Thank you to … my mum, whose selflessness and loyalty saved my life

Dear Mum,

I just want to say thanks. Not for bringing me into the world or any of that bollocks. Just thanks for sticking by me, and being you. We always had something special from day one, but when I got ill it became extra special. It was me and you against the world. When I didn’t get better, everybody thought I was a malingerer. Especially our doctor. The thing is – and you remember this better than anyone – our doctor just happened to be Dad’s best friend. It wasn’t simply that he decided I was a malingerer, he decided you had Munchausen by proxy and had projected the illness on to me.

You didn’t tell me for years. You always protected me. Did we feel vindicated when a year later a brain scan revealed I had encephalitis and by rights I shouldn’t have been alive? Kind of. But that wasn’t the point. We were a team. We developed such a weird emotional bond – like ESP. It didn’t require words. We could just give each other a look and make each other cry. Or if I wanted to be a real tosser, I’d say I’m going to make you cry, and you would.

You stopped working for those three years I was off school. Apparently you had been a brilliant special needs teacher. Even you said that, and you’re the last person to big yourself up. I never asked you why you didn’t go back to school after that. Maybe you were just too knackered, or maybe fighting my corner had become a full-time job.

Do you remember defending me when the French teacher said I had adapted back to school so brilliantly I had managed to become the class buffoon? How I walked out of Bury Grammar after six weeks when another teacher called me an “obstreperous bastard” because I refused to agree with him? When I was sacked and blacklisted from successive jobs?

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Even now you’re defending me. When I told you I was writing this, you told me I was exaggerating my enfant-terrible-ness. Fair enough. You were also there for the successes, and took such quiet pride in them – O-levels, degree, job at the Guardian. When our daughter Maya was diagnosed with autism and struggled at primary school, it was you who came down from Manchester to London to become her unpaid teaching assistant. Supergran.

But there is so much more to you than selflessness and loyalty beyond the call of duty. The thing is, you’re simply the best – and you ain’t got a clue. You’re funny and sensitive, interested and modern. You’re bright without being a smartarse. You’re gorgeous but haven’t got a clue you are. These days, you’ve got loads of aches and pains, and a fair few worries, but you don’t bang on about them.

Our Sharon and I often talk about how when we were young, loads of our friends wished you were their mum because they could talk to you, have a laugh with you and never felt patronised or snubbed by you. They loved coming to our house when we were kids, and it wasn’t just because of the huge carrier bag we had crammed with chocolate (credit to Dad, here). It was because of you.

At 91 it’s fair to say you’re a bit diminished – you’ve lost about five inches, I reckon. So there’s less of you, but only physically. Those friends who wanted you as their mum all those years ago think you’re even more of a marvel than they used to. I can’t wait to tell them you’ve just bought your first leather skirt. And, of course, as time goes on and they lose their mums, or their mums become more cranky or mean-spirited or bigoted, they want a bit of you more than ever. But they can’t have you. Because you’re mine (and Sharon’s).

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