Mean mother******

17 Sep

The meanest mother of all: Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in ‘Mommie Dearest’.

I met a mean man on Friday. His lips were so mean they were barely big enough to form whole words. He didn’t look up as he told me I’d filled my application in all wrong. He simply started to scribble onto a piece of paper in his mean hand-writing.

“What didn’t I do right?” I asked, clutching my feverish, rash ridden baby. If you’d given me a headscarf and dressed me in black I could have been a mother in a film about Soviet Russia, queuing for bread in the freezing cold. That or a modern-day version of Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, but with fatter cheeks and less of a dilemma.

In reality I was in Victoria Passport Office – a place so soulless it makes the Ladbrokes in Tulse Hill look inviting – pleading with a man already dressed for his own funeral. Even as he ripped up my form, I was praying that he’d overlook the fact that my countersignatory had strayed outside the box with her curvy, generous writing.

That I’d waited until the eleventh hour to apply for a new passport for my daughter was something that the man relished. His job satisfaction relies on dunderheads like me. His eyes, ear lobes, fingers and toes were tutting with joy as he stared at my form: he was one big tut. Still not looking at me, he pointed at a sign saying “Please do not make travel arrangements before you are in receipt of your new passport”. Eyes downcast, he said, just to make sure that I’d taken the information all in, “I hope you have not made any travel arrangements, as your daughter still does not have a passport.” Well, of course I’ve made travel arrangements, you moron, or why would I be here? I thought. “If you have any other questions, please make your way down to the yellow phones.”

“The yellow phones will not save me now,” I cried, assuming the voice of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. Something about the mention of yellow and the fact that his meanness called for some drama, I was trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I was actually crying (nothing to eat for five hours), sick baby on hip singing in tune with my sobbing, which was good because we made a very convincing distressed duo. “NEXT!” the man barked.

Mean is mean is mean. You can’t fake it. It’s never an accident. It’s done on purpose and it can ruin somebody’s day – or if the person sticks around long enough – life. It’s usually a way of saying “I want to have some fun at your expense” or “I’m really miserable and I’d like to bring you down with me, but I’m going to mask my meanness as a rare, cold variety of well-meaning.” If that man behind the counter had told me I’d screwed my form up in a kind way, then I still would have had to return to the passport office today (leaving it a mere 60 hours before we are due to travel). But his manner would have changed the whole experience.

I would still have been a little peeved that I had to get new photos, fill out a whole new batch of number related questions without smudging the ink and find a new countersignatory. (Why do I not know more professionals who can write inside the boxes? All my friends are novices.) But it would have made it all a bit more pleasant. I wasn’t asking him to administer Nurofen to my sick child and fetch me a stiff drink and a stool. I was just asking for a little empathy, and just as I had flunked the filling out forms test, he had failed on kindness.

In my past I’ve had my mean moments. I once cut off a classmate’s tied shoelaces when he was sitting on his desk. (He reads this blog sometimes. Tom, I’m really sorry. That was an act of meanness.) I also made a teacher cry more than once. She was a little neurotic and had a habit of telling us about her menopause, but she was kind. And we, in return, were horrible. We would stick notes on the rotating blackboard before class, saying things like “Close your legs, your breath smells.” or “Mr McFarlane wants to GO DOWN to check out your bush tonight.” When Miss P pulled down the board to start drawing biology diagrams on a fresh slate, all would be revealed. Vile.

Anyway, I’m really nice now. I know I am because I’m regularly kind to people who don’t often deserve it. Three people I regularly practice such selfless acts of kindness upon are my children (ha!). Weirdly enough, because I sometimes shout, the ones who can talk often call me a mean mother.  But here are the facts: I have a baby who joins me in bed nightly at 3am, and then falls back to sleep on my oesophagus; a son who would only like me if I miraculously turned into his dad; and a daughter who demands cash for “THINGS, OK?” then proceeds to tell me that my nostrils are unsightly and I’m too old to listen to Jessie Ware. I cook these people dinner. I sometimes spray Vanish on their pants before loading the washing machine, and I care more than they do about their visible plaque.

And yet kind is good. It is catching and it can make somebody’s day, year or life, especially if it is heartfelt. And it really is the only way to be, even when you’re faced with someone who is not being all that kind themselves. That is why I turned to the man behind the desk and mouthed “Thank you,” as I walked away. Then I bitched furiously about him down the phone to my husband as I walked back to the station. But that, in my books, was OK.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater.

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One Response to “Mean mother******”

  1. Lucy Garbutt September 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    That did make me laugh. what a day hey!! I think my mild hang over and lack of sleep was really having an effect on my ability to focus that day! I really have never been one for effective form filling. You will know not to ask me in the future. My inability to spell coupled with my handwriting are sure signs to avoid any paper based task for me! I hope you have managed to sort the passport now. xx

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