AGED about 18 or 19, I cooked dinner for my parents – salmon with a swanky sparkling wine sauce. There was no special reason but we drank, talked and laughed. It was a triumph. So giddy was I with the feeling of adulthood that, after dinner, I joined a friend in the local pub to celebrate. A few hours later I was back home, head down the toilet, sick in my hair. I looked up to see Mum’s disapproval. The dinner was a distant memory and normal service had resumed.
That normality, I thought, was a relationship in which she just didn’t ‘get’ me. Mum was the one who put the kibosh on my fun when a boy arrived at the door, asking when I’d be back and greeting me afterwards with questions about his age or where we’d been. When I asked to go on the school ski trip or for the latest must-have clothing, it was Mum who would say we couldn’t afford it. To my mind, she just didn’t want me to go. And when I destroyed shelving by trying to climb it (aged 15, not five) because I couldn’t be bothered to get a chair, it was Mum who went off the deep end at the cost of repairs.
As a teen, I envied other girls and their mothers. While they seemed close, there was a crevasse between me and my mum. While we knew we loved each other, I was sure she didn’t like me much and I definitely didn’t have a lot of time for her. Like the Lady Bird character in Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age movie of the same name, I had real concerns – like world peace, true love and the better life I was so sure I deserved. My mum didn’t seem to get any of that.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that we turned a corner. Whether it was due to my parents’ divorce or living at home again as a working adult, things changed. Mum worked away during the week but each Thursday night we went out for a meal, talking, sharing and laughing. I came to realise that looks of disapproval were, in fact, looks of concern. The ‘No’ I felt I had heard so often as a teen wasn’t delivered with glee but with frustration that there were things she couldn’t afford. It dawned on me that what I thought was related to her worrying that I wasn’t a good enough daughter was more worry that she wasn’t a good enough mum.
A decade and a half since I despaired about the gulf between us over that toilet bowl, my mum is officially my best friend. She’s the one I call when things go wrong. She’s one of the few who actually ‘get me’. She lives in the same town as me, we holiday, have sleepovers and eagerly plan our next adventure.
There’s a reason the movie Lady Bird broke all sorts of review records: in a world of perfect mum-daughter portrayals, we’re crying out for a bit of honesty. It’s a beacon for every teenage girl who, like me, thought the gulf between her and her mother was not only abnormal but insurmountable. How wrong I was. Perhaps, like young Lady Bird, I just needed to grow up.