loved, and my mother tried her best to teach me things, and show me things, even if I might not have completely appreciated them at the time.
And it continues. We seem to be a close-lipped family (or it may be a product of being the youngest.) Family occurrences or dramas never filter through, I always have to dig to know anything. We’re not a family to express emotion–the phrase ‘I love you’ never once occurred in my childhood. I never once even talked about girlfriends or relationships, even in the most vague of terms, with my parents–and I realise now that half of the desire I feel to keep private from them comes from that attitude, and not simply me being gay. Because, through the grapevine, I learnt that my conservative mother, raised in church from the day she was born for over 60 years, challenged her own understanding of faith enough to try to understand me. Whilst none of it was ever communicated to me, she read books, and somewhere along the line came to understand that I would not change, and that to force myself to appear ‘straight’ for her would only cause me pain. And despite my best efforts to never, ever entangle the worlds, it was her who volunteered to meet John (who nearly died of fright having it sprung on him).
It was also her that I found myself calling after the breakup of my relationship, and it was her, and home, that I drove back to to escape that same night. It’s also her who, in the last year, has told me she loves me more times than in my entire life. That’s the woman who I have never, ever given enough credit for and I almost certainly do not deserve.