Man in the Middle – Chapter 28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. 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.28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

The Sun and our cat are celebrating Mother’s Day together in the garden. The Sun is dry combing the grass and the cat is trampolining on it while shadow boxing with clouds of insects. He’s happy the months of muddy lawn are past, and the magnolia is flowering.

This side of the patio doors, Mother’s Day isn’t quite so carefree. We’re having a Family Emergency General Meeting to decide if we can salvage anything cheery out of Mother’s Day without breaking Government medical guidelines. This is proving harder than we thought. In many ways.

One of them is the Mother’s not been able to follow the cut and thrust of family chit-chat as clearly since she gave back her hearing aid, last week. She believes her decision is an historic act of self-liberation and calls it her Unilateral Declaration of Hearing Independence. We think it’s the equivalent of ‘Sakoku’ the Japanese trade policy which isolated the country from foreigners for 200 years. The fact we now have to stand six foot away from her because of social distancing rules hasn’t helped, either. Which is why my wife is having problems trying to explain to Mother the difference between a lock-in and a lock-down.

‘Why does the Government want us to lock ourselves in the pub?’ asks Mother.

‘Lock-down. Not lock-in,’ says my wife, slightly ruffled.

‘His father enjoyed lock-ins. They had them at our local pub in the Seventies.’ replies Mother.

As I wait for my wife to work her way through this Gordian knot of semantic confusion, I gaze out at the cat. He reminds me of my father’s favourite Edward Lear’s poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. I start whispering:

‘The Sun and the Pussycat went to play,
On a beautiful pea green lawn’.

‘What?’ says my wife, in a voice like weed killer.

‘Dad’s favourite poem,’ I turn to my Mother hoping the memory will kick start her reminiscing and distract my wife from the lawn mowing coming my way.

‘Did you behave like this in business meetings when you were a grown up?’ asks my son. Actually, I did spend one business meeting pretending to be a mouse for a bet. But I’m not going to admit it, now.

‘Let’s just focus on the issue at hand,’ says wife, calmly.

‘Don’t worry. Social distancing is something that happens to you inevitably as you get older. Your friends die, the phone stops ringing, you can’t go out much. I’ve been living with it for years. Today’s no different,’ she says, staring out at the garden where the cat has just done the most extraordinary somersault from the fence into the middle of the lawn. He thinks he’s caught something but it’s only the shadow of a passing cloud.

Only a sociopath wouldn’t be worried right now. We’re scared that being locked down at home with Mother for the next three months means one of us may expose her to Covid-19 with fatal consequences. It’s the unavoidable irony of our situation: she moved in to have a safer, more sociable life in her last years but now it could be a death sentence.

‘How about making today ‘Mothering Day Movies’? Granny binges on her favourite movies this afternoon. This evening, it’s your turn, mum.’

I almost tear up with admiration for my son. My favourite embodiment of XY chromosomes has smashed it. We’ve just installed a new, super powered Wi-Fi system, TV, speakers and super-woofer which could blow the roof off Wembley stadium. She’ll be able to watch and hear some old classics all day long. What better way to spend Mothering Sunday?

‘Brilliant. Better than spending the rest of the day, wiping down the bannisters and washing the floors like a Dutch housewife,’ says my wife.

Covid-19 is sulphuric acid to social bonds and rituals. It forbids hugs and handshakes. It separates marriage beds and turns families into disconnected passengers stuck in the same railway carriage. It scowls at fun and laughter. But it can’t control the TV remote. Covid-19 hasn’t cancelled our Mother’s Day!

Mother installs herself in front of the outstretched TV, a plate of Belgium chocolates nearby. The BBC ‘I Player’ is loading up Noel Coward’s war time classic ‘In Which We Serve’.
‘I worked on that,’ she says, a smile wrinkling her cheeks. ‘This is much better than going to that noisy pub you normally take me to.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 29: Mother’s birthday

Read the previous one – Chapter 27: Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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