It’s always great to see my family. For about two hours. Then my mother says, ‘So you didn’t bring Delphine any proper clothes to wear?’
‘What do you mean? I brought the trolley suitcase.’
‘You didn’t put any jumpers in it?’
‘No,’ I say, ‘I bought that hoodie. The one she was wearing when she came in’
Nod. Then a couple hours later, same thing. ‘You came all this way in winter and didn’t bring Dudu any clothes?’
I try not to do the teenager eye roll – being such an old tic. ‘No, I told you I did. Remember? That thick pink hoodie. It’s good to wear on the train.’
Frow. ‘I haven’t seen it.’
’That’s because it’s oven-hot in here. She isn’t wearing it.’
Ok, a bit of a smart answer but c’mon! Meanwhile, I get the lowdown on my Grandma. She’s been enjoying her Polish TV since she’s been here. That’s nice. She watches it and watches it – something she does more as she’s gotten older. My grandma was never shy on politics but as she has more time, she’s become even more political. I’d go even further and say my grandma is the very person the rolling news feed is catering for.
My mother revealed why. ‘It’s because she doesn’t understand straight away. It takes her three days to get it. We’ll be watching it and she’ll turn to me in a lightbulb moment and say, “Did you know… so and so,” and I’ll be like, “Yeah – we’ve been watching the same story for three days now.” And the thing is that on top of this, she gets the story muddled up. It’s not in the right order or not quite right at all.’ My mum shakes her head. ‘It’s frustrating.’
Looking after your parent is frustrating as they age and lose the mental sharpness you remember so well as a child. In my mother’s case, she has sacrificed significant parts of her life in the last five years to look after her own mum. Before my grandma came here for her extended convalescent stay, my mum used to visit her in Poland all the time. She’s steadily given up doing her own things by always putting her mum first.
Mothered her mother. Oh man, I hope she’s not reading this and crying right now! Weeping in the corner. But really, she has. A mother couldn’t ask for a better daughter. As an exchange situation: ‘you looked after me so I’m returning the favour’, not everyone enters that negotiation. It’s a hard task, right? I’m not judging. And yet my mum, who was never the outwardly very caring type, is now paying it back in full.
My auntie Ela – my mum’s twin who lives next door – is too. It’s my mum my grandma lives with. The Polish TV is constantly on at her house, and the intimate knowledge of health issues is what my mum has learned. Very obvious when I hear my grandma’s doctor recognises my mother’s voice unprompted on the telephone. Considering they don’t even live in the same country. I realise just what my mother has built up.
Just before we went to bed yesterday, my mum turned to me.
‘So, what are you expecting to put on Delphine if you don’t want her to catch pneumonia?’
I stared at her. ‘Her jumper. The one I brought for her.’
My mother snorted. ‘I don’t see any jumper.’