My Mum has always been a bit forgetful. It has nothing to do with age. When I was little she would take me shopping, and then, when we had bought everything she needed, she wouldn't be able to remember where she had parked the car. I remember walking the streets of my home town, trying to find her little red Mini before the traffic warden did! Far more recently there was the time when she dove off down the road with several Christmas presents balanced on the car roof and didn't stop until several people had gesticulated wildly at her. She has a history of loosing things...
She came down to see me on Monday, and to see Small Sprogs school play, in which he had a very small speaking part. I met her, as I always do now, just off the motorway junction because she's not confident driving in the city.
Despite trying to be on time, there she was, as I drove into the car park, sitting on a bench in the sun. I parked my car and walked to where she was, apologising for being late. She said she was perfectly happy waiting and had been into M&S to buy me some strawberries, bless her.
Anyway, before we set off back to my house, we went to her car to get something she had forgotten. And that's when she realised. No car key. We tipped out her handbag. Twice. Looked under the car, back to the bench. Nothing. She began to panic and, as I tried to keep her calm, I suggested we went back into the shop to see if it had been handed in. Thankfully it had. So off we went, happy that all was well. We had lunch at my house and went to watch Small Sprog, who was good in his play and very much himself, if you know what I mean?
However at the end of the performance we were informed that there was to be a collection for Cancer research, everyone delved for change during the encore and guess what? Mum couldn't find her purse. Oh no, I thought, she can't have lost that as well as her keys, not all in one day surely? She panicked and visibly grew old before my eyes. 'It's OK I soothed, we'll find it, but you just need to sit there for another few minutes until the performance is finished, then we can go and search for it'
I thought she was going to get up and rush out of the school hall. Instead she buried her head in her hands. The look of her reminded me of when she suffered a horrible depression after her mother died. One day, when I was younger and single, she sat in my house and proclaimed that life was no longer worth living. It is a hard thing to hear and at the time I had only a little understanding of just how awful depression was. It took a while back then, and medication, for her to recover but I got her back. How much she would have missed if she had got her wish?Two grandchildren for one thing.
Sometimes though, I think I still see the shadows of depression clouding her face, she is better but damaged. I feel it lurks and it scares me. So when I looked at her, so obviously stressed, I realised how fragile she is, how old she has become. One is used to ones mother always being there, a pillar of strength. When do the tables turn? When does the child become the adult? When did I become the one who reassures and nurtures? The change seems imperceptible, but all of a sudden it is there, fixed. I am the strong one now.
The performance finally finished, I ushered her out to the car. She was uncharacteristicly quiet. Had all been well she would have been revelling in the success of the performance. Instead she was locked up inside herself. I talked to her gently, like one would to a baby, soothing sounds, even and measured, I have soothed my own children in the same way to bring sleep and dispel illness.
We went home, searched the rooms she had spent time in, searched my car and her bag again, all in vain. Again her head was in her hands, 'it's OK' I said 'It's not the end of the world, no one is dying, no one is in danger. You may loose the cash but the cards will be OK, it will all be OK'
We drove back to the car park where I had picked her up. I parked next to her car so that we could look inside and see if it had fallen in there. Again we looked underneath, but it wasn't there. It wasn't there because it was somewhere else.
Yes, it was somewhere else, somewhere much more visible, if only we had known where to look. There it was, on the bonnet of the car, just neatly sitting between the bottom of the windscreen and the wiper blades, in full view of anyone passing. It was intact amazingly. Who'd have thought it? She was relieved of course, and cross with herself, but my main concern was that she was still in shock.
We went inside for sweet tea and chocolate. Once she seemed OK to drive, some hours later, we said goodbye. It had been a very eventful day and one, she told me, she would not be telling her husband about. It had brought home so much to me though too, like how little she has become, diminished somehow, and how fragile too. It made me realise how much I will always love her, and how time stops for no one.