A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
No. 9 Mother moves in
I am hanging Mother’s paintings and pictures in my study. The study smells of drying paint and I have a headache. I am not sure if the ache is because of the paint’s volatile organic compounds or because I can’t hang a single painting straight.
I’m peeved because I’m not even winging it like I normally do with household chores. I’ve watched a Wickes DIY video on how to hang pictures (twice) and bought a new tape measure, plugs, picture wire and a hammer. I’m locked and loaded. I’ve even put a pencil behind my ear like the guy in the video to get me into the role like a Method actor. But after four hours only three small pictures are actually on the wall.
‘You’re not a natural at this DIY thing, are you?’ says Wife from the doorway. ‘You hang pictures like Jackson Pollock paints – randomly.’
I feel an urge to dispute this. But she’s right. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the pictures are hanging.
‘I didn’t want it to look formal,’ I say lamely.
I am hanging Mother’s pictures in my study because she moves in next week. My study is becoming her bedroom. She has called time on solo living. It is the end of hesitation and the start of something new, though none of us is quite sure what.
Many of the photographs are from a shared past: now departed aunts, uncles, and godparents. Others are of people, who played a part in her life, which I can only guess at. They’re from an age when men polished their shoes before going out in the evenings and women smoked through cigarette holders.
‘Cigarette holders came in different lengths for different situations: one for the theatre, one for dinner and so on. It was a more elegant age,’ she says pointing at a photograph of my father lighting a cigarette for her. They’re at a party in a place she can no longer remember.
The study walls are too small to curate an entire life, of course. Tough choices have to be made. How many pictures to hang of the grandchildren versus husband? Is a photograph of our wedding day necessary when there are so many elsewhere in the house? Should every decade of life get a showing? Making these choices is stressing everyone and I am feeling more like an insensitive curator of an exhibition than a caring son.
Choosing the pictures for her bedroom is a small challenge compared to the sorting the rest of her possessions, though. We have agreed a plan to sort things into three groups: Keep, Donation and Dump. But the categories keep getting redefined. Overnight some piles grow, some shrink. It’s a border without customs controls. I’ve booked a small van to bring her stuff over in two days. At this rate, I’ll need to hire a lorry instead. The whole house will be full of her stuff and tip from a shared home into a Museum for Mother. I wonder if Wickes have a video, which will help me?
First published in Age Space
Read the next in the series – Chapter 10 The Phone here