this (en­ti­tled) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jean-marie Men­zie

I HATE my own kind. I am a 39-year-old woman who has no job to go out to. My chil­dren are all in pri­vate schools and I go to the gym three times a week, which re­sults in drop­ping off or pick­ing up chil­dren in all-black sports cloth­ing.

I drive a four-wheel-drive that has never seen a coun­try road, let alone mud. I have the time to lunch when I wish to with my like-lifed friends and time to look up recipes each day to cook each night that have the cor­rect mix of pro­tein, car­bo­hy­drate and greens. When the kids come home from school I ask them about their day while sip­ping a cheeky pinot I found at the dar­ling new wine store that just opened up.

What sets me apart from the rest of the women lined up at the school-pick up in their Audis and Mercedes and BMWs? Ar­ro­gance. I’m not them. ‘‘I’m still Jeanie from the block!’’

My mother raised seven chil­dren alone. In houses that had no more than three bed­rooms and one bath­room. She put us all through Catholic school. She drove a tiny old car that dou­bled as a garbage dump.

How­ever, there was al­ways a meal on the ta­ble. In fact, two dif­fer­ent meals, as my older broth­ers still ate like it was 1947 and white bread and chops and eggs were their sta­ple. She saved the brown rice and skim milk for her less fussy girls.

The woman could spread a 1.5kg lamb roast at Easter through­out her ex­tended fam­ily, with no one left feel­ing hun­gry. Ex­cept me, be­ing the youngest, whom she com­pletely for­got to feed one year. Not for a year. Just once. One Easter. When she was feed­ing 30 oth­ers. I don’t let her for­get it.

She rarely turned up to our sport. Never did tuck shop. Never did the parish priest’s wash­ing. (Why any­one would do that is be­yond me. What­ever parish chick was do­ing that must have re­ally sinned.) She didn’t need to be ‘‘seen’’ any­where.

She had a best friend who ful­filled the role of ‘‘per­son I can swear about my chil­dren to’’. In fact, she said ‘‘shit’’ only once. In 1987. Must have been a tough week. And we were dread­ful chil­dren. Well, I wasn’t, but the oth­ers were. I can’t even go into what they got up to as teenagers and young adults. Yet she still speaks to us all and just smirks when we lament our chil­dren’s mis­deeds.

So, I won­der, is she jeal­ous? Does she look at us all swan­ning around like we are just about to do some­thing fab­u­lous in our fab­u­lous houses with our fab­u­lous fam­i­lies and think, ‘‘If only’’?

Hell no! She is about to turn 78 and lives the life she loves. She goes to watch the films she wants. Dines at beau­ti­ful restau­rants. Trav­els, sees con­certs and goes to gal­leries. She vis­its us all when she wants. I look at her and think this woman looks happy in her­self. She’s con­tent in her own skin. She epit­o­mises el­e­gance and grace with a down-to-earth un­der­tone.

Per­haps ‘‘Jeanie from the block’’ could do with think­ing about her mum’s mother­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the same age next time she worries that it may be an­other six months be­fore we can get din­ing chairs for the fab­u­lous new over­sized French provin­cial ta­ble on which she serves the fam­ily home­made pear and pro­sciutto pizza. And to think Mum didn’t even need a shiny black 4WD or Ly­cra to get her to this ex­cel­lent place in her world.

PS: She can still scare the word she said in 1987 out of us all with just one dis­ap­pointed glare.

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