Off on holiday? Shh... don't tell Mum!
Like most of us, Jane Hills loves her dear mother. So how does she explain that she just doesn’t want to spend a week in France with her?
I don’t believe it,’ I whispered into the computer screen. ‘It’s free on the right dates – our dates – and it’s reduced!’ I dragged in my husband Greg. ‘Look, look – shall we take it?’
‘That’s only two weeks away. Can you get flights?’ he replied, as cautious as ever.
‘I’ve got them already.’ ‘Oh, right… yes, go on then. Read that bit there – it says it even has a granny flat!’
‘Blimey, I didn’t see that,’ I gasped, frantically clicking the ‘confirm booking’ button.
‘We could take your mum…’ he suggested.
‘Yes, yes,’ I said, while thinking: ‘No, no.’
And then something extraordinary happened. I was so delighted with my ‘luxury sun-baked stone finca with turquoise mosaic-lined pool just an hour from Perpignan airport’ that my mind started genuinely to consider taking my mum.
My mother. How can I put this? After staying with her and my stepfather Gordon for three days, I have mentally to detox and not speak to anyone for a week. I walk across fields mumbling and gibbering about why she never loved me. My husband, child and dogs ignore me until they see a thaw beginning.
But she was now caring for her mini-heart-attacked husband, she was miserable and would never get the chance to go on a holiday, let alone somewhere hot and by the sea.
‘It looks beautiful,’ I said to Mum on the phone the next day. ‘Look it up,’ before adding (oh my God, here it comes)… ‘It says there’s a studio included, just right for grannies who want a bit of peace. Why don’t you come?’
If I’m honest, I knew she wouldn’t be able to come because a) Gordon can barely walk 10 steps unaided, so he can’t be left alone, b) she had a minor heart attack herself two years ago and a new hip – no way would anyone give her insurance, and c) not in a million years would she ever be able to get a flight to Perpignan from Southampton airport at this late stage.
So, I had made the offer, safe in the knowledge that she could never come, and I felt like a dutiful daughter. She was touched, but also knew it just couldn’t happen.
Two days later she rang: ‘Well, I have a bit of good news.’
‘Oh, what?’ I asked breezily.
‘Gordon’s sister says she can look after him for that week, but I’m not going to get my hopes up just yet…’
‘Oh, that’s great,’ I said semi-genuinely, knowing full well that both b) and c) were still solid. ‘Fingers crossed,’ I chirped.
Then, at the weekend, she rang me again: ‘Guess what? Lucy read an article in the paper recently about holiday insurance for the uninsurable… so she made a few enquiries, rang a couple of companies and – I can get insurance!’
Now, I never imagined that my older sister Lucy would get herself involved. The sister who, one morning as I stood waiting for the school bus on wear-your- own-clothes day, ran out of the house screaming at me and just as the bus arrived, tore off the Miss Selfridge blouse that I had dared to borrow, leaving me shivering and humiliated as I climbed on to the bus in my tatty thermal vest while she stood yelling at the window ‘It’s called wear your own clothes day, actually…’
I’m still scared of her at 46.
‘Well, good for Lucy,’ I gasped. I think this is when the palpitations began, calmed only by the thought of flight difficulty. I began checking availability twice daily until it became a compulsive habit… relieved to see ‘No Flights’ flash reassuringly in red each time I looked. I began to relax.
It was one week to the day that the final fateful call came: ‘You’ll never believe it,’ cried my mother…
‘Oh,’ I groaned, all the air leaving my body. ‘I think I will’ and then…
‘Lucy has managed to get me a flight – I… can… COME!!!!!’
‘Oh no, no, please God, no… how… did… how… fantastic…’ I spluttered, suddenly feeling everything sliding into slow motion… brace, brace, brace I thought to myself as I hit a depressive wall head on, my sister in the driving seat, waving happily as we crashed.
There followed sleepless nights, waking suddenly drenched in sweat, wailing, trembling uncontrollably at the thought of having her on holiday with us for a whole seven days.
I was sinking.
‘Well, why did you ask her?’ asked Greg at breakfast the next morning.
‘What?’ I gasped. ‘You were the one who suggested it.’
‘But it was a joke,’ he muttered. ‘I didn’t think you’d actually ask her.’
Great – a husband with adolescent humour. I tried to think about the good bits: she’ll be in her own annexe, she might babysit, we could do some mother/daughter/shopping/bonding… it could work.
But my shaking hands, plummeting confidence and an oncoming stutter all gave the game away.
‘We are taking who on holiday?’ demanded my 12-year-old when he found out.
‘Look,’ I reasoned, ‘life isn’t just about what you want. We have to be generous and that is why we are taking Granny with us on holiday.’
As the departure date loomed I phoned Mum to ask about her flight times: ‘I hope there aren’t too many steps at this villa,’ she moaned.
‘No, there aren’t, don’t worry,’ I said. And then I took a deep breath and was brave: ‘Mum, I’ll need my own space now and then on this holiday… it’s not you, it’s, well, I’m always like that.’
‘Fine,’ she said, before adding, ‘Now, how many bedrooms did you say the main villa has? I’ve been thinking – I might feel lonely in the granny annexe, tucked away on my own…’
Daily tip from the lady archive
"It is not always she who appears most kindly in her interest who is the safe sharer of sacred (maybe sorrowful) secrets! Charming manners do not always connote sincerity of heart!”The Lady. In Confidence. 4th April, 1918