Always my daughter, forever my friend

It’s this time of the year again: I have to take my only daughter back to the train station after Christmas holidays as we both start work tomorrow.

I hate these moments. I hate the train station, with people pushing and shoving, the lack of space for her suitcase that gets bigger every year (food for thought), doors closing, the tears that keep coming even if we promise each other before that we’re not going to cry this time.

I need at least a week to get over the separation process, even if we communicate every day, one way or the other. It’s not like she’s going over the big pond into a different time zone. The distance is manageable, the time difference is just one hour. But after months of being alone, I’ve got used to this presence again, the hugs, the cuddles, lots of laughter, shared meals, movies, music, talking about just anything and agreeing about almost everything.

I’m 56 going on 60 and I spent my life trying and failing at two long-term relationships and a couple of crushes that hadn’t been mutual. Aren’t they all? Still waiting for the one and only? That would be me.

However, this thing about meeting one’s soul mate in a complete stranger, it sounds good in a novel and feels right in a movie, but looks less and less plausible in real life. What if that soul mate lives in Brazil and is three years old and I have no idea about this? This world is just too big. Why would he (in my case) live right next door?

Truth is, I am convinced that my daughter is a kind of soul mate (assuming there are more than just one, to take the pressure off her). Maybe there is another one somewhere out there? But for the time being, I’m happy and blessed with this extraordinary mother-daughter relationship we have.

It’s been 27 years now and we’ve gone through a lot together. I almost lost her during pregnancy and had to spend four months on a sofa, not allowed to go anywhere. Giving birth was also a tough ride, as she was entangled in the umbilical and until the doctor and midwive became aware of it, everybody just kept shouting at me to ‘push’ while I clung to the oxygen mask as if my last breath was in that tank. In the end, they had to go for a C-section and it was touch and go then, too. When I finally got to hold her for the first time, I just knew I’d love her forever, unconditionally.
I guess that’s what every new mother says, but you don’t know if it will last, how life will treat both of you. Will you get through school, countless puberty crises and boyfriend trouble unscathed? Will you agree on the way the world functions or will you realize that your political views really differ? Will you grow apart or share the same tastes and always have things to talk about?

Well, I’ve been really blessed. I said that already, didn’t I? We’ve never experienced any doubts, any major crises, no door slamming, no violent outbursts, no grounding, no running away, no drugs, no alcohol.
Sure, we went through the usual stuff of ‘don’t wear this tight skirt’ or ‘navel piercing? Over my dead body’ and I really really put my foot down when she wanted to drop Spanish lessons and switch to Arabic, while her father is a native Spanish speaker and her grades were solid and she just has this amazing accent if she puts her mind to it.

Now if all this sounds really cheesy, just wait until I’ve really started 🙂
She doesn’t look like me at all, takes after her father, but sometimes it feels as if she’s an improved  version of what I could have been.
– Where I can only squeak a feeble tune under the shower, she can really sing. She left her classmates and teachers spellbound at a school concert, got a standing ovation in a holiday resort for her rendering of a famous bilingual song, switching effortlessly from French to English, and organized karaoke events at uni where she worked as a DJ for several years. My daughter knows the lyrics to almost every popular song written in the past 15+ years. I’m unable to memorize more than three words, as I’m more into the sound and incidentally grew up without wearing earphones 24/7. When we listened to English songs in my time, we barely understood the texts, we just liked them and sang along, in an imaginary language.

– Where I’d be literally shaking with stage fright, she just grabs a microphone and goes out there, on open mic nights, with a band or alone, or singing a cappella on the radio.

– We both love dancing and for a while, we went to salsa classes together. That was not intentional, by the way. I had to replace a friend who pulled out at the last minute, but it was so much fun. I kept rehearsing the steps at home, but my spine and shoulders are way too rigid and I never got that out of my system. My daughter is more flexible and can shimmy like a belly dancer.

– While I speak 4 languages fluently, my accent will never sound native and I sometimes simply don’t ‘feel’ how a certain word should be pronounced. She’s got the right accent in all 4 languages without any effort.
For a while I thought she would also go that route professionally, but I can see where two linguist parents can feel oppressive and why one would take a different career path because of it.

– I’m ambitious about my work and will take (and need) evening classes and online courses while she managed to brush through school and university focusing only on the subjects she really liked and thus compensating for the rest that she didn’t care about. I remember sweating about that a lot but I’m just jealous 🙂 as I need to put in the hard work.

I’m so proud of my little bookworm, her writing, her radio show about books and writers, her very own song on itunes. I actually cried at her graduation ceremony. Well, who wouldn’t? It’s a big step in a parent’s life.

Apart from that, she’s some kind of a geek/nerd and the only person I know who can sing every major Disney hit in three languages. She collects stuffed toys and you’d be amazed to realize how many can fit into one room (and onto one bed). By the way, we are saving Kuschelwuschel groundhogs from extinction. So far, we’ve united four of them.

