81 – Letting Go

Growing up seems to me to be a process of stretching the elastic then finally letting go of the metaphorical apron strings.  The first time you go out alone on your bike, the first time you go out alone to the disco, the first time you drive your car without your instructor.  I was 20 when I bought my first house (in Slough back in 1979) – my mum came on both my viewings, and approved the purchase before I did a thing.  My next purchase was a studio flat in Battersea – I viewed it on my own and made a verbal offer, then Mum came to see it before I signed anything.  The next move was to a bigger flat in Battersea and I showed it to her after I’d signed the contract.  With the cottage in Shaftesbury, I had bought it, had the necessary renovations done, moved in and lived there a couple of months before she ever saw it.  Growing up.  Making your own decisions.  Parental approval not so necessary any more.

The final move, she never saw.  But she had wanted me to live in Spain and pushed me in that direction.  She was relieved when I was able to report to her in hospital that I’d found the right place.  She definitely approved.

Do we ever stop seeking that approval?   Even with the moral support of our friends, do we as adults still seek parental approval?   In Shaftesbury for a week last month I walked round – for the last time – to look at her bungalow.   It was her birthday, she would have been 83.  The new owners have converted the garage into a third bedroom and have changed the front door.  It’s not hers any more, in any sense.  Another link is broken, the apron strings are almost out of reach.

She had been able to make her home in several countries, and had learned English as a second language, later adopting it as her primary one.  Quite early on she had encouraged me to keep improving my Spanish, not letting me “just get by” but pushing me to learn it properly.  Most of my real progress came after her death, yet she had been pleased with the foundations already in place.   As I read another chapter of a Carlos Ruiz Zafón novel, I suspect she would have approved.  But perhaps more importantly …. I approve.

81-chair-1Back in Colmenar the downstairs bedroom has completed its conversion to become my den, my office, the cosy room which will be easy to keep warm this winter.  It’s pretty, it’s full of my favourite books, and it wraps me up – safe, comfortable, comforting.  I curl up in the big squishy leather chair and reach for the Zafón novel.  I remember the day Mum bought the chair for her bungalow.  “Will it fit?” she asked.  “Will it look right?”  “Yes Mum it’ll be grand” I told her, noticing for the first time the shift, her need for my reassurance, my approval.  The day she began to depend on me.

In the 16 months since she died, the most difficult moments have always been in Shaftesbury the morning after arriving there from Spain.  My first waking thought was always to go round, see mum, and tell her what had been going on.  A moment later and straight-thinking would return – no, she wasn’t there to report to, not there to laugh at my stories, nor to give the always-sought approval.  Now that I’ve seen her bungalow with its new front door and its third bedroom, it’s probably sunk in.  The apron strings are well beyond reach now.  I’ll have to get that approval from somewhere else.  Maybe it’s finally time to seek it from within myself, at last?   Perhaps that’s what growing up really is.

© Tamara Essex 2013


I’m often accused of lowering the tone!  But for once, it’s what I’m MEANT to do!   My Spanish friends are trying to get me to lower my tone when I pronounce a T or a D in Spanish.  And at the same time, I’m trying to get them to raise their tone when they pronounce the same letters in English.

Trying to get Spanish people to pronounce “He looks like he doesn’t want to be here” or “That cat sat on that mat” helped highlight for me, how MY Spanish pronunciation needs to change.

In English we pronounce the T in “The cat sat on the mat” as a very light, high note.  In Spanish it is much lower.  It’s as though the English T is played on a child’s glockenspiel – you know, the ones with the metal keys.  A high, light, ringing sound.  The Spanish T is played on a xylophone, a duller, wooden sound.  The tongue is up against the teeth, almost through them.

81-MusicNotes-3The English D is only a bit lower than our T sound, but in Spanish we need to take it right down low so we hear it in our bellies.  Maybe the English one is the top string on a cello, and the Spanish one is a double bass?

They make me repeat that long sentence with all the rolling rrrrrrs (about el perro de San Roque who doesn’t have a tail), but it’s the last bit I need to work on … “Se ha cortado”.  Cortado is a GREAT word to practise.  Even if you don’t like your coffee quite that dark!  It’s got that rolled rrr in the middle, followed by a nice dull T with the tongue up against the teeth, and then a really low D.  There is MUCH less difference between a T and a D in Spanish.

So I drove back from Torre del Mar one sunny November evening bellowing “Se ha corTaDo” … “Se ha corTaDo” … “Se ha corTaDo”.  Go on – try it!

