All About My Mother

For me, life began when I was in my twenties.

I remember it clearly, the moment the membrane cracked and I pushed my finger out. The kitchen table, mother’s hands pressing it down like it was just about to take off and start floating around us, complicating things even more. Every shadow on the walls, every speck of dust in the air, every word. I stood up, half expecting everything around me, chairs, pots, kitchen appliances, to open mouths I never knew they had, and bite at me.

Nothing happened really. No earth trembling, no tentacles reaching out from under the counters to tie my ankles down in a million sticky knots. I took one step, then another. She was still yelling by the time I reached the door. I didn’t slam it, but it felt like I did. It felt like I punched and kicked it and smashed it to bits, and the violence of the thought scared me. Perhaps there really was something wrong with me, I thought, but that possibility frightened me even more, so I quickly blinked it away, checked my watch again, and left. 14:06, a Sunday. Life begins.

My mother is a wonderful woman. Funny, well read, a brilliant doctor. She grows roses and has a beautiful singing voice. She cooks the best lasagnas and bakes the best ginger bread cookies. She has friends who love her and colleagues who admire her. She’s survived several life threatening episodes, a difficult marriage, and my teen years. I love her. I love her in a complicated way, and that’s fine, because I’m told all families are complicated, and all loves are complicated, and I’ve never pretended to be special in any way.

I’ve never written anything about her. I’ve rarely talked about her, in fact, so even my closest friends know very little about what growing up was like. Does that make me dishonest? I suppose so. But in all honesty now, though I have a million hopes and dreams and want countless new things from my life every day, there’s nothing I want more than being friends with my mother, and that makes me sad.

For the longest time, I didn’t want to have children. I’d launch myself head first into arguments on the subject, I’d serve my female friends and various boyfriends the speeches I’d rehearsed countless times before, I’d be relentless and perfectly convinced of the validity of my reasoning. It took me years to realize it wasn’t that I didn’t want, like, need children, but that I was terrified, obsessed, certain that I wouldn’t be a good mother.

I had no idea what being a good mother meant, of course. I’d only known one mother and I knew I didn’t want to be like her.

Seeing these words typed in a line here sure makes me feel like a horrible human being. Ungrateful. Guilty.

I mean, my mother was an amazing mother in so many ways. She never left my side. She watched over me during my many convalescences, she kept me clothed and fed, she bought me toys and books. She put me through my studies, she sent me on holidays. She taught me how to tie my laces, walk in high heels, cook, use a map. She taught me I wasn’t anything special. I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t funny. Hardworking enough, smart enough. Anything enough, really. I’d never have friends, success, a lover. I’d end up alone. Homeless. Begging for her help.

My mother taught me not to smile too much. My teeth were not my best feature. Not to talk too much. Girls like me would better know their place. Not to wear what I thought looked good on me. My “good” was everybody else’s “slutty”. Not to trust anybody. No reason why anyone would like me, surely they had some hidden agenda if they wanted to hang out with me. Not to hope, dare, try, want. They were for other people, these things. For prettier, bubblier, wife material girls who never slouched and never frowned and always listened to their mothers. All I could do was work hard in school. Get a job. Be grateful for her guidance.

I’m almost 30.

I no longer spend every waking moment wondering about everything. Second guessing every other decision, imagining hidden scenarios, looming dangers everywhere. I can look at myself in the mirror and be OK with not just the face, but the person looking back at me, and that’s a little miracle in itself. I’ve learned how to talk to people, how to say what I want, how to not burst into tears every time someone tells me I’ve done a good job. I’ve tried everything I’ve wanted to try. I say everything I want to say. I’ve turned into someone. An imperfect someone, of course. A someone my mother would have to knead into the right, perfect shape, if I was to make anything of myself in this world.

I took away her last chance to mold me into perfection when I moved to London.

Months later, she’d still be calling me in the middle of the night, crying. I’ll die, she’d say. I’ll die if you don’t come back right now. They’ll find me dead on the kitchen floor and you’ll learn of it over the phone, from a stranger. You’ll be happy then, won’t you. You’ll finally have killed me.

I’d hardly ever say anything. My cheek would sweat against the screen of the phone. When we’d hang up, I’d just sit there for a while. Sometimes V. would come and hold me, though it would be late, and we’d both be really tired and he’d have thought she’d have stopped calling a long time before anyway, but she hadn’t. I wouldn’t cry, I wouldn’t even blink. Maybe something really was wrong with me, I’d think, afraid I didn’t know how to even begin to live this life.

Specimen Days

I haven’t been writing lately.

There’s little on my mind these days besides floor plans, viewing appointments and mortgage interest rates, so you can imagine I’m no fun to be around. And I figured I’d spare you from what would certainly have become this embarrassing affair where I feel sorry for myself for sixteen posts in a row, and you force yourselves to read on because, oh well, because you’re nice people and you want to fell sorry for me too. But then you inevitably end up utterly sick of me and my endless moaning, and a painful, final virtual breakup ensues.

