The best mother’s day gift?


Time with my darling daughter.

Teenagers are God’s punishment for having sex in the first place. Living with a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban; mothers aren’t allowed to dance, sing, flirt, laugh or wear short skirts. When my daughter was 13, I was sashaying toward the front door in high heels when she suddenly stormed after me, exclaiming, “What are wearing? You are not going out dressed like that. Go back to your room and change immediately!”

I glanced down at my pink leopard skin mini. “But… surely I can wear short skirts? My legs are still okay….”
“It’s not the legs, Mum; the skirt doesn’t go with your face.”

Ouch. I wilted like day-old salad. Low self-esteem is hereditary – you get it from your teenage daughters.

I just took it on the chin. Okay, the double chin. But for any mum currently traumatised by teen-wrangling, take heart. By twenty, your Attila the Teen will transmogrify into the most loving and devoted daughter. My own darling girl is now 27. (Clearly a miracle birth. I mean, how can that be possible when I am only pushing 33?!) And she’s the most charming, compassionate, intelligent young woman, full of love and laughter. The only trouble now is finding a window in her busy life for mother-daughter time.

When we were still permitted to travel, Georgie gave me an early Mother’s Day with a weekend away. We carved out four free days in her hectic schedule, jumped on a train and headed for Durham to walk the Coastal Path. My daughter was also keen to take a dip in the sea. Despite pointing out that I would only jump into the North Sea if wearing two arctic diving suits, a wraparound walrus and a seal – a Navy seal, obviously – she packed our goggles.

The aristocratic Seaham Hall estate haemorrhages history. It was built in 1791 by MP Sir Ralph Milbank whose daughter Anna Isabella married the poet, Lord Byron in the drawing room in 1815. Their union produced the extraordinary Ada Lovelace. Now, in Victorian times, while the blokes were off building steam ships, oh, and the Empire, their bonneted wives were only allowed to bustle about (literally) leaving calling cards on women who were out leaving calling cards on women who were out leaving calling cards. But not Ada Lovelace. A brilliant mathematician and writer, her pioneering work on Charles Babbage’s revolutionary Analytical Engine means she’s now considered the world’s first ever computer programmer.

My feminist daughter couldn’t wait to walk in Ada’s formidable footsteps along the coastal path adjoining her ancestral home. But I was more interested in another walk – the walk through the tunnel from our garden suite to the hotel’s luxurious spa.

Now, the secret of ‘eternal youth’ is to lie about your age. Some of my girlfriends swear by Retin-A, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s merely a way of having large chunks of your skin peel off and waft to the floor during aerobics. My top wrinkle-avoiding technique is to simply take off your glasses when looking in the mirror… But facials and body scrubs definitely rub me up the right way.

Georgie and I opted for a salt scrub and seaweed wrap. Locking ourselves into a Turkish-bath-themed en suite, we exfoliated before slathering each other in algae. Catching a glimpse of our reflection, I suggested scheduling an audition for the leads in a “Monster from the Black Lagoon” horror special. At my age a woman’s skin starts cracking like a pottery glaze in a furnace, but this vision of ourselves as human sushi, only added more lines – laughter lines.

We were guffawing so strenuously that we could hardly turn on the double-nozzled shower taps.

Dressed and refreshed, we left the spa, tingling. Despite the fact that my birthday cake has so many candles it could be declared a fire hazard, I now felt so young, I was sure people would presume we were not mother and daughter, but actually on a sisters’ outing.

This delusion crumbled when we set off next day on an 11 mile stomp along the rugged coast, from Seaham to Crimdon Beach (hopefully with a little detour to the Dalton Park designer discount shopping centre for their shoe sale…)

I’d had visions of us holding hands as we gambolled through shady glade and glen… But as my daughter disappeared ahead in a cartoon plume of smoke like the Road Runner, I quickly realised I needed to fit her with a tracking device to keep up. Georgie forged ahead with athletic agility; meaning I was all alone when I rounded a bend to find a seal sunning itself on the rocky path. A panicked thought struck me. What if it could still smell the seaweed wrap and wanted to mate?

But my darling girl boomeranged back just in time to shoo the seal into the sea. She then slowed her pace for the remaining trek through meadows dotted with wild flowers, ancient oak and ash woods alive with the birdsong and cosy coves glittering with sea glass. The sun came out, drenching us in a wash of syrupy sunlight as we basked in the warmth of familial friendship.

I also enjoyed a new dimension in our relationship. Grown up daughters, adept at technology, naturally take over all the navigation and planning. And it’s such a relief to abdicate responsibility.

