World Snow Day

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 17 January 2021

We didn't have snow, but it was cold out there, everybody wrapped up and walking in the sunshine. It got me thinking about families, and that there's something to be said for absentee parenting.

My mother was integral to my life; cooking, ironing, even writing an essay for me, that I snuck up my sleeve, which got me into a fancy schmancy girls school. Years later, after I'd left drama school, I found out that my mother had instructed the college canteen to feed me certain foods, her motherly love weighed out in generous portions. It didn't help with my weight or my addiction to Viennas, chips and peas from Blooms' Kosher restaurant in Aldgate, but she tried. My mother was the epitome of Jewish motherhood, always in the front row, taking notes and compiling crosswords with the names of my lovers. She was neither judgmental nor sanctimonious, but she was damaged, so, much of my young life was spent applying appropriate balms.

The pressure of a mother, however well intentioned, who didn't realise her own dreams, took its toll. Years ago I worked with an astrologer - the daughter of an established actor - who berated me for doing my parents bidding not my own. She asked me what I really wanted to do with my life; my answer confounded her. I wanted to be a stripper with all its freedoms. I wanted a body that enabled me to wrap myself around a pole and stick two fingers up. I'm told that many daughters from abusive families have the same desires. Of course I didn't really want leery pervs sticking pound notes in my knicker elastic, but it was an expression of emancipation, not to mention a rebuttal of my father. I never did become a stripper, I chose to expose myself in the meedja instead then, after all sorts of therapeutic work, I realised that those familial apron strings had been so firmly tied I'd spent years struggling for breath, permanently winded.

So my mother, stubborn, argumentative and fiercely protective of me, shaped me and my mothering. I was so determined to rebel against my upbringing that I determined my daughter would have her own life. She left home at 15 going on 16 and did her own thing, as much as she dared, which meant she made her own mistakes - a lot. From tobacco, whacky or otherwise, to ridiculously unsuitable boyfriends. My daughter did, what I've only just learnt to do, take herself seriously. Not so seriously that she is insufferable but serious enough to believe in herself and manifest her dreams.

My father, on the other hand, was only supportive when he was there which was practically never. From missing bonfire nights, to birthdays, from frightening off boyfriends by whacking their cheeks with wet lettuce leaves, or just not turning up for performances my father, though absent, still left an indelible imprint on my psyche. I'm exactly like him, apart from the moustache. He had the habit of appearing unannounced to check out my relationships. More than once a boyfriend was revealed hidden under blankets, under books, under duress. My mother got it in the neck when I didn't agree to marry each one of those suitors.

When I saw 'Les Miserables' I was struck by the geezer standing at the foot of the stage telling us that he was going to tell us his story. Standing out of the way of our children's journey is difficult enough but standing out of the way of ourselves so we can write our own authentic story is never-ending. Hovering parents, fearful, controlling parents, miserable fucked up parents, should be confined to the footnotes.

A life story is a life well lived, with its ups and downs, it's challenges and victories. It's taken me 72 years to finally understand the cosmic joke. We do what we do and then we die. We're born and then, whether we like it or not, we perish. It's the bit in the middle that's tricky. There are those who say what's the fucking point - and there have been times when I have chanted that very mantra - but isn't that the point that there is no point. Walking this morning, the air clear, the clouds parted. I was thinking about the experiment of elderly citizens being housed near orphaned children. Everyone's a winner. And I was thinking about our young ones in the middle of this panfuckingdemic, how Corona has dented their development and chucked ruddy great boulders in their path. I wondered about the effect of social distancing and lack of communal activities, and I was struck by the rich jetting off to St. Barts whilst the rest of us make do with a trip to Lidl. And I was thinking this too will pass but I just wish it would hurry the fuck up.

There are those esoteric types who say we choose our lives; that we choose our parents, our experiences and the time we live in. Who the fuck would choose Treblinka, or the Yemen? Why would you choose to be a refugee bobbing about in the ocean or a homeless alcoholic in Glasgow? There are those that say pain is certain but suffering is optional; that life is but a series of lessons and that nobody said that life was going to be easy. One thing my mother did teach me was that language was optional. A problem or a challenge? A glass half full and all that bollox. But despite her misgivings she was right. She had a really tough life but still managed to make it till she was 90.

Just before she died she asked me whether I could hear the children mewing. I couldn't of course, only she heard them, but the healer at the end of her bed told us the veil gets lifted and many people, at the end of their lives, talk about hearing children singing. It's not over until the fat lady sings, praps it's the kids?

How to deal with this epidemi-shitstorm is the name of the game. There's Brazilian sambas and Benedict Cumberbatch. There's Rachmaninoff and Ekhart Toll. There's Stevie Wonder and doughnuts. There's sunrises and sets and there's a whole pile of days that keep coming if we're lucky.

So unless you've genuinely had enough, I would adopt my arsehole father's advice;

"Shut the fuck up and have another Asti Spumanti."

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes

Comments

1. At January 18, 2021 5:26 AM Lyn Misselbrook wrote:

It takes a village but there has to be a mum first. I only became close to my mum once I became a mum myself. We had a difficult dynamic prior to then and sadly this different energy only lasted 6 years depriving not only me from a different mum but my son from a cherished nan - 33 years ago. I have now outlived her by nearly 10 years (her 59 to my 67). And that brings me to my dad who outlived her for nearly the same time - 23 years ago. They live with you all the years.

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