THIS year I am not spending too much of my peace and goodwill on the poor and underprivileged.
My mum has come over for Christmas. We haven’t had Christmas together for 20 years.
That’s okay. My mum is No Trouble.
You’d be amazed how much trouble someone who is No Trouble can be.
Especially when they’re 84. Being 84 and being no trouble is a bit like being a potty-trained newborn. In fact, it’s very like being a potty-trained newborn, because in both cases the incontinence factor is high.
My mum doesn’t mind if she drinks tea or coffee; she doesn’t mind if she stays in or goes out. She doesn’t mind if we have Malaysian laksa soup or pork chops and boiled spuds. She doesn’t mind if we eat on the verandah or indoors.
“Don’t worry about me,” she says. “I’ll just fit in.”
Afterwards the coffee kept her awake; she should have gone out because the exercise would have helped her bowels move; she should have had the pork chops because that would have stopped her bowels moving; and we should have eaten indoors because the mossies on the verandah love her English blood.
But not enough, I mutter to myself. We need more mossies, or bigger mossies. Vampire bats would be quicker. Or, better still, just a vampire.
And while we’re on the subject: what happened in our relationship — hers and mine — that suddenly enabled her to tell me about her bowel functions. Until recently I didn’t even know she had a bowel!
Great God! Next she’ll be telling me she’s had sex!
In fact, it’s inevitable that she has because she wouldn’t have wanted to be any trouble.
She lost her pills on her way over here. When my mother loses her pills, whole economies grind to a halt. She is keeping the European pharmaceutical industry in business. She takes at least 20 a day. For diabetes, for arthritis, for osteoporosis, for fluid retention, for inflammation and — of course — for her bowels.
She even has pills to combat the side effects of taking pills for her bowels.
“Why didn’t you say anything, Mum?”
“I didn’t want to be any trouble.”
So we got them all replaced last week. If you have shares in certain Australian pharmaceutical companies you would have seen their prices soar around Wednesday.
This morning she didn’t get up. She is slow getting up and she stays out of sight until everyone else has finished showering because she doesn’t want to be any trouble.
But by lunchtime I thought it was time we had a little talk about being No Trouble. I thought it was time I told her that being No Trouble was, actually, quite troublesome sometimes.
I thought she was dead. But then I saw her wobbling, ever so subtly, like jelly on a plate. And then I thought she was laughing, and then I hated myself because, actually, she was crying.
Three of the pills she takes every day are painkillers. Strong ones. She’d lost them again.
“I didn’t want to be any trouble,” she said.
She’s 84. This is supposed to be a special Christmas. Maybe our last together. And she’s so worried about being too much trouble she’s in terrible pain.
How did I let this happen?
So… this year I am not spending too much time worrying about the poor and underprivileged. I’m spending it on my mum.
Nothing is going to be too much trouble. Not the repeated stories I have heard 50 times before. Not needing to go the lavatory as soon as we’ve tyre-levered her into the wheelchair. Not losing everything again 30 seconds after we’ve found it for her.
We are going to do the whole traditional Christmas thing, with roast turkey and pudding with a silver threepenny bit hidden in it and okay, she might choke on it, but I can think of worse ways to go.
On Christmas morning we are going to fill her stocking full of things that are bad for her (because at 84 you really can afford to live like there’s no tomorrow) and I’m going to present her with a certificate giving her special Christmas authorisation to be no trouble or as much trouble as she damn well pleases for as long as she likes.
And on Christmas Eve we’re going to raise a toast to her (and her husband, my father, who, sadly, never made it to 77) because the things we get out of Christmas now are the very special things that were put into for us decades ago by them, when I really didn’t know my mother had both bowels and sex, nor that she would one day wear out and suffer pain, like an ordinary human being.