Oh so familiar because this is the scene played out every time I’m foolish enough to indulge in ‘cafe time’ with my mother. The truth of it is my mother doesn’t do ‘cafe time’ or any other such loafing about time, preferring instead to be ‘on the go’. It occurred to me, as I waited with bated breath for the man’s response, that this woman was my mum’s kindred spirit. The victim of the woman’s bad manners, however, just became all confused, risking a tongue scalding by draining his cappuccino in one and quickly gathering up his belongings to scurry after his mother.
I was, to say least, somewhat disappointed. You see, when it’s me been treated so shabbily, I tend to indulge in a childish strop. It often strikes me, when I’m out with my mother, that anybody observing us could be excused for thinking that I’m some horrible pensioner abuser because, on the whole, I’m either snarling like a rabid dog or sulking. Imagine Kevin the teenager behaviour but coming from a woman who won’t see fifty again and, let’s face it, it doesn’t make for a pretty picture.
The question that begs to be asked then is why do mothers feel they can treat their grown-up children so badly? In much the same way in fact as they did when we were small dependents and not actually paying for the whole bloody debacle. In addition to this why do grown-up children not respond in the same way they would to any other irrationally behaved person? If anyone other than my mother wanted to leave a cafe midsession, I would simply point out that I hadn’t finished. But such logical, common sense behaviour seems beyond me where my mother is concerned.
I suppose by using the royal ‘we’ when talking about adult children, I’m making a big assumption. An assumption that says lots of mothers are as rude as mine, riding roughshod over their stroppy, whiny, middle-aged children. I feel at this point I need to point out that my mother’s manners are impeccable and she reserves such high-handed treatment only for her children. And what’s more, having listened to the frustrated ranting of friends and witnessed the recent mother/son incident, I don’t think she’s on her own.
There’s something about families that traps you into whatever role you’ve been assigned, forever. When I’m with my mother I’m a stroppy teenager but my role is no less defined when I’m with my brother and sister. I’m the eldest and so was always in a no-win situation. I got blamed for everything! Even if I hadn’t actually committed the crime, I should have been keeping a better watch my brother and sister, so ultimately it was always my fault. Looking back, I should have just become a mini Al Capone because the outcome would have been the same.
I have very different relationships with my brother and sister but, as with my mother, the roles we had as children seem to have endured. My sister, the youngest and four years my junior, and I have always had a close almost psychic relationship, the kind usually reserved for twins. Many are the times I pick up my phone to text her, only for it to vibrate in my hand with an incoming text from her, because she’s had the same thought. I instinctively know when she’s fed up and needs a boost, even though we haven’t lived in the same city for 34 years. The longest we were apart was when I lived in America and we wrote letters to each other every day, which became almost like diaries.
When we get together, however, we tend to behave badly. We recently had a mini break in York and, frankly, our conduct was probably unseemly. I’m never as naughty as when I’m with her. In delicate situations, I daren’t even catch her eye because I know, if I do, I’ll be laughing like a drain at the most inappropriate time. When we were children I can’t count the number of times I got a slap for laughing hysterically at something that really wasn’t funny and it was usually my sister who had triggered it. Our relationship also has that sibling competitive edge where a hissy fit is likely to ensue if one of us is perceived as getting a larger slice of the cake than the other.
My brother was the middle child and the only boy and he was always the sulkiest and the tell-tale-tit out of the three of us. To be fair, that’s possibly because we picked on him and would only let him join in our games if he pretended to be a girl. He took great delight in destroying anything that brought us pleasure. He cut off all our dolls’ hair and pulled off their legs so that we had to incorporate disability and alopecia into our games. When I joined the Brownies and was so proud of my uniform, he slashed my official belt to pieces with a pen knife. My mother refused to buy another so I had to use one of hers, which wasn’t even the right colour and was so big she had to puncture a special hole into it. Needless to say, it looked ridiculous and tarnished my entire Brownie experience.
Any time my family are all together, which is usually at Christmas time, all of the same childish behaviours come into play. We bicker and, yes, I still bring up the Brownie belt even though my brother now denies it. We still argue over who gets the biggest piece of cake and ridicule each other’s achievements, whilst laughing heartily at any misadventures. You may be forgiven for thinking we are a family of freaks and, maybe we are, but my brother and sister are my closest friends. Whilst we will probably be fighting and bickering into our graves, woe betides anyone else who tries to get in on the act.
So why is it that our childhoods seem to define our entire lives where our family is concerned? I know some people have very mature healthy relationships with their families – mothers and daughters who are best friends and several generations who holiday together every year. But I’m willing to bet that most families are as gloriously dysfunctional as mine and would we really have it any other way?