Thursday, 29 March 2012

And Mother makes five....

Inspired by this interesting post from Nickie at Typecast and the news story on which she based it, I felt compelled to blog a little about our very own Über-nana: my mum, Tricia. Seven years ago, we built an extension on the side of our house and permanently installed the old girl in it - an arrangement we’ve (almost never) regretted. My mother is 77, but she's built like a whippet and strong as an ox. And she's pretty much devoted her life since to helping us with childcare and babysitting, housework, laundry, gardening, dressmaking, DIY (the woman knows her way around a Black & Decker alright), and countless, countless other acts of domestic minutiae.

Her end of the deal is that she's rent and bills-free, and - divorced singleton that she is - has company for life. (And yes, there'll be no going back – there’s nowhere else for her to go now, if she wanted to. It's a done deal.)

Aside from all the practical help we get, there are the delightful and obvious benefits for the Misses P in having an on-site Nana who absolutely adores her grandchildren. (Mum has the option of locking her door and pretending to be out if she's not in the mood for callers, but rarely takes it). And Mr P is okay with it all too because, quite apart from the fact that he gets his shirts ironed, his vegetables grown, his grass cut and his walls painted, he can nip over to the flat and watch important football matches that are not aired on terrestrial telly, since she has Sky Sports, and we don't.

Are there drawbacks? Well, ok, she gets in my face sometimes. (And I in hers, no doubt). We had some teething problems at the start, as Mum and I prowled round each other, trying to mark out our territory - she poked her nose in where it wasn't wanted a few times, and I got seriously uppity about it and wondered what on earth we'd let ourselves in for. Clearly, you have to be very sure that you know what you're entering into if you try something like this. (And, by way of a cautionary tale, I should mention the friends who were inspired by our successful model to give it a whirl. They didn't get planning permission for the annexe, and had no choice but to move granny in under the very same roof. Things thereafter went tits up, to say the least.) But as things stand right now, the five of us equal one very happy unit. I can honestly say that I'm fine with Mum's permanent presence - and in any case, she has pretty well perfected the delicate art of keeping herself to herself. (Recently Mr P, having gone to our shared utility room to collect one of said neatly pressed shirts, came back and reported the sighting of a small, shadowy creature scuttling into a dark corner to hide on seeing him. Yep, we agreed. That would have been Mum.)

Of course, it will more than likely be payback time when age or illness finally means that Mum's last lawn is mown - and it's her that needs help with the laundry. I say, bring it on. Let's face it, as the only daughter among her three children, the responsibility of looking after the old stiff in her dotage will inevitably fall mainly on me, anyway. How much easier that task will be if she's on the doorstep. And besides, I owe her big time. Without her, my daughters would not have known the joy and security of a childminder who cares as only a grandmother can - and I seriously doubt I'd have had the career I do now. Not only that, but our house would be a hovel. The garden wouldn't even exist. Countless shelves and cupboards would never have been built. And my husband would have been forced down the pub for a fair few crucial Spurs matches.

I know that many people are envious of our set-up - especially those with grannies who are infirm, uninterested, or just too busy with lives of their own to give much in the way of practical help. I also know that a lot of people would rather poke their own eyes out than live within spitting distance of their mother (much less their mother-in-law). And, if I'm to confront the one slightly uncomfortable aspect of this living arrangement, I appreciate there are those who would consider it blatant exploitation of a sweet old lady. To them I would say this: it’s what she wants. And hey, the feeling’s mutual.


James Smith said...

This is something that I've thought about a lot - we lived in Germany where it is entirely normal for extended families to live together; the whole German mortgage system is based upon this.

My (widowed) mum lives with us on a Thursday and Friday to look after the boys whilst Katharine works; and although she's only 69 and her health's fine, eventually she'll need help, we all do.

She unfortunately only had boys, and so frankly this was always going to be my gig as although my brother is caring, kind and sensitive - my mum and his wife don't get on at all. Apart from anything else, I owe her 19 years of care (and a ton of money, natch).

My mum's adamant that she doesn't want to be a burden, and that we should shut her in a home when the time comes. But at Christmas as a favour for a friend who's a Beaver leader, I had to play guitar in an old people's home whilst the kids sang carols. Now this home is veeery expensive, in Chalfont St. Peter with views over the common, caring staff, spotlessly clean etc. But was, without question, the bleakest place I have ever visited... It was hateful - like some kind of lavender-scented prison for the confused.

Apart from anything else, it'd be ace to have a babysitter on tap!


Nickie said...

A very enviable situation, in many way. This is what I'd envisaged would happen with my own mum but illness took over and she died 7 years ago.

I was interested in James' comment as I have German connections and this is exactly how my own grandmother embraced the family - the house was always an extension of family and always welcoming and inviting. It was the place to feel safe in and you could easily imagine the house being extended to fit more family in if it was on its own land.