“Why do you keep looking at me like that, Mummy?” Mini-Me was clearly grumpy and early on in the day I had realised that not poking the bear seemed to be a good strategy. I wasn’t doing too well at that.
It was late on Sunday morning and Mini-Me and I were sitting in Starbucks at South Mimms services on the M25. The rain was so heavy that driving was like travelling at 70mph in a car wash and we had both begun to get tetchy, so I called time on our journey and we had stopped for cake – always a reliable bonding tool for mother and daughter when they have been somewhat bristly with each other.
The reason I couldn’t stop staring at Mini-Me was because of what she was wearing. She looked just like a zoo keeper, dressed in grungy green and browns, with a grey zipped fleece over the top of it all. The only thing missing was a stick with a side of beef skewered onto the end of it, in case a passing lion was hungry.
“I know you don’t like my outfit today,” she continued indignantly, “But I have to get used to wearing these clothes! When I’m on safari, I can’t wear my bright pink hoodie – the animals will think I’m a piece of lunch and how would you feel if your daughter was mistaken for food?”
The rant continued and I tuned out, inwardly laughing at the fact that next week Mini-Me will be visiting her father, The Doctor, in South Africa and spending time in Kruger looking for The Big Five, whilst this week I was taking her on a road trip round the M25 in the pouring rain, stopping for a treat at the motorway services. Wow, I certainly know how to show my daughter a good time!
To be fair, Mini-Me had handled our morning together very well. We had been to visit my Grandmother who, a couple of days previously, had been admitted into a hospice. On the way, I had tried to explain to Mini-Me what she should expect when she saw her Great Grandmother – that she would be looking very frail; she might be hooked up to an oxygen tank; and she might not initially know who we were or what we were doing there. In all honesty, I think maybe I was actually giving myself a pep talk.
Grandma certainly did look older and more frail than when I had seen her in the weeks previously – hardly surprising seeing as she is approaching her ninety- ninth birthday – but I needn’t have been concerned about her ability to identify her family.
“I knew you two would come!”
I managed a smile, trying hard to bite back tears so that I could speak. Mini-Me’s fingers gripped my arm tightly and she refused to take off her coat, which was clearly giving her a sense of security. And which was also, fortunately from a fashion conscious mother’s viewpoint, covering her ridiculous outfit.
We stayed chatting for a while, Mini-Me relaxed a bit and happily answered her Great Grandmother’s questions.
“Remind me when your birthday is, dear?”
This need for a prompt is no indication of a failing memory, as Grandma has four grandchildren and six great grandchildren, so remembering all their birthdays would be a feat for someone half her age.
“May 7th..I’m having a swimming party. You love swimming – you should come.” Mini-Me wasn’t being facetious, merely matter-of-fact in the way eight year olds are.
“That’s very lovely, dear, but I’m not sure I’ll be here to join in!”
I’m pleased that Mini-Me is a keen swimmer and has inherited some ability from her Great Grandmother, who was a very good swimmer. When Mini-Me moans about having to get up early to go and plough up and down the school pool, I remind her that Grandma learnt to swim in the cold River Lea, being pretty much just dropped into the water and told to make for the other side, being constantly reprimanded for not having a swimming hat – this was simply because her mother could not afford to buy her one. One day, she was challenged by some older girls to swim a fair distance, much against the wish of the teacher, who thought Grandma was too small and young to complete the test. Grandma did manage it and was presented with a red swimming hat by the teacher as a reward. She still talks about the red swimming hat and how proud of it she was.
It ties my mind in knots trying to get to grips with what my Grandmother has experienced, witnessed and lived through in the almost-a-hundred years she has been alive. Mini-Me is desperate for her to receive a telephone call from the Queen. I have tried to explain that it’s a telegram, not a chat with Her Majesty on her iPhone, but Mini-Me refuses to believe me. She is a child of the 21st Century, so a piece of paper sent through the mail seems a little lame to her. I have no idea if Grandma will achieve a century and I’m pretty sure she’s not that bothered if she doesn’t. She has a very strong Christian faith and finds it absurd that anyone might be afraid of dying.
“Are you going to church these days?” Grandma asked Mini-Me.
Mini-Me looked at me, unsure what to answer, somehow sensing that a simple ‘no’ wasn’t quite what Grandma was hoping to hear. So, instead, when faced with what she considered a difficult question, she used the fail safe technique of throwing her mother under the bus.
“No, actually, not…Mummy doesn’t get up in time on a Sunday morning to take me.”
I shot her a ‘What are you doing to me here?’ look and swiftly changed the subject to Mini-Me’s upcoming vacation.
Grandma has lived in London all her life, has never been on an aeroplane and to her the world seems like an enormous place. When I lived in the States, it seemed so far away and inaccessible to her that I might as well have been on the Moon. She loves hearing about the trips undertaken by her family and it amused me to listen to Mini-Me trying to explain hers.
“What’s a safari? Erm..well…it’s when you go and see wild animals in the wild. But it’s not quite the wild. It’s in a reserve. That’s like a zoo. But not like a zoo..”
After a while, Grandma was pretty tired, so we said goodbye. Properly. Just in case. And headed back home, with our trip to Starbucks as a period of time-out, sitting quietly and only occasionally passing comment to each other.
“When I’m staying with Daddy, I’m going to master my tumble turn in his pool!” Mini-Me suddenly announced through a mouthful of cake.
“If you do master it, I’ll buy you a red swimming hat.”