I say goodbye to Mam and I’ll see her tomorrow. I can see she’s settled and has the TV on and her dinner is done, but I hate leaving her on her own, even for the night. She tells me not to fuss and she’ll be fine and Sean will be in later. But it’s hard to see someone who was so strong, even fierce, needing more than she likes to say.
The two women in my life and they can seem so different but underneath maybe they aren’t. Mam was always strong, all the years after me dad died and it was just her with the four of us, four boys, then four men, and every one of us a bit frightened of her but more in awe always than frightened. That she did so much for us with so little.She didn’t like me pushing the buggy when Mark was a baby. She said it wasn’t right, that a man shouldn’t, and why did Elaine not do the pushing? I couldn’t say a thing to her that would maybe offend, so I said I didn’t mind to do it and Elaine needed a break too.
The two women in my life and they can seem so different but underneath maybe they aren’t.
Elaine doesn’t look or sound like her. She’s educated and takes notice of what she wears and what she does with her hair and I’m always proud that she looks so well. But in ways that they don’t even know, I think there’s more between them than you’d think at first.
I saw it in Elaine after Mark was born, and even more after Colin. The way she knew what to do with them. The way she stayed calm no matter what, even times like when Colin could barely breathe with the croup and I was scaring myself — she was so calm. ‘You’re like an iceberg,’ I said to her after that time, when we were in the hospital and the doctor had been and said everything was fine. And she said ‘you have to be, even when you don’t feel it, because they need you to be.’
‘you have to be, even when you don’t feel it, because they need you to be.’
It was her got me pushing the buggies and changing nappies, just by telling me to do it, and I never minded. Now that the boys are older, I’m glad I did. When I look at them, maybe when they’re playing their soccer and hurling, I think, I had a hand in that. In all of it. The nights and the bottles and the feeding and changing. I did it too. Because they’re my kids too.
But Mam never liked to see me doing it. Because of her not thinking it was the thing for a man. And Elaine, she was great about that too. ‘Well don’t do it in front of her,’ she said. ‘If it’s going to cause her to be upset. Except the buggy-pushing. Any man could do that. It’s no different to driving a car.’ And she laughed, and so did I and that was what I said to Mam, any time we were out and I had the buggy.
‘It’s just like driving a car,’ I’d say.
I was always grateful that Elaine didn’t make it harder, like some of the lads I knew and their wives the way they were with the mothers. Elaine was kind and she was firm but mostly she was kind. It’s why I know she’ll do what’s right now, and why I wont say a word of it to Mam, even though she always said she thought it was a pity we hadn’t one more. ‘It’s not a family, just two,’ she used to say, though she hasn’t said anything in a while.
Elaine told me what was maybe happening, and then she said she didn’t want to talk too much about it but would I let her think things through? And I said I would. That I would trust her to know the right thing. And I do.