What I Have Learnt from My Mum (part 1 of 39)

This morning, his second at the office, Ville set off on the 6.05 vapur to Kabataş so he can be back before the children are sleeping. Now after lunch Neve sleeps and Anton is watching nursery rhymes and I drink tea while watching the downstairs neighbours weekly ritual of putting all their rugs on the railings outside our windows, and beating them hard. As neither of this elderly couple even walk that well it is a sight to see. I feel they are doing enough housework for all of us, so its fine if I take this opportunity to write.

Anton really wants to go to see his Grandma in England. I suspect that as I have been ill this week he is a bit bored, and he has very fresh memories of the daily adventures he went on during our stay in England for Neve's birth. Being the eldest of 9 children (three adopted, two of which have Down's syndrome), and close to them all, I really want to record some stuff, but its harder than I thought. Being a Cooke is such a huge part of my identity, but there are many different individuals that make up this group, and I would never presume to speak for any of them.

My parents have made a complete success of raising this many children. I know this because every single one of my siblings is a stable, interesting, generous, reasonably drug and hang-up free person. Raising kids there is a terror that whatever you do, some force (self-hate, heroin, whatever current nightmare you have) will take them from you. It happens. But it hasn't happened to the Cooke kids and that gives me courage that all the love I pour into mine will work.

Once when I was bemoaning the fact that our children will remember so little of this (mostly) happy time before they start school, Mum said something to the effect that during the first few years you are creating the paper on which your children will write their lives. I want my children to draw the lines of their lives with a certain aplomb. A bit Aubrey Beardsley, a bit Gerald Scarfe. I want them to write their stories with confidence, ink will flow freely, because the paper I am making with wood-pulp patience and cotton cuddles, is going to be the good quality, lightweight kind: it will have a certain luminosity. I imagine it completely smooth but if you look very, very closely you can see the richly interwoven fibres, it is eco-friendly, the perfect surface on which to write a life with ease, or at least not to add resistance when  life lacks flourish. This image has helped me through many moments when I felt like speaking less gently or ending a game quicker.

Yet here I am writing a blog. Anton is playing alone when he would prefer to play with me. I could be making vegetable rainbows. Its a complex balancing exercise between being led by a child's whims and not going insane with the boredom of not interacting with adults. We were so convinced that we were all my Mum ever wanted to do, that once when she told me in a moment of exasperation that sometimes she imagined another life, I ran to tell my sister Helen as if it was sensational tabloid news.

My Mum has also taught me never to beat yourself up if you can't keep your cool, but it has to be said that my parent's very, very rarely lost theirs. They managed to achieve the ideal family set up where we saw them as a unit and that their time together was sacred. I remember once being very sick (I was probably around 8) and they sat me on the sofa with them downstairs, past 8 o'clock! Everything looked and felt different in this land of after the kids are in bed.

Being their first-born, and understanding how I feel about mine, I love to think about how they felt about the tiny me. Mum recently told me how after I was born I was taken upstairs in the hospital where all the babies slept together. It had been a quite difficult labour, as I was breech, and she was ordered not to leave her bed. Of course, being Mum, she crept along the corridors and up the stairs and snuck in to feed me. She avoided me ever having a bottle.

Since I started living here more than there, my relationship with my Mum has transformed a little again. Ville and I have spent a total of 18 weeks living with my parents over the births of Anton and Neve. Mum was there for both of these births. While I was labouring in the bath, during Anton's home birth, Mum helped me manage the almost continuous contractions just prior to transition, when the gas and air I had been looking forward to didn't work. During Neve's recent birth (again in their bath) Mum played with Anton, removing  a big worry. There are lovely pictures of them doing biscuit decoration so he would be fully occupied, though he didn't need to do many, it being over so quick.

Mum now shows her love in the meticulous packing of cases, by buying porridge, chorizo and parma ham to squeeze in amongst toys and clothes for the kids. I also feel that I understand her better since I have moved here and we have in common not living in our birth country any more. I understand what it means not to speak with ease (or barely at all in my case). Mum met Dad when she was an au-pair in Brighton and he was a student there. Missing her native Austria she had gone to check out the Catholic society and found herself interested in the only non Catholic there, my Dad having just gone along with friends. I love Brighton for many reasons, but most of all for it being the setting for their romance. Mum and Dad decided to marry during a long correspondence when Mum returned home. Ville and I organised our new life in hundreds of facebook messages. Not quite as romantic but I am glad that life is much easier for long distance lovers nowadays. E-mail, skype, Easyjet: I owe you a debt of gratitude for allowing me to avoid feeling as my Mum did every time she left loved ones behind. And to Mum and Dad I will always be grateful for my paper, grimy with eraser marks and crossings out for sure, but good enough to write this adventure on.

Jake, Mum and my brother Stefan.
Jake, Mum and my brother Stefan.

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4 thoughts on “What I Have Learnt from My Mum (part 1 of 39)

  1. Your writing in this post is so moving. At the cost of making this even more intimate: I love you beyond anything I could have imagined.

  2. Anonymous20:31

    Your writing, your language and your emotion is all beautiful.

  3. Mum is sitting with me and is really really touched by your words, you have written so beautifully all the things we wish we could express to her- Thankyou!!!! Today Sonny was delighted to toddle off with her in the rain into Wells to give me a break- the fact that he didn't look back is testament to what a great Grandma she is. Its crazy to think of all the parallels in our lives, and how our relationships change and deepen as we understand each other that much more through all our experiences. Sleep well- and kisses for all of you from Grandma! xxx

  4. Really looking forward to interview you both for the blog when I see you! I am so happy Mum liked it.


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