My mum was able to visit me only once in my new place before Covid restrictions put an end to indoor meet-ups.
Still, I feel her presence. I feel it when I open the freezer she’d crammed full of food, and have that childhood sense of glee at the surprise tub of ice-cream (followed by that other familiar childhood feeling: disappointment when I open it only to find saag aloo). And I feel her presence whenever I use the items she’s given me – a frying pan, tea towels – our regular strolls now punctuated by gift-giving. But the latest present looked familiar: an owl mug.
“I gave you this!” I exclaimed. “See, it has ‘You’re a hoot’ on it.” She shifted nervously on her feet. Busted.
“Yes, er, well, but I never used it and you need kitchen things.”
It’s not receiving my own gift back that is surprising; it’s that I didn’t know she didn’t like it. This is my blunt mother we’re talking about, a woman for whom subtlety is saying, “Did you mean to dress like that today?” Surely she would have said?
“I do like it!” she protests. “And if, hypothetically, I didn’t and said I did, it would only be because I know you don’t like being sentimental and need encouragement.”
It is strange to think that I’m 32 years old and my mum is still deploying tactics, still nudging, still pointing me in a certain direction. Perhaps you never stop being a parent – and likewise you never stop being parented (even when you think you’re not).
“Anyway, I’ll take that,” she said, pulling the mug out of my hand. And even though I knew she didn’t really like it, I took the encouragement she wanted to give.
“So you think it’s a hoot, Mum?”
“It’s owl I’ve ever wanted.”