I am so proud of my Mum today. For the first time in my sister’s entire lifetime she has stood up to her and has said NO firmly and indisputably.
My Mum turns 70 in a couple of weeks. She is having a big party for friends and family. My sister wants her deadbeat on-again, off-again husband to come. She has promised he will be good, which is subtext for he- will- not- be- drunk- and- will- be- sullen- and -sitting- in- the- corner, or he- will- be- high- and- will- be- sullen- and- sitting- in- the- corner. My mother finds the whole idea unacceptable. ‘He is a repulsive slug,’ she said. ‘I wish he’d never been born.’
This is a breakthrough admission for my Mum because she doesn’t talk trash about anyone. Nor does she express any ill will towards others. It is part of her moral code. I have the semantics of revenge-speak and assassination of character down pat, but my Mum doesn’t believe in that kind of thing.
I realised my Mum had been spending too much time watching British cop shows when she said to me on the phone last night : ‘Millie’s taking me for a right mug, innit?’ I of course am always up for a bit of East London patter so slipped in a few ‘Gordon Bennett’s’ and ‘I’m gonna kick him up the bottle.’
[If you want to know what I’m talking about check this out.]
The actual point is that my sister has been manipulating my Mum for pretty much all of her life. Millie plays on my Mum’s fears about the state of her mental health, her lack of stability in her life, and her seemingly not so bright future.
But my Mum has seen the light. She has decided that saying NO isn’t as damaging to my sister’s psyche as she thought. In fact, she has realised that if she had said NO long ago, things may not have turned out as badly as they have.
‘I couldn’t bear to have him sitting there on my special day thinking he’s won, thinking he can do whatever her likes to my little girl and I’ll turn a blind eye to keep the peace,’ my Mum said. ‘That’s wrong in anyone’s book.’
My sister was true to form when my Mum told her Oliver couldn’t attend the party. She cajoled, she begged. She actually got on her hands and knees, murmuring please, please, please over and over again. My Mum was irritated by her daughter’s inability to consider anyone’s feelings but her own. ‘My capacity to tolerate her constant emotional backsliding dried up in that moment,’ she said. ‘I realised that if I was uncomfortable with something then I shouldn’t do it, shouldn’t allow it to happen. Saying NO to her was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.’
And so it begins. The change. It’s in the wind, catching the tiny jacaranda leaves, yellowed by winter and flinging them up and out to the farthest reaches of the garden. A wood pigeon lands on the wall, a young one. It still has that high-pitched cry peculiar to younger birds, forlorn and full of longing. He looks at me, tilts his head, nibbles at the grass seeds which have blown onto the ground then flies off; as elusive as a divine messenger.
I see storm clouds gather, turning the sky slate. The sight is comforting rather than forbidding, like amber lights in windows at night.
One day it just comes to you, the knowing what to do, the knowing what you will settle for and won’t. But just because you know it, doesn’t mean you will do it because trying to fashion a new life, a new way of thinking is a terrifying process.
My sister’s situation is unpalatable to my Mum. The waiting for something to happen causes another part of her to be lost day by day. She wants things to change. The bitterness and tears haven’t worked. My sister just won’t listen. So my Mum must accept that for now Oliver is here to stay, but she hasn’t given up hoping for a change. On her terms. She will still see her daughter but not her daughter’s husband, for she has accepted an important truth. That the only way to waken up in a different world is to take the first step forward.