We Mums spend our lives dashing from full-time jobs to orthodontic check-ups to school sports days to parent/teacher nights like some kind of maternal decathlon. A mother delivers her child once vaginally, but then by car forever afterwards. But, having coddled, caressed and kissed bumps better for decades, what a joy to take a break from all that nurturing. In fact, Georgie was now parenting me, “Mum, I said ‘shoo the seal into the inlet’. Not ‘shop for shoes at the outlet’…And surely you have enough shoes?”

Enough shoes? Hey, if you put your foot in your mouth as often as I do, it’s simply got to be well shod! Clearly the girl has mummy-ish shoes. (Don’t groan! I warned you about the foot-in-mouth-disease.) But our four-hour hike meant all I wanted in my mouth was sustenance. Now, I prefer food that’s cooked in fat, drenched in salt and coated in chocolate, preferably simultaneously. But as we were staying at a spa hotel, I was worried I’d be forced to follow various food fads. Changing for dinner, I wondered dismally, if I’d be feasting on bone broth, fasting, adhering to the scripture of Paleo or Atkins or only nibbling organic, non-irradiated, biodynamic, fair-trade tofu?

Well, fear not. Seaham Hall’s cuisine is organic and locally sourced, but also totally scrumptious. Guests can choose between low-key Asian fusion at the Ozone restaurant or opt for the fine dining menu. For the next few days, I felt like Henry the Eighth as I gnawed my way through Game Ragu with preserved black currants and salted turnips; crispy pigs heads with celeriac remoulade; free-range pork with roasted chicory and whole herds of venison. I’m pleased to say that Seaham Hall’s idea of a “balanced meal” is a salted caramel custard tart in one hand and a chocolate Cremaux in the other.

And talking of Henry VIII, among the things for which he was a complete arse, was his destruction of the monasteries. I’m glad his vandalism didn’t extend to churches, because the magnificence of Durham cathedral has won it World Heritage Site status. On our final day, we also explored the castle, which stands sentry above the cobbled medieval town and wooded slopes of the meandering River Wear.

More history awaited at 14th century fortress, Raby Castle, set in 200 acres of undulating parkland. Here we watched the stags rutting or mating, “How was it for you, deer?” This was followed by a ramble through dappled woods to one of the most spectacular waterfalls in England, High Force Falls, where the River Tees plunges 21 meters into a misty, bracken-fringed pool. Our final stop was Barnard Castle, in order to make Dominic Cummings jokes. (Yes, it’s a long way to go for a site/sight gag.)

On our last night we lit our private garden fire pit and leapt into a bubbling jacuzzi, beneath a silvery full moon. My daughter laughed as I finally donned my swimming goggles; not for a North sea plunge, but to dive headfirst into the complimentary cocktails.

Each room has a “crave tablet”, enabling guests to order anything, at any time. But all I craved was more time at Seaham Hall with my darling daughter.

Kids can be a great comfort in your old age… but they sure as hell make you reach it faster, too. Especially teenage girls taken hostage by their hormones. But, despite the exhaustion that comes with supervising digital detoxes, discouraging tattoos, side-boobs, piercings and the perception that Love Island contestants are role models, we Mums love our progeny unconditionally.

…Although, I’ve decided that there should be a few conditions. 1) Book your own driving lessons – no mother should have to go through the menopause and teach her child to drive at the same time. 2) If you ever lock us up in a Maximum-Security Nursing Home, there’s not a ghost of a chance we won’t haunt you. 3) A mini break with your Mum is the best Mother’s Day gift ever.

And for any mum enduring teen horrors, here’s my top tip. Next time your daughter hits you and kicks you and says, “I wish you’d just die?!” – take a big gulp of wine and a drag on your fag and reply “I’m doing my best darling.”

I hope all you British and American mums had a happy Mother’s Day – and for all my Aussie pals, there’s the time to plan a mini break with your beloved grown up offspring.

But don’t forget to take a good book…. If only I could think of one or two…Wait, for some reason “HRT – Husband Replacement Therapy” strangely springs to mind… Or “The Boy Who Fell to Earth” , “How to Kill Your Husband – and other handy household hints” or , more appropriately, my mother/ daughter comedy set back at Cronulla, “To, Love, Honour and Betray.”

God, I need a coffee now. It’s exhausting, dropping your own name! (Forgive my elephantiasis of the ego. It’s just that I have to pay for all those shoes I keep buying!)

Cheers for now, chums, Kathy xx

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