I can almost hear you, you know. So what if I can’t find/afford a home? Is it really the end of the world? I mean, I can afford rent, can’t I? I can afford soap. Socks. Barbeque flavoured Pringles. It’s high time I put a stop to all the whining and get back to living, even if it looks like I’ll be forever doing it in this tiny dollhouse flat with its tiny dollhouse windows and its tiny dollhouse fridge, and its horrendous, dollhouse zebra patterned rug the previous tenant left behind that I’ve yet to throw out, three years later, because I’m crazy cheap and my feet are always cold.

Anyway. This is about as much as I’ll be writing on the matter of house hunting apocalypse and how I’m really not built for dollhouses (still haven’t lost those darn five pounds!) for now. Instead, I’ll be trying my best to get myself back into a property fever free, functional shape.

What this means these days is that I’m doing a lot of things you normally wouldn’t have caught me dead doing before. I might just be going through a two-months-til-thirty life crisis, so don’t be surprised if you soon hear I’ve spent my house budget on a strawberry pink boat called The Blushing Mermaid. Or a couple of boob jobs.

Until then, I tackle my existential complications by ditching the company bus in the evenings and walking the streets home until I’m half frozen and on the verge of collapse, drowning myself in brain numbing housework, attempting to make friends (Something is definitely wrong with me, I tell you!), and baking.

I know, baking? Me? The world must really be coming to an end.

I mean, take yesterday for instance. With V. out for the evening playing tennis into the night, the plan was to cover my face in a muddy goo meant to restore my former radiating beauty, down half a bottle of wine (I refuse to believe wine and dieting exclude each other; may be why I haven’t lost the infamous five pounds yet but who cares! ), and lie in the tub for an hour, waiting for my skin to wrinkle the worries away. But then I figured that, despite my best intentions and significant amounts of alcohol, all I’d be doing in that tub would be to think about houses and feel miserable again. So instead of pampering/drinking myself deeper into depression, I did the laundry, the vacuuming, the dusting, the ever exciting checking-the-expiration-dates-on-all-our-cans-medicines-and-beauty-products, and, humanity, I baked (BAKED!) two (TWO!) surprisingly edible (!!!) batches of my mother’s Dutch Biscuits, without burning the flat down or losing a limb in the process.

Of course, since there’s really no justice in the world, this super duper housewife phase I’m going through is turning out to work best for V., who actually really liked my biscuits (Is an official marriage proposal finally in order now that I’ve managed to cook something he didn’t absolutely despise? Finger crossed!) and decided it’s all he’ll be having for breakfast from now until the end of days. My arms up to my elbows in dough every other night, I guess I’ll have less opportunities to fall back into my old habits of elaborately planning the demise of all estate agents on the planet, which can only be a good thing.

But until my long term baking therapy effects kick in, I’m looking forward to a couple of days of tech conferences, reconnecting with old friends (Over what I hope will be indecent amounts of diet friendly booze!), and weekend birthday celebrations (It’s always comforting to know I’m not the only one growing old, though it’s obvious I’m experiencing the process in an infinitely more deranged way than everybody else).

Getting back to work now (That baking flour doesn’t pay for itself!), but not before I wish you all a lovely, existential crisis free end of the week!

Things We Fight About When We Fight About Things

Yesterday we met Victor for a quick bite in Soho and a London Web talk on Software Architecture at the Radisson Blu Hotel. A couple of hours later, V. and I were sitting in a half empty tube car on our way home, centimeters apart but absolutely not touching and clearly hating each other’s guts, our frowns conveniently hidden behind our Kindles. We didn’t talk or make eye contact for the entire trip, and though we became somewhat civil later on, there was tension in the air throughout the rest of the evening, and he was still far from my favourite person in the morning.

Why, you ask, was our relationship suddenly on the verge of destruction, and on the super duper International Day of Happiness of all days? Well, behold the very mature, extra valid reason for our near separation.

We owed Victor fifty pounds for a couple of tickets he’d gotten us for another tech conference. As soon as we met him yesterday, I was bugging V. to give him the fifty pounds back, knowing we’d be forgetting about it. On our way to the restaurant, I was interrupting their conversation with I’m sure super duper loveable fifty-pounds shrieks. I was snoozed, of course. We’d settle the business when we got somewhere warm, V. said. So I waited until we got our table at the restaurant, safely out of the rain, faces buried in burrito guts. Fifty pounds, I dared suggest again, sputtering rice everywhere like a proper lady. Oh shush, they said. We’d take care of it later, once we reached the talk venue. Several burrito pounds and a run through the rain later, we were sitting in comfy chairs in one of Radisson’s function rooms, giddy with excitement at the prospect of becoming the best Software Architects on the planet. Do you think the darn fifty pounds finally exchanged hands? Sure, I dutifully remembered about them. Too bad V. and I were already on the tube on our way home when that happened, having parted with Victor fifteen fateful minutes before.