She also loves Christmas with a passion and keeps up our family traditions of surprise presents, cookies and sparkly baubles. This year, as she couldn’t set up a Xmas tree in her flat share, I bought one for my flat and decorated it with her through cyberspace (thank you, skype!). Funny experience. She’s also the only person I know who actually wears Christmas socks in December.

This whole geek thing is really serious. She’d visit the Harry Potter studios in the appropriate gear, wear a Star Wars t-shirt to the latest blockbuster and has probably watched every single Pixar and other animated story that’s out there.

But it’s not all about special talents. She was a student support worker for some time and is currently working with children/teens and as an only child lacking company has always been great with cousins, nieces and nephews or her friends siblings. It’s her ability to understand how they feel, to know how to talk to them. It’s all about empathy. She simply cares.

When we’re together, we like cooking, shopping, visiting old castles and watching romantic movies or tv shows. We read the same books and can talk about them forever. Sometimes I need a push to read one of her recommendations and then understand why she wanted to share it with me. She’s a bit more reluctant to following my suggestions until the moment comes when she sees that there actually was a point to it.

As I grow dotty and more forgetful, it sometimes feels like she’s the older one and we laugh about it a lot.

Now, if you think that we’re both sitting in our corner pining for the other’s company, you got it all wrong. We both have a life and friends, we live in different countries and see each other three/four times a year. But thanks to social networks, we speak very often and we’re never really out of touch. She’s the yin to my yang. And as Cristina Yang put it: She’s my person. (And if you don’t get the reference, never mind, she will :-)).

It seems you should not feel too close to someone you should have ‘let go’ many years ago, as they say. But who are ‘they’ anyway? And I had. I put on a brave face when she moved to the UK right after finishing school, quite determined to turn her back on her home country, with both our cars filled up to the roof. I don’t think I ever begged her to come back, like my own mother has implied every time we meet since I married a foreigner and moved away. To the contrary, I encourage her to stay if this is where she’s happy (while I often say that I would like to move to the UK myself, which, of course, I won’t.)

We have to cut the umbilical. Let them fly the nest and see what’s out there and if they liked the nest, maybe they come back, once or twice or even more often. But sometimes the ties can actually get stronger because of the distance or quite simply because there is a bond that should not be severed.

Some ‘well-meaning’ acquaintance or family member already told me that I cannot be my daughter’s friend, as she is my child and not a buddy.

They don’t have what I have: Someone to laugh with.

So here’s to my daughter, buddy, best friend, my person, soul or whatever mate who celebrates her birthday today.



On Mums and Moms

My mother has reached the almost biblical age of 85.5 and is fortunately still with us, of sound mind and a somewhat weatherbeaten body. I once was, according to her, her favourite child and tried until my teenage days to live up to that responsibility, very much to the chagrin of my elder sister and younger brother. I left home at 20 and moved abroad in my late twenties. She made it quite clear at the time that this did not make her happy in any way. Sadly, our relationship has deteriorated over time, particularly since my dear father’s demise 15 years ago, and the only solution to the problem I found  (also backed up by a counsellor) was to stay away for my own sanity. However, I phone her every 7 to 10 days and I believe that the distance and the medium make our relationship better. We never quarrel on the phone.  In fact, I am much closer to her that way and manage to make her laugh. Also, whenever one of her concerns can be solved or at least discussed by looking something up on the Internet, I’ll do so while we’re speaking on the phone, which is not possible when I’m physically with her as she hates my computer with a passion.

This being said, our usual arguments are actually quite funny except that none of us feels it so when it happens.

I see her twice a year now and every time the first day is a moment of joy to see each other again. After 24 hours, she starts finding things amiss and as she sees her role as a mother as needing to fix me, she does not hesitate to go about the business in her very own way. I am very reluctant to that form of change and to criticism on the whole so this never goes well. What we should never discuss is politics and foreigners.  Also eating habits and dieting are out of the question. My mother has been battling obesity ever since her third pregnancy and never really managed a routine or different life style, but what she can do is give eating and dieting advice to others – who stare at her with round eyes wondering how she came to be such an expert.
Most of her knowledge comes from a well-known women’s magazine and TV. And if I would only apply myself, I would certainly manage to find a new life partner by starting to play golf, as it has been proven by celebrities who found a well-off spouse on the golf course.

Here are a couple of examples of our usual exchanges after the first joy has faded away.

Mom (pensively looking at me): “I’m pretty sure that you never darken your eyebrows.”

Me (defensively and considerably annoyed): “You know, I’ve just been on the road for a day. Make-up is not really appropriate for travelling in wilting heat.”

Mom (preparing for a second charge): “Fiddle, I’m sure you don’t even darken your eyebrows when you’re going out.”

