A few weeks ago, I was pottering around York, as I often do. I went into a gift-type shop (there are loads of them in York – you know the type I mean). I was looking for something specific , so was taking my time looking at each display when I saw a sign which read ‘the best Mums make the best Grandmas’.
It hit me like a punch to the stomach and I had to leave the shop before I melted into a puddle of tears on the floor. As I paced around town, attempting not to cry, I couldn’t help feeling angry at the injustice of cancer in general, and Mum’s in particular. My Mum is awesome and would make an incredible Grandma. She’d love it, too. In the past few weeks she’s knitted three baby cardigans so that if/when my brothers and I have children, we would each have something for them ‘from Grandma’.
Almost every day at the moment, I see something that Mum’s not going to have, or be able to do, and it makes me want to cry. It could be going on a trip to Tesco and realising she probably won’t do that with us again, seeing graduation photos on Facebook with a parent proudly standing either side of their offspring, or coming out of my driving theory test and thinking about what we’d be doing if Mum was well (going to Starbucks for a Frappuccino and people-watching before heading to Primark for a bit of a splurdge.
People often say that ‘they can’t believe how well you’re handling this’, ‘you’re all doing so well’ or ‘I’d never know from your Facebook posts what’s really going on’. I don’t mind this because on the whole; we are managing well, and my Facebook is not a shrine to my Mum’s illness because I’m still living my life. But it doesn’t mean that I never feel angry at the injustice of it all and just want to punch a wall.
Over summer, I am a nanny to two wonderful boys. They’re seven and five and I’ve looked after them every school holiday for two years – it’s the best job I can imagine having at this stage in my life and is both fun and rewarding in equal measures. We baked a lemon cake yesterday (at their request!), and then today, we cycled to the park, pushed a big swing pretended we were in James’ Bond whilst spinning on a spinny thing, and fell about on the grass. I started thinking about all of this kind of stuff again.
Knowing the boys as long as I have, and spending so much time with them every school holiday, means that we have a fairly solid relationship. I hug them, they hug me, we play fight, laugh, joke, and enjoy each other’s company. They’re not my children (despite many museum workers calling me ‘Mum’ in the past), but they’re good practice for if I ever have my own.
Baking is something my Mum taught me as a child. She spent hours teaching me how to use a mixer, how to break eggs, and how to remember various recipes. Teaching the boys how to bake is a joy, and they get better each time we do it – they’re pretty good at it now, and love it just as much as I did at their age. Going to the park is something my parents and I did a lot as when I was a child. They must have spent hours pushing me on swings and helping me conquer climbing frames.
My entire attitude towards children and the skills that I pass onto them come from my experiences and upbringing, and especially from my parents. My Mum probably won’t be there in person if I ever have kids – I probably won’t be able to beg her for some childcare favours when I need some sleep. But so much of my Mum is in me, and has shaped who I am, that in some small way she will be there – and that’s something that cancer can never take away.
Each time I let one of the children lick out the mixing bowl, they receive some of my Mum’s baking passion. Whenever they fly high on a swing, they’re experiencing some of Mum’s joy through my own love of parks. Whenever they’re making stuff, I hope they’ll experience some of Mum’s patience for my various crafting endeavours, something I do my best to remember when I have to iron countless Hama bead creations, or make multiple loom band animals.
Cancer might be taking my Mum’s body, but it will never take my Mum. It will never take all the things she taught me (not to mention other people), the impact she’s leaving in the medical world, or the impression she’s made on everyone she’s ever met. Cancer can’t take her love for me and my brothers, her pride in what we achieve, or her hopes and dreams for our futures. Cancer can’t destroy the memories I have of her and our family, of holidays, hill climbing and funny voices when we read bedtime stories as kids.
Cancer makes no sense on an emotional level, and I don’t think it’s something I will ever truly understand. But, when I find myself on my bum in the middle of a park having lost a play fight with two adorable boys – I know that my Mum, her attitude of always getting ‘stuck in’ and her willingness to do anything with the three of us, however silly it might make her look, will always be with me.