Mummy was back. Mummy, bless her, was literally at the helm. Of a royal barge. Remembering to wave to all 58,789,194 of us, at the time of writing, even mid-conversation. Doing her duty as ever, even over a weekend that was meant to celebrate her.
A weekend back, many of us in the UK witnessed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Oh, how I loved the excuse to watch the River Pageant, the Service, the Concert and comment on Twitter about it – for I was supposed to be entering a writing challenge and was already behind. Watch all this on t.v.? No problem, squire. Suddenly, I am the ardent royalist and the Queen’s most loyal subject.
I’ll never forget Madness playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace while the light show over the walls of the palace, played out film of where we, the hoi polloi, the people waving Union Jacks or not, the people grumbling in anarchy groups, the people paying 50p a head a year to the Royal machine, actually live out our lives. Mind, they missed out our semis in Collier Row. No matter. Forgiven.
A couple of things from the Jubilee made me think – always dangerous, I know. One of those things was the way Prince Charles called the Queen ‘Mummy’ in his post-Concert address.
“Mummy?” I thought. Maybe it’s a regional, traditional or class matter. The book I’m writing is about a few mothers, amongst other things, so this has been a question that’s interested me intensely the last few weeks. The main character calls her mother “mum”, her brother calls his mother “mumma”.
My own children, now in their twenties, call me “mum” but only after years of “mummy” (and I still get called it sometimes), then “mutti” ( German but quite sweet, I think) and then “mumma”. Also “mam” (when my son has his Northern accent on) and I’ve also had times when my children have called me by my first name. That was thankfully a short-term phase when I think they probably, and justifiably, didn’t like me very much but they also called their dad by his first name around the same time, so who’s to say?
I call my own mother “mum”, though there were times I would, through circumstance, refer to her as “that woman” or “that evil bitch”. I doubt the Queen’s ever been called that but I then I also doubt she would ever have known about it even if she had. I would hate to think I could ever call my mother “mummy”, which just seems so damned wrong and cosy given our history. I can’t remember if I ever did call her that.
It’s sad but families are strange old things. I hated my own mother with, I thought, a justified and terrific purple passion for much of my life. It was only when we were reconciled – some time after we both had therapy – that I could call her “mum” again. She’s been stroke-stricken for over 10 years now and one of the best things we ever did was to attempt, and succeed at, a reconciliation – that was while she was still just about walking. Her indomitable strength of will has not only kept her alive through this series of major strokes (she has been in a BUPA home for over 10 years now), it has kept her going in her renewed relationship with me.
How did we renew a relationship that looked dead and buried? By both of us having successful therapy, making amends to each other and, on my part, to stop nursing this well-fed grudge of mine for the woes of my entire childhood – the only person/s damaged by that was me and mine – and, on her part, to stop hurting me or putting me down. But better that than both of us end up tottering towards a sad end, a pair of bitter, miserable sourpusses.
Only today, I received one of my mum’s famous letters. Famous because she is a writer who never stopped writing. So I haven’t been the only recipient of her missives from the bed or, if it’s a really good day, the wheelchair. The only bit of her body she can use is the forefinger and thumb of her right hand and so, although I have to make a real effort to understand the crazy scrawl, I feel blessed to receive those letters. Mum only uses them for rare and difficult use of the remote control otherwise.
I’m bothered to make the effort to work them out (yes, it’s like an insect has dipped itself in ink and scrabbled over the page) and glad that someone in her circumstances still makes the effort to send a weekly letter – whether I’ve/we’ve been visiting her or not – in an age when handwritten letters are something to chalk up.
Right now, I have two children who were born to me and two children who are my step-children. Paul’s children have always referred to me as my name, which only seems right and proper. Their own mum died when they were 16 and 13 and I have never even dreamed I could replace her in any way. They accepted me well and call me ‘Heather’ and that’s fine.
Eight years on from my first seeing my OH in 2004, I have two stepchildren who call me by name, a daughter who calls me “Mummy” or “Mum” arbitrarily, and a son who calls me as he feels at the time, i.e. mam, mum, mother (I always think they are cross with me if they say “mother”) and, my favourite, “mumma”.
Stretching out now, I have had 3 mother-in-laws. The first two were happy to be called by their names, Anne and April, and the latest (and I hope the last) actually asked me to call her “mum”. I’m happy with this if she is. She kind of is the “mum” I always wanted but she is also the mum my mum couldn’t be. Whatever her reasons.
It was weird writing that. I’d love to know: what’s your name for your mother and/or mother-in-law/alternative mother? And what do your children or stepchildren or adopted family call you? Come to think of it, there’s the whole “granny, nan, grandma, nanny” name debate to explore, too. Maybe in another post. Could be a short one!