Róisín Ingle on ... caring


When I travel with my mother I know that, as well as her sleep-apnoea machine, she has to pack a suitcase of anxiety related to years of having to deal with my various losses and travel mishaps. I lose passports. I mislay boarding cards. I turn up late for flights. I am, to put it mildly, a bit of a liability. So it’s no wonder that on this latest trip to London my mother looks at me and sees all that potential for travel-related chaos.

I get highly irritated by this, obviously. “I’m not a five-year-old,” I mutter when she asks for the third time if I have my passport. Even when she’s not asking me I know she’s thinking about asking me. What a total head wreck, 13-year-old me silently moans.

We accidentally lose each other at the scanning machines. When we find each other again there’s a man waving a boarding pass he found on the ground.

“Did you lose your boarding pass?” she asks. I stare up at the screen checking for our gate number pretending not to hear. Eventually she stops asking. We carry on to the gate. When I produce my boarding pass I see a familiar look in her eyes: relief.

I can’t blame her for this constant fuss but, of course, I do because she’s my mother. She is remarkably restrained in London, I notice. I nearly lose my phone twice and she manages not to tell me to be more careful. I can see it in her face though: the care, the concern, the worry. (Infuriating, obviously.) But she mostly doesn’t turn the concern into words, for which I’m grateful.

Still, there are other ways she manages to make me feel like that always hard-done-by 13-year-old. I buy some bone-handled knives in a charity shop but she vetoes the purchase of two cups because she doesn’t like the look of them. And just before we go downstairs for my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday party she wonders, tentatively I’ll give her that, whether I might be going to brush my hair. The icy stare I summon up is enough to send her scuttling out of the room.

Of course I was going to brush my bloody hair, I think, getting the hairbrush out and making it look slightly less Wurzel Gummidge. I don’t need my mother to tell me I have hair issues. Harumph.

Anyway it’s a great party. My brother makes a wonderful speech that annoys all the men in the room who say he’s raised the bar too high. Everyone loves the food and Nigella’s Guinness cake. Even my offer to sing The Mountains of Mourne at 1am – with too much prosecco on board I’m convinced it will have deep resonances for all these smart London folk – doesn’t spoil things.

“People are happy, it’s a good party,” my brother says kindly. The subtext is clear: Percy French, no harm to him, will take a wrecking ball to the ambience.

It’s a flying visit for me but my mother is staying on. We’ve barely woken up the next morning when she’s asking what time my flight is. “Ten pm,” I tell her through gritted teeth. “Are you sure?” she asks.

I check the time on my phone just to keep her quiet and discover, through my hangover, I’m wrong. “It’s 6pm,” I tell her. She manages not to gloat.

Before I leave she wonders whether it might be wise for me to take the bone-handled knives out of my hand luggage and give them to her to bring back. How annoying and at the same time how massive-security-incident-avoiding of her.

When I get to the airport the flight is closed. Because, as the woman on the airline desk tells me, the flight is not at 6pm it’s at 4.45pm. I have to buy a new ticket for the next flight that costs twice as much as the one I bought to come over.

When I ring my mother, distraught, she says she’ll book it on her visa and that it’s only money and she knows I’ll pay her back. Then she says she feels bad because she should have checked up on me regarding the time of the flight but, you know, she didn’t want to treat me like a child.

Later I sit in the airport and cry. Over my stupidity and over the fact that, when my mother goes, there will be nobody else in the world who will care about me as much as she does. I make a promise I know I’ll break: that I’ll never again react negatively to her concerns whatever my inner 13-year-old might think. Because, and you’d think I’d know this by now, she ain’t heavy, she’s my mother.

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