Chapter 1 My Mum/Carol

In order for my ramblings to make sense, I think it’s important to describe a little about my background and my family. This way, when I describe my mum interchangeably as Carol/mum, you’ll understand and even if you don’t, you’ll see why I do this. You see, my family is not ‘normal’ but to be honest, the older I have gotten and the longer I work in mental health, I have come to realise that there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to family. It seems every family has something a little quirky that separates them from the norms we grow up expecting our families to be. My mum, Carol, was a nurse and midwife, she gave up midwifery early on and I only recently discovered her reason for this. To my surprise it was because she couldn’t stand seeing and hearing the women in pain, she wanted to help them more than her role allowed.  She had trained as an adult nurse and then completed additional training to become a midwife and so she was able to move easily from midwifery into her post in the neonatal unit in Southampton. This is where mum worked for 42 years. So my childhood involved having a great awareness of the fact that babies are not all born healthily and that sometimes babies even die. My mum was always fairly matter fact about this, I think it was her way of putting a little distance between herself and the realities of her day to day work. Carol is a deeply compassionate and caring woman, although on the surface this is not the impression she gives! She is very direct, honest and straight talking (yes, just like me!). Carol is very knowledgeable and experienced in her field; children and babies being her speciality. Mum can stop a baby crying with a quick firm cuddle, rendering any bystanders redundant! Growing up with my mum was great in terms of learning some core values about life in general. She taught us to work really bloody hard, doing anything.  I remember her saying “if I have to scrub toilets in the evening or on my days off, then that’s what I will do, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something”. Fortunately as a nurse, mum was able to work nights, which meant she was home during the day and she was there when we finished school. It wasn’t until a little later that mum started working days in order to get promotions, to earn more money to keep us all at home, together. This is when mum found her feet as a manager on the neonatal unit. She acted up as manager for some time before getting the permanent position and then the long days really started. I missed her, I used to call her at work ALL the time and I misbehaved terribly at school. Everyone always said I was ‘attention seeking’ and its only as an adult that I look back and think, yes I was attention seeking, why is that such a bad thing?! I mean I could have gone about it differently to be fair, but I was a child and I didn’t know how direct my frustrations and the obnoxious teachers didn’t help. My behaviour at school caused mum a lot of stress and I am sorry that I caused her more sorrow, but as a child I had no concept of what was happening at home. It had barely dawned on me that dad had left the family home. When mum was working nights he was always theret and I never heard them argue except once when my dad said something insensitive and mum threw a lunchbox at him. She got him with it and I remember thinking, good shot mum. Mum and dad are like good old mates, they bicker, mum nags dad but dad is a wind up and their marriage is not exactly conventional, but whose is?! Anyway, enough of that, that’s their business and I don’t need to delve any further into that can of worms or I’ll end up starting another blog to discuss parents, and nobody has time for that.

I wanted to talk about Carol because she plays a significant role in the journey me, James and Betty went on. I call mum Carol quite a bit because as a child I was quite demanding of her time and I found that saying ‘mum, mum, mum, mum, mum’ just had zero effect on her. So one day I called out ‘Carol’ and she turned round immediately! Wahay! I had cracked it!! And from then on I have used mum and Carol interchangeably to get her attention. She continues to call me ‘Jay-Lis –Char-Amanda’ almost every time she calls me, so we are even on the name front (my brother James, Sister Lisa and niece Charlotte, I am the beginnings of all these names). What impresses me with this is that even though it is her getting my name wrong repeatedly, by the time she gets to Amanda, she sounds exasperated and gives me this kind of eye roll look, as if it’s my fault for having the name that comes last in her list!

So Carol, neonatal matron, dedicates her whole life to the unit and spends most of her home time dealing with work issues, and as time went on, so entered more politics and to be frank, bullshit of the NHS which she grew very tired of toward the end of her career. In 2016, after 42 years’ service to the NHS, my mum retired. She was showered with gifts and kind words and leaving parties and her Facebook page got a lot of attention. Now, I have always known that my mum is a bit of a legend but I had no idea that all these other people also valued her so much. And as much as she said she was ready to retire, I think there was a part of her that wanted to carry on nursing but sadly, due to the state of the system, she decided to fully retire and enjoy her garden and holidays.

Now in terms of closeness, I have never felt I have a ‘close family’ nor a particularly close relationship with any of them with the exception of my two cousins, Dan and Mike. I recall my dad once saying to me ‘Manda, she is your mother, not your friend’ and that is so true, it described our relationship perfectly. My mum is my role model, someone I go to for advice about career and finances but we never had a friendship like some people have with their mums, not until I was a fully-fledged adult and by that I mean when I was about 22 (ish). That doesn’t mean I love her any less, far from it. I needed my mums approach, I needed to know when I was being a twat and she would always tell me. She was and is my protector but with limits, if I am wrong, she won’t and never has argue my case, she would tell me I was wrong and she’d expect me to deal with it. Dad was always more soft than this but mum rules the roost in our family! She is a fiercely independent, strong and determined, hard working woman and I am pleased to say that I follow directly in her footsteps.

My mum had a sister, Christine, our beloved auntie who was cruelly taken from us in 2006 by that fucker we all know and despise, cancer. She put up a bloody good fight but when she got secondaries and it spread into her bones, eyes, lungs, her body could take no more. Mum and auntie had planned their retirement together, they were going to do all sorts together and so when little auntie was taken, my mum was crushed, we all were, but it hit Carol so hard. It was like watching my mum get beaten up by a heavy weight boxer. She was completely powerless, she couldn’t stop it, and it obliterated her heart. We were all devastated at losing our little auntie. She was a really funny woman, sometimes unintentionally! She was kind and generous. She had very little materially but she would give us all she had. You could always rely on little auntie for a decent Easter egg, the ones with the mugs and decent toys from Woollies! Somehow she never really fully understood what was happening to her with her cancer. One day she asked mum ‘am I terminal?’ and mum replied ‘we all are Chris’. And that was that. No explanation or morbid chat about ‘the end’, there was no need for that. We were all with her the night before she went, mum says the angels came to get her that night, and she passed the very next morning when mum had popped home to have a quick bath. So you see, my mum has had her share of heart ache, she isn’t void of emotions, but she can appear so at times and this has served her well in her long career.  

So there it is, a very brief introduction to my mum, Carol.