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Monday, September 10, 2007

Runs in the family

My mother often described me as a demonstrative little girl.

She always said it as if she was ever so slightly surprised. A maverick.

It’s not that my family was unaffectionate, it’s more that they felt no pressing need to demonstrate their love openly and certainly not publicly. Such things didn’t need to be said. A given. It’s a common enough theme, a cultural quirk of a certain generation and class, that doesn’t translate very well.

Every night my mother would tuck me into bed. She would pull the folded top sheet taught, snap, and tuck in the end. I was pinned tight and secure, “night, night dear,” she would say as she kissed me. I always wanted her to stay longer. I loved to be with her. I wanted to be kissed, cuddled and stroked into slumber, but that was only for babies.

When I went to boarding school at 11.

I quickly discovered that among my many faults, one of my more serious inadequacies was an inability to make a bed with hospital corners. Dormitories had to be ready for inspection before school. If your efforts weren’t up the mark, then the bed would be stripped for you to start again. Making a bed from scratch when you are half the size of the bed, is no mean feat. I failed at this feat on a daily basis. This failure led to additional failures. The time spent attempting to make the bed again, meant that I was late for class. If you were late for class there were penalties. I scored very highly in the penalty department and spent many a long hour in penance at the school chapel, praying for the ability to make a bed with hospital corners.

My prayers were answered and by mid term I had mastered the art of bed making. The bonus of superior bed making skills was that when you slipped between the chilly sheets after saying your prayers, if you were good at wiggling, you could hold your breath and shimmy into bed, and enjoy the tight hold of comforting bed linen. It was almost as if you were back at home. If you closed your eyes and squeezed, you could almost see your mother’s face among the fuzzy specks.

That was about as close as you’d get to a maternal influence. Although the nuns were dutiful and often kind, they were at best ‘Sisters.’ The nearest approximation was the Mother Superior but this was a misnomer if ever there was one. They were all untouchable, a message that was loud, clear and visible by the absence of hands, which lay beneath their habits, clasped in prayer.

I learned a great many useful skills during those long years in a cloistered environment. I learned how to run but look as if I was walking. When my older sister left, I had no translator. Instead of huddling in the toilets so that she could read me my weekly letter from my mother, I had to learn to decipher her scrawl for myself. I found night time entertainment in ouija boards and poker. How to recognize cards from the wrong side and how to read palms. I learned to whisper without moving my lips, and how to fold my skirt to protect my knees during the many endless hours of prayer. This is the true price of private education, a solid investment for your child’s future inheritance.

I’m glad to say that all my children are demonstrative and affectionate. This is no surprise to me, more of a delight. The girls wear their hearts on their sleeves, quick to anger but quick to forgive and forget. The boys are more volatile than the girls, which makes a lot of wild fires and flare ups. We females kiss our faces, lips, cheeks, foreheads and noses.

The boys? Well they’re a bit short in the social skills department. Whilst many boys of their age become aware of cooties, mine, so far, are blissfully unaware. They’ll kiss anyone, boys as well as girls. They know it’s a sign of affection, it matches and demonstrates a feeling. It’s not that they’re indiscriminent, far from it, but they’re impulsive and without peer pressure.

With me? Well, they kiss whatever is nearest, a knee, a hip, a forearm, an elbow. It’s all progress, because they’re so much taller these days. I predict with a certain degree of confidence that in the not too distant future, they’ll kiss the top of grey haired head, if I’m very lucky and play my cards right.

Poker not Old Maid please.

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