Being British/Dutch my children have two separate names for grandmother. My mother is ‘Grandma,’ P’s mother is ‘Oma’.
My mother is visiting. She arrives late at night while the kids are sleeping so doesn’t get to see them until the next day.
Grandma from England. Here we go.
“What are the plans for tomorrow” she asks
“Well Oma looks after the kids on a Thursday, so she’ll get here early morning and unfortunately I have to work”
The first thing she needs to do she explains is find out where this ‘action’ is taking place.
“One Billion and Rising” she tells me
“It’s a mass global event tomorrow to raise consciousness about violence against women and there’s going to be one of the meetings right here so I need to go, it’s at 12 in the centre of town.”
I look up the location on the website for her and hand her a map.
“Do you think Oma would want to come along with S?” she’s asking
I can’t see it happening; the two grandmas have pretty different priorities when it comes to going out in the cold February snow to attend political rallies.
I don’t get to witness her reunion with her grandchildren because I rush off to work before daylight, but when I get back the house is busy and there are tales of adventures.
“I’m afraid I failed at the first hurdle” she says referring to cooking dinner.
“I couldn’t work out how to turn the gas on.”
There’s a pile of raw chopped veg in the kitchen waiting to be cooked into something.
“It’s just a safety feature.” I tell her, “see, you push down the knob and click the ignite”
“Grandma brought presents!” A is telling me.
While I finish off the dinner they settle down on the sofa to watch a Dr. Seuss animation that grandma has brought on DVD.
From the kitchen I keep hearing some typical Seussian lyrics about butter-side up, butter side-down, sounds fun and they look like they’re transfixed.
I stir the sauce.
“Spaghetti or pasta bows?”
I walk across to A. Her face has dropped and she’s slightly whimpering. She points at the screen. There is a battle ensuing between these two breeds of scrawny bald headed beaky creatures. They’re pointing multi-headed canons across a wall at each other and barking on about buttering bread.
“It does seem a bit sinister” I say
“It’s about the cold war” says my mum
“I can see that, but maybe they’re not ready for this lesson just yet” I say
We eat dinner and my mum produces the goods for all kinds of treats for dessert. The obligatory T-bags and fudge for me and P and chocolate bunnies for the kids. Not strictly allowed and it’s not even Easter, but I guess that’s what grandmas are for, breaking the rules here and there and upping the sugar-quota.
“Hey, by the way” I ask
“Did you make it into town to do the One Billion and Rising thing?”
“Yes, yes, it was good; there were only about 25 of us dancing.”
“Dancing?” I say, “It was freezing”
“I know, but it was a sort of flash-mob. It was absolutely perishing, but the feminists lent me a hat and a scarf”
I can’t believe my mother just said “flash-mob.”
She offers to make up for the encouraging the sugar overload by brushing the kids teeth but she’s foxed when she can’t manage to work the electric toothbrush.
How is this difficult I wonder? I thought electric toothbrushes had been widely available since about 1983?
A couple of days pass and we try to rub along in our usual way. Me trying to maintain a modicum of order, my mum trying to provoke the odd rebellion to that order. I find it hard to contain my irritations on seeing not only the usual scatterings of crumbs and debris, but the sofa covered in an unfolded mass of newspaper and huge numbers of tea-cups. (My mum always delights in trying to show-off that she can read Dutch newspapers. Well I don’t know how long she actually stares at that same article, but if it saves me from having to listen to her pseudo German attempts at speech then I’d rather leave her to it).
One morning we seem to have got back onto the subject of buttering bread on both sides.
“We don’t need to have wars about things you see” my mum is explaining to my 5 year old.
“What we need are new governments”
I go into the kitchen to boil the kettle. When I come back in all three of them are shouting at the top of their voices.
Grandma is clenching her fist and punching the air.
My 5 year old and my 2 year old are standing up on their chairs raising their arms up clutching cereal spoons and shouting “revolution!”
Any moment now they’re going to knock that carton of milk over, I’m thinking.
“Hey, come down from the bench! You’re going to fall”
My mum is cackling. She thinks she might have crossed the line in my code of behaviour and she revels in it. She wants to see how far she can go. Now she starts singing:
“Nkosi, sikelel’ I Afrika
The familiar tune of the African National Congress anthem rings in my ears. 30 years ago it was the enduring soundtrack to a childhood of being dragged up and down the country on one march or another.
“Can you say that? Nkosi sikelel’i Afrika!”
A repeats “Nk-o-si sik-e-le-l’i Afrika!”
My mum looks over at me.
“No no don’t mind me” I say, “Never did me any harm, a bit of indoctrination with breakfast”
Actually I’m looking at my two kids with swelling pride and I’m thinking, wow A has got great pronunciation!