Tuesday 22 October 2019

Working it out: I'm grateful I had such a lousy mother

Stella O'Malley.
Stella O'Malley.

John Masterson

She knew not what she did. She was thoughtless and neglectful. I sometimes marvel that we were not visited by the Social Services. Her defence would have been that she had meant no harm and didn't know any better. From the age of seven I was allowed cycle to school, alone, with just the flimsiest of precautions. "Stay on the path," was all she said and then watched me go the four hundred yards down the road, smoking her cigarette. My father showed me how to fix my own punctures.

That was another thing. She smoked. Near me. As a nurse she should have known better and it is a miracle I have escaped a lifetime of bronchial problems. Not that she cared. Her answer to every ache and pain was that it would soon go away. You could never get a drug of any sort out of her. "Go and chat with the neighbours," was her cure all.

Probably her biggest fault was the way she not only allowed, but encouraged, me and my friends to build and play in tree houses. Without a helmet. Without a back protector. Without safety glasses. And without any Health and Safety inspection on the construction. She even let me swim in the local river. What would you expect from a woman who was so mean that pocket money had to be earned by doing the washing up, keeping my room clean, and even hoovering?

I had no choice but to cut the grass to get my pocket money above survival level and buy the occasional LP. And this was a rotary mower and I had not even done a "Manual Handling" course. She made me eat what was on my plate as "there were people starving in Africa." My friends' mothers did the same. They clearly colluded. I thought of my mother when I met Stella O'Malley who is a psychotherapist and mother who has filled her book Cotton Wool Kids with knowledge and common sense. Any perfection-seeking mother should read it instantly and save her sanity. Unless you want to be scammed into paying double for your child's mattress for fear of SIDS. Or have your teenage daughter send you selfies before she buys a dress. Whatever happened to 'You are not going out in that?" And apparently some parents correct their children's essays before they submit them. Idiots.

I am very grateful to have had such a lousy mother. She put opportunities my way. She let us have our fights, confident that we would figure it out and learn something. She watched from a distance. She adored my father. I am sure if there was ever a Sophie's Choice moment I would have been thrown under the bus. I was replaceable. He wasn't. They had a great marriage. She had a life. No part of her life was ever on hold. She got myself and my sister off to a good start. There is not a day goes by when I am not grateful to her.

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