The World in a Size 12 Dress

Mum just popped round. She only meant to drop off the carpet cleaner and have a sandwich but instead she casually made me love her more, then left.

She couldn’t stay long, she said. She had to go and see her friend. We cut our sandwiches and split them half and half and sat in the window overlooking the park, my dog fused to her leg and gazing up at the prospective crusts.

Once a week, every Thursday, my Mum goes ‘befriending’. (This may sound like she parks up in a lay-by on the A127 with a jaunty sign advertising ‘cuddles, a kit-kat, and maybe more if you’re good’, but it’s not that at all, I promise.)

A couple of years ago, Mum joined a thing where nice people make friends with people who are sad or lonely or afraid to go out. People who have never been very good at making friends, or who have gone through a bad patch and need a bit of support to build their confidence back up. Mum gets matched to people, usually vulnerable young women who probably need a bit of mothering, and takes them out shopping or for a walk once a week. Pops round, checks in on them. Is there for them. Being Mum, I know this would not just be a service limited to Thursdays; I bet she makes her friends very aware that she is on call if they really need her. I’ve not fully considered quite how wonderful this is until today. I have been used to waifs and strays, old and young, floating in and out of our family my whole life; we were brought up to have open arms and hearts.  So the befriending is not a new thing; it’s just what Mum does. She doesn’t know what to do with herself if she’s not loving someone.

As we ate our sandwiches she told me about another friend she had to visit. This time one she had known almost all her life, who suffers from a cruel mix of crippling shyness and (recently diagnosed) paranoid schizophrenia. Unbeknownst to me, for she does not bugle her care efforts, Mum has been visiting her for the past couple of weeks after concerns for her ‘demonstrative lack of desire to be here anymore’ saw her taken to a nearby hospital. Mum had had an unsettling phone call, a bad feeling in her waters, and had tracked her down. Mum was saddened when her friend did not recognise her and ran away from her down the ward. Mum persevered, and kept going back, and I can just imagine the wily, no-nonsense, loving tack she would have taken to win back the trust of a friend she has known since they were toddlers. With demanding tenderness Mum has got her to eat, drink, wash herself, and show an interest in her future beyond the ward, which sounds like the type of dreadful place you’d have to be superhuman to survive at all. Mum said “She has no voice. She needs help. I won’t let anyone walk all over her again.” She told me all this like it was nothing while eating her sandwich like it was in some way part of beating the system, asked me why I wasn’t eating mine, then talked me through how to use the carpet cleaner. Then she left, taking my dog to go for a walk with another of her ‘befriended friends’.

I sat back down in a stunned sort of daze, my throat tight with the effort of not crying. That guilty fug that comes from hearing about other people’s sad lives, and a thrashing admiration for my Mum, who is formidable and bossy and relentless and kind and patient and brave and ferocious in all the right places. Sometimes I forget to see it. She’s just my mum. But today she caught me with my blinkers off and I have nothing else to do with the magnitude of it other than write this.

My mum is my mum. She is on my side. She would fight for me if I needed her to. I’ve never really thought about that before. I suspect in my adult years I have been pretending to myself that I don’t really need that, particularly when I might need it the most. But seeing it and knowing it today makes me feel really…big. Like the whole world in a size 12 dress.

Anyway. She’s coming round again in a bit. I can’t bloody get the carpet cleaner to work.


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