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.
Back 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
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT
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.
The 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!