There is not much to say against that. She’s got a point. I don’t go out very often and I do make an effort to look presentable but yes, sometimes I do not darken my eyebrows. It happens. I’ve been single now for over a decade so that must account for it.

I also happen to have a skin disease that makes me very sensitive to all kinds of cosmetics. This, also, is a constant source of disagreements as Mom has the miracle solution to my problem, regardless of what medical texts or two eminent dermatologists may have to say about it.

“Why are you having those spots?”

Me: “Because I have this disease I told you about. It comes with flare-ups and rashes, probably due to the air conditioning in the car and too much sun lately.”

It’s also food related, but let’s not even go there, because it will trigger the inevitable food/diet discussion. Then follows a detailed description of Mom’s face creams that have helped her fight a skin disease she does not even have.  I listen patiently but I know every word of it. The next day, she notices that I don’t really have any spots.

“See, it’s much better now. I told you so.”

Me: “I covered them up today, it’s a special product” (which I use sparingly and not within my own walls. This stuff is expensive enough but if it helps avoid a discussion, I’ll do it…)

Needless to say, it’s all my fault if only I would apply myself.


Mom: “Would you like a boiled egg for breakfast?” – “Yes, please, but soft-boiled.”

Mom: “What’s that? Never heard about it. I use the egg cooker and I like them that way. It comes with two settings and it’s always right.”

Needless to say, I did not get a soft-boiled egg that day, which, as I patiently explain to my mother who miraculously has forgotten all about it, is an egg with custard-like whites and a runny yolk, usually achieved by boiling for 5 minutes. She actually laughs at me, calls me crazy and fussy, and I know I’ll lose this one.

Next day same spiel:

“Would you like a boiled egg for breakfast?” – “No, thanks, not twice in a row. I also really like soft-boiled eggs to be fresh.”

Yeah, I know, I can be a real pain.

Mom: “These eggs came fresh from the market.” (this is Saturday).

Me: “When did you get them?”

Mom (thinking hard): “Thursday.”

Me: “Oh, I thought you said the market is on Saturday”

Mom: “Well, Tuesday then. In fact, I got them in a shop, but they promised me they were fresh. And, let me tell you that it is not good to eat eggs too fresh, they need to set for a couple of days.” She then goes to prove their freshness to me by putting one in a glass of water. It sinks to the bottom but actually tilts which makes it a week old egg.  At this stage, I no longer care but the discussion goes on and on with her offering to scramble the eggs which I don’t really want.

The breakfast discussion is years old but gets revived whenever we meet again and I sleep at her place (I don’t ever really sleep but that’s a different story, better explained by three ticking and tolling clocks).

I usually have cereal for breakfast or I eat bread and jam. Mom eats her cereal with a mashed banana and three spoonfulls of oats (we ate this a lot when we were kids, a LOT).

So she starts mashing her banana in the morning, adding oats and linseed, and offers to prepare the same for me.

Me (taking a deep breath): “Thanks, Mom, but I rather have bread and jam.”

She grumpily offers ham and a profusion of cheeses that I know we will eat every day for dinner. So I don’t really like eating the same things twice, but she’s already told me that this is me being weird.

“Don’t be difficult. You can eat both.”

“Yes, obviously, but I like to vary.”  And when I eat cereal, I don’t have anything else, it lasts the whole morning. Mom tells me that her substantially smaller size of cereal also lasts a whole morning and when I point out to her that she also eats an egg and bread and jam afterwards, she closes that argument as of course it’s all nonsense.

So instead of having a nice cosy breakfast à deux, we’re arguing about what we’re both eating or not eating. Or, let’s say, I’m arguing, as I’m the one who should just do as she’s told. 🙂

To be continued…


It’s a Mug’s Life – part 1

I recently rearranged my kitchen cabinet and started wondering about all my cups and mugs and in what way they could almost tell the story of my life. Some of them have accompanied me from my early childhood and some came into my possession with their own special story. We’ve been together for a long time and braved several perilous moves and many many cycles in the dish washer. I don’t have any recollection of plastic cups I was given as an infant, so please bear with me. Let’s say that my mug life started when I was 12.

Mug no. 3 was part of a set of 5 plain white mugs with a big number that my father bought for the family when I was about 12. His cup was no. 1, obviously, and Mum’s was no. 2 (that’s how things worked for them), then each child had its own. Sadly, life decided that I now have cup no. 3, which was that of my older sister, but I have no idea where 4 or 5 ended up. I’ve given away several cups and mugs on Freecycle but this one is very special to me. Very appropriate for afternoon tea or a comforting tisane.

The violets coffee cup is part of a set for 12, with matching sugar bowl and milk jug, and was a present from my godmother for my 14th birthday, when she thought it was about time I started on my dowry. It is still used once a year when I invite “the girls” to a birthday coffee and cake event. You can drink tea from it, of course, but I really only associate it with coffee and German cake.

