My mother was a science teacher. She taught chemistry, but I think biology was her first love. This meant I always had to wait ages after school for a lift home as it takes a long time to clean up a science laboratory and prepare for the experiments of the next day.
I sat in the passenger seat (or more often stood leaning against a tree near the car, feigning nonchalance “who, me? Oh no my mother isn’t a teacher, I’m just hanging here.”) watching the French, the German, the English and the maths teachers come out the staff room door with their bags, climb into their cars and drive home. And still no sign of Mum.
Finally, bag rattling with pipettes and test tubes and arms full of copies to correct, she came down the steps and we hit the road. Me sulking about the wait but relieved that it was so late I didn’t have to wave at any fellow pupils, knowing that after we drove past someone would say, “Is that her mother?”
At home, the biology lessons continued. Absolutely no bodily functions were considered unmentionable in our house. Mum was consistently practical, knowledgeable and mortifying.
“It’s natural! We all have bottoms!”
“Everyone gets PERIODS! (Why don’t you say it a bit louder Mum? I don’t think they heard you in Malahide.”)”
“Constipated? Have some prunes! And water! “Paul, are those prunes still in the cupboard? Lucy’s CONSTIPATED!”
Diahorrea? Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!” Lucy’s got THE RUNS!”
I remember the very first time I realised I wasn’t entirely comfortable with her body-friendly attitude. She was on the phone to one of her sisters and outlining the details of my latest rash (I was a rashy child.)
“Poor Lucy! Her eyes are all swollen and the rash has gone right inside her bottom!”
I stopped scratching to give her an agonised look and whisper “Don’t tell!”
Enough was enough. Was nothing sacred?
“Oh no! She’s asking me not to tell you! Poor Lucy! Isn’t she funny!”
That was probably the first time I raised my eyes to heaven and muttered something not very complimentary about Mum.
As I grew up, I learnt that not every home was like mine. Some people’s parents never mentioned bowel movements. Others never even said the word toilet. But along with their more attractive prudery, they also didn’t have her knowledge. Being cared for by someone who knew how the body worked was an education. And when I had my own kids, everything that had been cringingly shouted down the stairs in my childhood home came back to me. And it was very, very handy. Knowing when to get the antihistamine, the ibuprofen, the fluids, the fig rolls and the Echinacea is in my blood. And I have mum to thank for it.
And yes, the rash was inside my bottom. You hadn’t heard? Well, spread the word! It’s natural!