“AS A woman in this family, you only have to think of a penis and you’ll get pregnant!”
My mother was on a roll, sitting up waiting for me to come in on a Saturday night when I was in my early 20s. She was ensconced in the sitting room, cigarette in one hand, a brandy in the other and ready to hold court about all the sins of my generation.
Her comment about the women in our family and our relationship with the male appendage was only half an exaggeration. It did take a considerable bit more than just thinking about sex for us to get pregnant, but her point was that if we followed in her footsteps, we’d all be blessed with being highly fertile women and, as a consequence, having a clatter of kids.
As the result of her own fertility, she had one baby after another, back in the days when any form of contraception was outlawed by the Catholic Church. So she had nine of us, and God only knew how she coped with us all.
By the time my older sisters had hit their 20s, some of them were with child before they made it up the aisle to the altar.
My mother at first railed against this new familial trend. Not that she was worried about the neighbours and their whispers of “that young one getting herself pregnant”. (What an awful expression, and a nonsensical one, too – when did a woman ever get herself pregnant?)
No, she didn’t care what other people thought of our family. Rather, my mother’s concern was about the security of the impending babies, born out of wedlock. And so she worried about us and our children and our futures.
But, in time, she moved on in her thinking. She tried to educate us about contraception and the importance of being safe.
At one stage, she threatened to have a stack of condoms by the back door, to be doled out to us as we went out on the tear at the weekends. Once, when my younger brother was heading to Thailand for a holiday, she warned him not to come back with anything he might be ashamed of. He was, of course, mortified when he discovered a pack of said condoms in his luggage.
Being a nurse, she had a filthy, morbid sense of humour, but she was also a most practical woman, who cut through bullshit when she saw it. And so she adapted to the changing times.
As my siblings and I got older, the grandchildren arrived. Most of them were old enough to attend their parents’ wedding days, acting as flower girls or page boys.
And my mother, ever the maternal soul, welcomed all of the little ones. One after the other. Twenty-two of them, in the end. That’s a whole lot of grandchildren, but she made every single one of them feel like they were the favourite. She adored them and they adored their granny.
I was thinking of my mother and her children and our children because it was her birthday last week.
I was thinking of how she used to light candles and say aspirations to her favourite saints if one of them had something important coming up.
I was thinking of how much she had changed over the course of raising her own children and then the arrival of her grandchildren.
I was thinking of how proud she’d be of them all, if only she was still here with us.