My mother is inexhaustible. She looked so old when she arrived here a week ago, but not any more. She has a new lease of life. Unsurprising, really – she’s taken all my energy instead and become a life-sucking parasite who thrives on attention and entertainment.
It’s the first time I’ve met this version of her, but evidently this is my mother when my dad isn’t around. No wonder she always looks so downcast when she’s with him; inside that whalebone-corseted shell is a Scarlett O’Hara bursting to get out. Fiddle-de-dee.
I keep wondering if she was like this forty years ago, when they first met, and what happened to change her. Or has she just recently realised that life is passing her by while she’s nodding and kowtowing to my dad?
The first few days she was here, all I heard was ‘I didn’t come to America for [insert everyday activity she does at home without thinking about it twice]’. That included drinking instant coffee, watching TV, cooking, or even going to the supermarket. I thought she might be interested in going to Stop and Shop, because it’s so different from Sainsbury’s, but no. Apparently, “Once you’ve seen one loaf of bread, you’ve seen them all” although if that’s the case, I’m mystified why she only shops at Sainsbury’s and refuses to set foot in a Morrison’s.
Of course, her everyday activities don’t now include visits to the obstetrician’s office. Oh no. Those are classified as “Novelty Voyeuristic Entertainment” and top of her Things To Do In New England. My life, to my mother, is just another reality TV show. “At Home With The Patrickashians.”
I’m on weekly visits with Dr. Gallagher now — have been for some time, since it’s twins — and these appointments are never when Jack is at nursery. Dr. Gallagher, bless him, likes long lunch hours and eighteen holes of golf on a regular basis. So I’d been looking forward to Mum being able to babysit Jack while I’m prodded around.
“Why don’t you stay here and look after him for me,” I said on her fourth day, as Oliver waited for me outside in the car. “I’ll be less than an hour, and it’s so much quicker if just Oliver and I go.”
“Don’t be so silly! Ante-natal appointments take much longer than that. I remember when I was expecting you, I’d be at that hospital all afternoon.”
I told her that this wasn’t the NHS in the 1970s, and American obstetricians need to see as many patients as possible so they can cover their insurance premiums and do valuable networking on the golf course, but she wasn’t having it.
“Jack hardly knows me these days,” she said. She likes to trot out the guilt trip card, I’ve noticed. “I’m sure he won’t want to stay with a stranger all afternoon.”
I sighed. “I’ll take Jack with me, then.”
“And leave me all on my own, here? I didn’t come all the way to America to–”
So we had to make it a family outing to Dr Gallagher’s, and it was only with difficulty that Oliver restrained her from barging into the examining room with us. I had to have an urgent word with the nurse and get her to tell Mum that family members other than spouses weren’t allowed.
Mum started to say that if she’d wanted to sit in a doctor’s waiting room, she could have done that in her own GP’s surgery.
“Tell you what,” Oliver said, as the nurse gently ushered Mum and Jack back towards the waiting room, “you can pay the monthly bill of $500 at reception. You don’t get to do that at the GP’s back home.”
She still protested, however, mildly grumbling, so Oliver stayed with her to make sure she behaved.
The nurse came back, shut the door of the exam room, and fastened the velcro strap round my right arm to take my blood pressure.
“It’s a bit high,” she remarked, after she grudgingly returned the blood supply to my fingers.
“That’s hardly bloody surprising, is it?” I jerked my head towards the door. “Anyone’s blood pressure would be up if they had that, 24/7. She was supposed to be coming to give me a rest, not give me a stroke.”
The nurse laughed after a couple of seconds in that uncertain “Oh-you-peculiar-British-people-with-your-odd-sense-of-humour” way, and packed up the blood pressure kit.
“It is higher than usual, though,” she said. “Dr. Gallagher will have to speak with you about it.”
And she rustled out of the room, leaving me to raise my blood pressure even more by reading smug advice from childless experts in mother-and-baby magazines.
Doctor Gallagher breezed in after a few minutes, looking impatiently at his watch. Understandable. Well, it was 2:45 — barely enough time for half a round of golf that afternoon, never mind eighteen holes and a prolonged visit at the nineteenth.
“We need to watch that,” he said without any preamble. “Let’s see…you’re thirty-five weeks now. If your BP stabilises, we can induce at thirty-eight weeks.”
“Induce?” I squeaked.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. Not a big deal for him, presumably is what he meant. “And if that blood pressure doesn’t come down, we’ll have to consider a C-section.
I covered my mouth with my hand. Somehow, I’d never considered the possibility of having these babies by C-section. Images of pools, dimmed lighting, and doulas swam before my eyes. The bright lights, masks, and blue drapes of an operating theatre hadn’t entered my birthing dreams.
“But —” I said, then stopped, feeling the corners of my mouth quiver as tears threatened. “But the recovery time’s much longer after a C-section.” A friend of mine had one, and she was still shuffling around like a geisha one month later.
“Your mother’s visiting, I hear.”
At this point, I was thinking that Sandra, complete with roasted salmonella, might be more help than my own mother.
“I’m not sure how much help she’s going to be, to be honest,” I said.
Dr Gallagher nodded. “I gathered that. No one else you can ask? What about our mutual friend, Maggie Sharpe?”
He gazed out of the window at the brick wall view.
“A fine woman,” he said, exhaling sharply, and scratching himself somewhere suspicious under his white coat.
I averted my eyes.
“No,” I said. “Maggie’s done enough for me already. She drives me places when Oliver can’t. She looks after Jack when I’m at the end of my tether. She’s like—”
I stopped. I was going to say, “She’s like a second mother to me.” Only that wasn’t quite accurate, was it? These days, she was my mother.
Dr Gallagher watched me, nodding.
“Take it from someone who knows,” he said, his Cork accent strengthening as his emotions ran higher than my blood pressure. “Maggie Sharpe never does anything she doesn’t want to do. If she’s doing all that for you…believe me, it’s not just out of the goodness of her heart.”
“You remind me a lot of her daughter, you know.”
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