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Opinion: I can be an awful grump when it comes to my folks – but, the truth is, they're saints

I spent most of Christmas suffering from serious food poisoning on my parents’ couch… and it made me realise how much they do for me.

Michelle McBride Freelance journalist

I SPENT MOST of last Christmas with my folks. It was unintentional. I topped off a dreadful December with some self-inflicted food poisoning. I was confined to the bedroom/couch zone for seven straight days, just about coming up for air on New Year’s Day.

At the end of it all I’d watched the entire series of True Detective, had some seriously unnerving hallucinations, fell in love with the wood burning stove and (perhaps most importantly) realised my parents are saints.

I can be an awful grump when it comes to my folks. It’s almost like I regress back to my teenage years. Although, when I think of it, I was slightly jollier then.

I must ask them.

There is a cycle of appreciation, disregard and re-appreciation that reflects my parental relationship. And, although I doubt the disregard rotation could ever come around again, those times are the ones that make me laugh– at myself, that is. I’ve also come to realise that, although it may not have felt like it at the time, they were always doing me a favour.

Summer Holidays

In primary school I’d listen enviously, jaw agape over my chocolate-spread crackers, as classmates told stories of holidays in Spain and France. How exotic.

We only ever went to Donegal. Six of us crammed into a mustard coloured Toyota Corrolla with a packet of mint humbugs and ‘The Best of the Eagles’ on cassette. If we were lucky we would stop in Monaghan for a milkshake or a can of Lilt and the cassette would change. To Bagatelle.

The humbugs came in handy when my dad would roll down the window so we could “smell the cows”. Good for the lungs, apparently.

The holiday would feature some standard events. Banana sandwiches on the beach, albeit ‘our beach’. Bingo in the GAA hall – unlucky for some. Red lemonade and King crisps in the local. Laughing at the man with the false teeth. A milk float parade (if we were there for Paddy’s Day), And the unending game of cat and mouse as we tried to avoid speaking Irish to the ‘locals’ or, worse, the relatives.

Although I felt cheated, conned and seriously bitter, brushing my cracker crumbs from my chin as my classmates boasted about planes and pools and ‘baguettes’ – oh la la – I never wanted to leave Donegal once I arrived.

The smell of turf burning and the sink filled with freshly-caught crab.

I held out to the very last before making the tearful return journey. I may have made grumpy protestations about the annual vacation but, deep down, my folks knew it beat a week in Majorca. And I guess I did too.

Shopping

The dreaded Confirmation outfit. What it must be like for a mother to trawl the shops with a kid who has the most bizarre dress sense? I hope I’ll never know. I had my heart set on a nice cerise pink suit.

Not on her nelly was I getting that. I remember, eventually, being yanked by the arm for my own good away from the iris-stinging colour and forced into a tamer one. I didn’t quite stand out at church (this time).

I was devastated. I’d huffed and I’d puffed but my mother could spot a fashion faux pas at this stage. She had learned her lesson from letting my older sister out in the mock sailor outfit. I’m pretty certain anyone with a sibling who made their Confirmation in the early ’90s has got a photo of them in this maritime gem.

Ah, sometimes we just take that photo out for the craic. A giggle if there’s nothing on the telly. The mullet haircut under the sailor cap just about finishes me off every time.

Fads

I did everything from majorettes (only lasted a day) to ballet (quit while making a moral stand age 10) to the scouts. My parents must have gotten a great kick out of watching me head off on my latest adventures. Anything to get me out of the house.

I joined The Girls Brigade because I thought it was a girl’s version of the fire brigade. I put up with the Psalm singing and embroidery for so long before I realised I wasn’t going to be putting out any fires. My stitching skills left a lot to be desired, too. I thought I was being put through some sort of initiation ceremony. First sew this, then save the burning city. I should also point out I wasn’t Church of Ireland, either. So even the club itself must have thought I was an oddball.

The point is though, that my parents never stopped me. They let me off. And they still do.

Subtle hints

When most people come back from Australia they come back with a little extra baggage. It’s known as the Sydney Stone. Or in my case the Sydney Couple of Stone.

I was in denial. Unsure as to why my clothes had taken on a pained expression when I put them on. A hungry mind can play some cruel tricks. It was my mother though who nudged me gently towards the gym. ‘Just come take a look see?’

Finally the penny dropped, and eventually the stones.

Of course, I am withholding the true grit when it comes to how much my parents have salvaged me. But suffice to say, they have come to my emotional and financial rescue on many an occasion. They have eaten the exotic recipes I brought back from my travels, drank my attempts at coffee as a child (four tablespoons should do it, yeah?), I still refuse to let them throw out my book collection – I’m holding out for a bookshelf in a house by the sea – and when my mind has gone a wandering they have helped to show me the way again. And again.

I’m sure there’s a cliché out there somewhere that best befits parental appreciation. But for me, as of yet, there are no words big enough.

Michelle McBride tweets at @MichelleBride and blogs at MissUnderstood Teacher.

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About the author:

Michelle McBride  / Freelance journalist

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