Dave and I both work full-time, with Dave in particular doing very long hours, leaving home by 6am most mornings, getting home around 5pm and then spending an hour or two working after dinner. In order to maintain some order, our lives are routine-driven. I meal plan each week, we do our washing to a schedule, and stuck to the front of our fridge is a calendar detailing appointments and events, surrounded by flyers, notes, invitations and reminders. When we get home each weekday around 5pm we go into a whirlwind of making and eating dinner, unpacking lunch boxes, loading the dishwasher, feeding pets, doing homework, music practice, repacking school bags and eventually, falling into an exhausted heap in front of the TV. By the end of the week, the house is untidy, (clean) washing is piled in numerous overflowing baskets, and the weekend is spent trying to set things right again.
About eight weeks ago, my Mum Shirley moved in with us so the renovations at her house could get underway. She actually came to our house from hospital, where she’d spent a few days getting checked out for some issues. She was tired, unwell and weak, sleeping for hours, picking at her food and asking me politely (and then telling me not so politely) to stop fussing. It was actually a relief to have her with us while she recuperated, as during a normal week I am usually only able to get to Mum’s house once or maybe twice, and Dave can sometimes stop in on his way home from work. We had a routine where I would ring Mum on a Wednesday morning, and she would come to our place every Sunday afternoon and stay for dinner. But if she is ill, a phone call and a Sunday visit is not enough, caring for her becomes very difficult and I am guiltily reliant on the kindness of her friends and neighbours to pick up the slack.
Gradually though, Mum started feeling better, got her colour back, started eating properly and wasn’t nodding off every 45 seconds. She started to make her presence felt in our household, and my prediction that living with my mother for the first time in 30-odd years would not be pretty has been proven completely wrong. She provides an extra set of hands to help out, and extra set of ears to listen to Hugh’s stories, and an extra set of eyes to see where things need doing.
Every morning, I get to lie in bed for an extra 15 minutes as my Mum makes Hugh his breakfast. If I try to get up and make him breakfast, she tells me everything is under control, so I stay in bed. I can hear them chatting away happily, Hugh busily telling his completely bamboozled grandmother about various Pokemon characters, both of them laughing at her inability to correctly pronounce Pikachu. While I shower and organise myself for the day, she unpacks the dishwasher, all the while narrating her activities for the enjoyment of our two small dogs, who have come to adore the person whose lap they happily time share all day.
As Hugh and I are leaving the house, she’s firing up the Dyson and doing her daily vacuuming, all the while plumping cushions on the sofas and dusting and tidying. None of this is necessary or expected, but it is very much appreciated, and I know she loves it when we come home from work and comment about how tidy the house looks. If there’s washing to be done it’ll be hung out, brought in, folded and put in neat piles neatly on the end our beds. She’ll then settle into alternating between reading and feeding her addiction to her new love – Netflix. She’s gotten through The Fall – asking me to get on the Google and find out of Gillian Anderson’s name is pronounced with a G or a J sound – and is now onto season two of House of Cards. There are no ads! And the next episode just starts up! She has to be careful she doesn’t just sit there all day she tells me, it could become a problem you know.
Mid-afternoon, with a few episodes of the Frank and Clare show under her belt, she begins the dinner preparation. Mum used to be a professional cook, and still has the most incredible knife skills. At 82 she can dice an onion into the most precise, tiny pieces. Each morning before I leave we discuss plans for dinner, for which she does all the preparation. My mother knows me very well, and understands how much I enjoy cooking, but how little time I have mid-week to do dishes that involve lots of fiddly preparation. She has become my sous-chef, carefully doing all the meal preparation so that when I arrive home, all I have to do is bring the meal together. She slices, dices, grates, peels and chops all of the ingredients that I’ll need for each meal, which chefs call mise en place – everything in place.
During and after dinner we sit and chat about our days, watch Hugh practice his musical instruments (Mum applauding loudly after each mangled attempt at his latest piano or saxophone piece), and enjoy some TV together. We then all drift off to bed, another day of business and purpose done and dusted. On weekends we go food shopping – Mum loves going ahead of me at the supermarket and hunting out bargains in the meat department – and she and Hugh sometimes watch movies or sit together in amiable silence doing their own thing. We usually have a takeaway meal or go out for lunch, and Mum has developed quite the taste for Thai food.
In about four weeks, Mum’s house will be renovated and ready for her to move back in. She’s so looking forward to being back in her neighbourhood, where she knows everyone and everyone knows her, and to having all her things around her. I also know that she is feeling a tinge of sadness about leaving us behind, and as much as Dave and I are excited to see the culmination of what has been a massive undertaking of basically rebuilding my childhood home, we are also truly sorry to be losing our wonderful housemate. She’s easy to get along with, tidy, incredibly helpful, and hasn’t once brought home a random bloke.
I’m at the point of wanting to ask her to stay, but I know that it would be terribly selfish to suggest that she misses out on the wonders of her old house made new, so I won’t ask, at least not now. Maybe in a few months, when the novelty has worn off, I’ll tell her how much we miss her help and her care, and she’ll come back to live with us. And once again, we’ll have mise en place.