15 thoughts on “81 – Letting Go

    • Thanks Robin. She has been a constant thread throughout the blog, but numbers 15, 30, 34 and 58 are the ones that are really about her. And, oddly enough, the last three of those have been the most popular. That always seems odd to me, and I worry about becoming overly-indulgent with the more personal posts, yet readers don’t seem to mind.

  1. Thank you Tamara, a very perceptive post. I found myself nodding as I read it, although my 95 year old mother doesn’t always react with approval. She often doesn’t understand the choices we make. I have to remind myself of all the changes and advances she has seen in her lifetime.

  2. I really enjoyed this piece, Tamara. It made me think that perhaps more extended work about your mum would be worthwhile – for you as well as for the reader.


  3. A beautiful post Tamara. I am very lucky to still have my Mummy (aslthough since a nasty accident a few years ago, things are very different). I think most of us little girls will always seek our Mum’s approval… I know I do. I’ll still do my own thing – but knowing she’s happy I’m happy makes it that much easier.
    Elle xx

  4. So related to this. Our son and his soon to be ex-wife, went to look at a flat to buy and we went and her parents too. Nice flat, dodgy area and I said so, also said it would be difficult to sell and they would need to extend the lease which would cost. They went ahead regardless and now they are separated, the flat is let and they are having trouble selling it! However, our son still likes to seek our advice at 33 yrs old and last night we went to look at a flat with him to see if it was suitable for him to move into with his 3 year old son. Its not ideal, but the rent is low (unusual in this area) and when we got back to his in laws place (he is staying with them at the moment) we all sat down and talked it through. Its important to him to make sure that we are all on board with what he wants to do. I love that, even if he doesn’t always take our advice.

    Going back to your mum’s place reminded me of when my mum passed 3 years ago. A lady walked up to us when we were clearing the bungalow and asked if it was for sale, she’d been looking for just this sort of bungalow and would love to make an offer. She came and looked, fell in love with it and made an offer (over what we would’ve asked for it through an agent!). A few months later, we went to see what she’d done with the place and it was absolutely beautiful. She’d used mum’s kitchen units to fit out the utility room, kept her fire but improved the surround. She’d extended, painted everything white and it looked beautiful. We were so pleased with what she had done, but felt sad that mum (she was 89 when she passed) hadn’t allowed us to make even the most minor improvements when she was there. But, we knew that she would’ve approved of what the new owner did, and be glad that someone was loving her old home as much as she di.

  5. Yo creo que cuando necesitamos la aprobacion de alguien para llevar a cabo ya sea nuevos emprendimientos o cosas cotidianas, estamos relegando nuestra realización personal. Esa necesidad es un psicológico callejón sin salida que no nos aporta ningún beneficio. Es como decir que lo que los demas piensan de ti, es mas importante que lo que tu piensas de ti misma. Y si no los complaces, mereces sentirte mal.
    Cuando no necesitamos la aprobacion de los demás (aunque a todos nos gustan “los aplausos…”), somos mas libres y capaces de ser felices.

    • Eso es muy cierto Fabio y muy claramente expresado. Pero a mi no parece tan sencillo! Creo que todos seguimos necesitando la aprobación de los demás, y sólo cuando una persona más importante en nuestra vida (por ejemplo, un padre) ya no existe, estamos desafiados a buscar esa aprobación dentro de nosotros. Estoy de acuerdo que sólo entonces, llega la libertad verdadera. Espero que lo tengas x

      • Por supuesto que no es sencillo! Yo te hablo desde mi experiencia personal, no digo que sea la verdad absoluta. También me ha influido que perdi a mis dos padres cuando tenían 54 años de edad, no tuve la suerte de disfrutarlos mas tiempo… ni de pedirles aprobación de mis actos…

  6. A really touching post Tamara!!! I have enjoyed its reading. And now I’ll look at my mum in a very different way. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. A very moving piece. Thank you for sharing. I still have my mum, and the relationship’s complicated. Sometimes she drives me nuts or I have that old sense of being either invisible or too visible….but one day she won’t be there, and so I try to make the most of the time that we have left….so, Christmas shopping it is in Bromley on Saturday……..

  8. We really enjoyed this post Tamara, I read this to John and we were both touched by your piece. Going back to your old house or in your case your mum’s house is a sad thing to do, seeing all the changes that the new owner has decided on.

    I am glad we met your mum at your birthday bash.

  9. I absolutely love this post Tamara & can relate to so much of it. Your perspective on life always brings a memory flooding back, touches a nerve, pricks a conscience or just makes me laugh out loud. You peel back a layer of life that so often is just fleetingly observed & forgotten almost straight away. As a society we are programmed these days to constantly move forward at lightening pace and I enjoy your blogs because they give back time to reflect.

  10. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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