Mum's Tears

My mum called me on the phone in tears today. There had been no family tragedy, no evidence of infidelity or no overly emotional episode of “Packed to the Rafters”. My mum is just feeling fragile because the unthinkable has happened to the endearingly overprotective parent. The final little birdy has flown the nest. That’s right, my little brother Peter has begun his “it will take 6 months but I’ll have the photos rotating on my desktop background for 6 years” trip of his lifetime. From what I’ve gathered, his itinerary will be half a year of tomato throwing, contiki tours and battling his strong resolve not to cheat on his girlfriend.

Faced with an empty four-bedroom home for the first time in 21 years, my mum turned the waterworks on. I have become used to seeing my mother cry. I’ve witnessed her salty tears mix with the detergent as she moaned nobody was helping her clean bottles for our annual “make enough tomato sauce for the whole year” event. This yearly obligation was Nonna’s proudest moment as the entire family gathered unreasonably early to crush cooked tomatoes into recycled bottles to be used in Lasagnes for weeks to come. As a kid I used to hate the 6am starts, heavy lifting and awkward cheek pinching from the older Italian Aunties. As a young adult I realised the lunch that followed the work was easily the best of the year. Nowadays I realise homemade tomato sauce beats Dolmios hands-down and I’m lucky to enjoy my entire close family engage in a Abruzzese ritual ironically falling on every Australia Day. I don’t think mum’s tears came from the same love of family tradition, but more what dad thought he was cleverly describing as a “period of change”. The double meaning was lost on me as a thirteen year old. I was just looking forward to lunch.

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I remember hearing the tale of a similar three-child family and their moving out of home policy. After the two eldest children had left, the parents hung a sign on the youngest child’s door saying “check out time is 21”. My mum obviously did not share this enthusiasm for repurposing bedrooms into sewing rooms. For her, the idea of being forced into retirement from parenting is worse than losing the home to a fire. At least in an inferno we would all be together… saving the photo albums.

I had been the first of the children to move out. It was a life-defining move to Melbourne to make the law degree I was losing enthusiasm for more “enjoyable”. To celebrate living out of home for the first time I ate coco-pops for dinner. For once in my life I felt truly independent- no longer bound by the rules of bedtimes and nutrition. I was living with my two best friends in a house that could best be described as a “rental inspectors worst nightmare”. Since we didn’t own a vacuum cleaner we would wait until we could physically see dirt before we would scoop it up with our hands and wash it down the bath we never used. When mum came to visit her housewarming gift was small, yellow and saved our bond.

My sister was next to go. However her newfound independence only lasted six months and she quickly moved back to where the “internet was free”. One of the rules of living under the roof of my parents was that the single bed was non-negotiable. I once mentally feng-shui’d my room to try and create the dimensions required for a Queen bed. Annoyingly, there was a jut in the wall which prohibited anything bigger than a king single from possibly fitting in the space. Knowing full well that my dad had never poorly designed a thing in his life, I asked why this obvious flaw was overlooked. He simply replied “it wasn’t a mistake”. I believe I was… as the kids say… “cock-blocked” by my parents.

And now my brother is gone as well, leaving mum to face the agony of setting the table for only two. Receiving her phone calls is now a russian roulette of emotions. I’m sure I will never hear the end of how my brother immediately messaged his girlfriend to say he had landed safely, but at the time of writing, still hadn’t contacted my mother. On pointing out my brother’s check-in overseas mum dangerously commented that she “might need to get this Facebook”. Time for me to tighten my privacy settings. Zuckerberg hasn’t taken away my right to hide tagged photos yet has he? Some of those snaps would really make my mother cry.

I’m sure mum will be fine. We will just visit her often enough to remind her that our separation has not dwindled our fondness for her company. Still I will point out that tears should be saved for truly sad occasions like funerals, or when you’re extremely hungover and encounter a broken escalator. Finally, in what is conclusive proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I just collected a call from my sister. A guy at work talked her through creating an excel spreadsheet too quickly and now she’s crying. This outwardly emotional response is fast becoming a hallmark of the favourite women in my life. But as esteemed philosopher Jessica Simpson said in her seminal 2009 tweet- “every tear should live its purpose. Don’t ever wipe the reason away.” Thank you Jessica. Thank you.

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