For Mother’s Day: What my mum taught me about being a parent

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When you’re a parent, you learn a lot about yourself. The other day, I returned home with my daughter from the supermarket and we started putting the shopping away together. “Heavy,” she said, trying to lift a milk bottle out of the bag, so I bent down and took it from her, thanking her and saying well done. Then something happened.

At that moment, I was transported back in time. I was back in my house where I grew up. Jimmy Young was on the radio. It was a bright spring morning, just like it was the other day. England, after the rain. I could see myself running around on the old red-and-black carpet we used to have in the hallway, bringing bread from a basket into the kitchen.

Putting the shopping away with my mum was something we always used to do together. I used to love listening to her talk about the food, asking me what we should get, and her saying thank you for reminding her about things on her shopping list.

I didn’t know it then, but she was teaching me all about language and transactions. I didn’t know it then, but when she was friendly and chatted to the strangers in shops, or people who served us, she was showing me how to be polite and kind. That’s what my mother taught me, among so much else.

You don’t realise a lot of the things you learn from your parents until you become one yourself – or I didn’t, anyway. For all the times in my teenage years when I thought I hated mum and dad, I now see they did so much for me. They gave me the skills I need now: to cope when my little one has a meltdown when we go out; to be patient and kind.

At the time, I thought we were just playing a game, putting shopping away. I suppose we were. But I used to love the whole thing because I think she made it fun. I used to love going outside and hanging the washing with my mum, or just walking through the streets where I grew up with her, listening to her as she pointed out the different names of birds or flowers. She described my whole world to me when I was little; she narrated those early years. And I think I just asked “why?” a lot. (I’ve got that joy to come.)

I often wonder now if my mum used to enjoy going to the supermarket, or putting away the shopping, as much as I did back then. I hope so. I can’t ask her, because she left us too early – cancer took her when she was 58. She never got to see me with my little girl, the way I was with her, but sometimes I look down into my daughter’s eyes and I remember looking up into hers.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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