Belfast Telegraph

Mums come in many guises and that includes Old Bats

By Paul Hopkins

My maternal grandmother died when my Mother was just five so she never had a lifetime to know her. When I was born, the first of three, and work took my Father away a lot, my paternal grandmother came to call for an afternoon of china-cupped tea and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

My Mother was thrilled to have another woman, a mother-like figure, visit, at what was an anxious time, and when she was leaving my dear Mother said to her: "Please come any time. Don't wait to be invited.''

To which my grandmother replied: "Listen here, I raised eight - I am not about to rear a ninth.''

And from that day 'til the day she died 26 years later the Old Bat never once darkened our door again.

It goes without saying that my late Mother did a wonderful job rearing me and my two siblings. The very epitome of good nurturing.

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of 'old bat-dom'. There are professional, or homemaker ones in broad terms or fashionable, pious, simple, strict, soft, conservative, modern and, nowadays, cool mothers in personal terms.

There are mums, moms, mams and mammies, not to mention Mummy, yummy or not, The Ma or the Old Dear.

And, of course, there are famous ones, Celebrity Moms. Like Angelina Jolie who travels the world, adopting children to give them - and who are we to judge?- a better chance in life, like she is giving to Maddox, Zahara and Pax Thien. Ditto Madonna. Or Sharon Osbourne - long-suffering wife of Ozzy and mother of Jack, Kelly, and a third child who doesn't appear in the Osbournes, thank God for small mercies.

And then there are the fictional mothers like Mother Goose and Old Mother Hubbard. And there's Mother Nature and Mother Earth, not forgetting Marge Simpson, mother to Bart, or the late Mother Theresa, or the Queen Mother. Or Roseanne who always moaned to Dan that 'the kids are still here' even though we all knew that, underneath that lazy, uncaring exterior, she would die for Darlene, Becky and DJ.

And what about Whistler's Mother - who was she when she was at home?

Then there's Mother Ireland, Mother Macree and Al Jolson's Mammy, my late Father's party piece. (Note to self: was he paying inverted homage to the Old Bat, or recognising the selfless role of my Mother?). And there's Single Mothers and Mothers-in-Law - but let's not go there (see Old Bat reference).

My own Mother was none of the things that mark the celebrity in that she never wrote a book nor composed a song, nor won a Nobel Prize nor made a movie nor had her name in lights, nor caused an international stir. My Mother was so ordinary that she was, dare I say, extra ordinary. That's it - my Mother was an Extraordinary Mother. Like most good mothers are, unquestioning and unflinching in their love for their children.

And of course 'grown' "don't mean nothing to a mother'', as the novelist Toni Morrison put it in her award-winning book Beloved. "A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that suppose to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing,'' wrote Morrison.

My own three 'children' now 'grown' into confident and competent young adults are testimony to the love their Mother bestowed on them and there exsists between them a bond that is inalienable to me and which I can never hope to be part of. But I guess that comes with the Father territory.

Seamus Heaney has said his father was notably sparing of talk but his mother "notably ready to speak out'', a circumstance which the poet believes to have been fundamental to the "quarrel with himself" out of which his poetry arises.

I like to think the novelist Washington Irving had it succinctly when he wrote: "A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.'' But let's leave the last lines to Oscar Wilde: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.''

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