So of course I turned my evil witch mode on, and ripped V.’s guts (Discreetly, mind you. I never yell on the tube, I’m classy that way.) about how he never listens to me, how I’m always right and how he’s always wrong, how none of our friends will want to hang out with us once Victor tells them the stolen fifty pounds story, yes, STOLEN, we’re thieves now, V. just made us thieves, was he happy about that? For some reason, my very reasonable arguments made him think I was crazy. Then he couldn’t hold it in any longer and blurted it out. You know you’re crazy, right? Which is when I decided he was no longer worth talking to and I got my Kindle out. Classy, I tell you.

On my way to work this morning, still hating him a little bit and still very much convinced I was NOT crazy, I found myself wondering if this is the sort of thing they mean by irreconcilable differences. Are V. and I slowly piling up the grounds for a Hollywood style divorce? I mean, I’m all in favour of having stuff in common with Jennifer Lopez, you know, but did she really dump Marc Anthony because of an unsettled fifty buck debt? And if she did, by the way, she was most definitely not crazy, OK? (I had to google famous celebrity divorces to even come up with a broken celebrity couple by the way. I’m that lame.)

You’ll be relieved to know that V. and I are not parting ways just yet. It was not an easy decision to make. I mean, I had to admit, out loud, that I am slightly crazy. He in turn admitted that most times he just assumes I’m crazy and simply ignores half of what I say, usually by zoning out and fantasizing about cars, or buckets of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream. For some reason, I don’t feel like I’ve won this fight. Our irreconcilable differences may have been reconciled for now, if reluctantly on my side, but we’ve still got a million other things to fight about, and my time will come.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the rest of our life together. Sure, we’ll spend a good part of it bickering about how I leave my hairpins everywhere, how he leaves his everything-but-hairpins everywhere, how I never do the vacuuming, how he never does the dishes, how there’s no more cookie dough in the cookie dough ice cream, how I always feel like having some cookie dough when he’s just laboriously picked and chomped it all, and left me some weird looking, cookie dough free, melting goo behind, how he’s always late and how I always want to get early everywhere, how I don’t want to live on pizza for the rest of my twenties, how he despises all vegetables unless they’re part of a pizza topping, how I’m crazy, how I’m absolutely not crazy and he’s an idiot. It’s always good to be in a healthy relationship.

I’m now heading off to a lovely, relationshipy weekend of badminton violence and savage flat hunting, with hopefully no divorcing business in the process. And if I’ve been fighting throughout the Day of Happiness, I’ll be so much better behaved today, and since it happens to be World Poetry Day, I’ll leave you with a lovely poem about fruit and feelings and stuff. 🙂

The Orange

By Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Top of the Pile #13: Cyclops

 

This will be my first read from the list of books you lovely people have recommended me here. I ordered a bunch of them last night, and Cyclops was the first one to arrive to my Kindle so here it is now, at the top of my reading pile for the week.

I know absolutely nothing about Clive Cussler or his writing, and I’ve been super duper strong and managed to not look him up. It was Blo who recommended me Cyclops (which she is actually re-reading these days), and since our tastes in books seem to be similar, I’m thinking it might be really good. From the cover, it looks like a sci-fi-dystopian-adventure affair, which I think I might just be in a mood for these days, after 500 pages of Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

*

I finished The Shadow of the Wind on my way back from work yesterday. In fact, I’d just reached the door to our flat and stood there like a weirdo for half a minute, my Kindle lighting up the dim, curry smelling hallway, putting off looking for my keys and unlocking the door, just so I’d finish the last page.

I don’t know whether I really liked it, or at one point I just wanted to be done with it as soon as possible. When I started reading it, I was a bit disappointed. It may have been the translation (I was reluctant to spend more money on the Spanish original), but the writing style felt like it was addressed to the (significantly) younger generation. Then I came across the first sex scene and decided it wasn’t, and that it was, really, simply not my kind of writing.

I sort of grew accustomed to it as the events evolved, and as I became more interested in the storyline and the characters’ development. I really liked Zafon’s Barcelona, a mysterious, crumbling city much different than what I imagine it today (I haven’t been yet. Crazy, I know!). At times the atmosphere was terrifying and at times I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, but then there were times when characters would fall head over heels in love with each other all of a sudden, with no build up whatsoever and no real connection apart the author stating that they were in love, and relevant characters would just tell all their darkest secrets to strangers in the street, or someone would turn out to be the main character’s evil twin (This doesn’t actually happen in the book, but similar soap-operish stuff does happen. A LOT.), and it all felt just a little bit forced. Towards the end, I was quite able to predict the outcome of the story and I just wanted to finish it already.

I’ve still got a couple of Carlos Ruiz Zafon books on my Kindle, but I don’t think I’ll be attempting another one in the near future. Perhaps I’ll try one as a holiday read later in the year, or once I finish with all your awesome book recommendations.

Meanwhile, I’ve got Cyclops to start on, a bunch of impossible evil deadlines at work, and back to back flat viewings every weekend until the end of time, so who knows when I’ll be posting my next Top of the Pile article. I’ll try my best to have at least another one ready before the end of the month, and in the meantime, if you haven’t recommended me anything yet, you can do it here.