This set of originally 6 matching cups, saucers and small plates will always remind me of “home”, Sunday breakfasts with my parents, when the family was still complete and no major disaster had yet been looming. I am, actually, still very proud of my choice as it was me who found it and had intended to give it to my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary when I was 16. They already had fancy matching sets for formal occasions but the cups and saucers for everyday use didn’t look cheerful to me and I wanted them to match the kitchen style. This design was also available on larger plates, soup bowls etc. and as it would have been too expensive for me and my siblings, I tried to get my grandparents on board and asked them to buy the bigger plates as a present. Now here comes my meddling gran into play who was convinced that nobody in their right mind would possibly want to eat soup from a plate with a red flower looking at them from under the broth. So what did she do? She called my father and told him about the whole plan, as in “the kids are buying you this for your anniversary but you will not like it…” I was very upset at the time. I very much like surprises and presents are something you don’t want anyone to know about. My Dad understood all that and we settled on a compromise, we’d give my Mom the breakfast set for her birthday which preceded the wedding anniversary by two days, and that was still a surprise. And she loved it and still has it. She gave me two coffee cups and egg cups last year. I drink coffee from it when I’m really really homesick and need to get in touch with my German side.

This very blue set of cups, saucers, but also soup bowls and dinner plates belonged to a friend of my boyfriend in the late 70s. He wanted to get rid of it as it reminded him too much of his wife who’d walked out on him, so we traded a couple of video games against the whole set of dishes (don’t ask). My boyfriend never liked it as much as me, because it was just so… blue …, so when we split up, I took it with me. I don’t use the cups very often, but the small soup bowls are perfect for morning cereal.

This was my first official office mug in my new job and represents the successful transition from my old life as an assistant who hated making tea for her megalomaniac boss and serving coffee to his guests to a budding translator who had her own office mug and could drink coffee without having to serve anyone else.  It has a tiny chink but can still hold its drink. I only use it on special occasions, when I need to feel empowered :-). Incidentally, it reminds me of the song ‘Night Owl’ by Gerry Rafferty. I guess I don’t need to explain. When I was sent to Paris for three months, I actually brought it with me so that I would feel less alone in the foreign land…

Needless to say that I quickly adopted the French art de vivre and also the French bol.

I was in my early twenties at that time and living in Paris not only changed my drinking habits but also my life in more than one ways. But this will be the subject of another blog post, as this one is really only about the inhabitants of my kitchen cabinet.

Now this bol is linked to a man with very soft eyes of a certain brown that I’d later identify as strong coffee with a nuage de crème. Mornings were not his forte, so when he got up he’d have a rather vague colorless expression in his eyes until he started drinking a big bol of coffee. The eyes would literally fill with soft brown liquid until the bol was empty and Monsieur was fully awake. I kid you not. I saw this with my own eyes for many many mornings because we actually got married.

From this marriage, I keep a lot of memories and souvenirs, a wonderful daughter and several mugs and cups. This petite fleur set was a wedding present and for some unknown reason I have both cups and matching saucers. After a couple of years drinking coffee from a bol, I really appreciated being able to hold a cup with a handle again. To this day, I drink café au lait from this giant cup.

When my daughter was little, we used to go to a special shop where one could find amazing cheap toys but also all kinds of household wares. These cups struck me as unusual and while the idea of drinking from a pot de chambre did not really appeal to my significant other, my daughter and I found them very funny and sometimes brown bear would sit on one of them, just like a real person. I also have both now, but I assure you that said now ex-husband has kept all the glasses and we split our belongings very evenly :-).

This is original Bidasoa porcelana from the Basque country, a present from one of my ex-husband’s aunts, and I cherish both cups (I know, I have both of them again, that’s weird). Perfect for my cup of coffee after lunch.

Incidentally, Basques are the friendliest, most hospitable people I ever met. Even if I no longer visit these ex-inlaws, I fondly remember them when I use these cups.

Now here is a beautiful specimen from Austria. The handle is unfortunately not visible on the picture. This is a Glühweinbecher which literally translated means cup for mulled or spiced wine, usually red, with cloves and cinnamon sticks. I don’t use it, because somehow it does not look like a coffee pot and also drinking spiced wine all by yourself is really pathetic. I keep it in a glass cabinet on display.
We used to spend our summer holidays in a small village in the Tyrol and on one of our hikes that involved taking a ski lift, my daughter lost her baseball cap. It landed on the grass halfway up the mountain and we could see it from the lift station downhill. So I decided to walk up again and fetch it. The rest of the family didn’t feel inspired and decided to stay. It took me a while to locate the place, with the help of friendly tourists shouting directions to me from the lift and when I arrived at the station again, hub and kid had gone to the nearby souvenir shop and bought me this mug as a thank you gift. Life was good then.

To be continued 🙂