Thursday, 30 May 2013

Home remedies

I'm crying about almond oil.

Specifically, the memories evoked by popping a few gently warmed drops of it into my eldest's poorly ear.  It was one of my Grandma's trusty remedies for ear-ache.  I can't tell you the number of times I would go to her as a child, crying about an ear ache or sore throat or any of the usual childhood illnesses, and she would soothe it with a homespun remedy.  Almond oil for ears, cloves for throats, ginger ale for feeling sick. The latter never failed to make me throw up (I guess her intention was just to speed up the process and end that awful period when you know you're going to be sick?!) and I still feel a bit queasy now when I smell or taste it.  Of course, I had no idea while I was growing up that these remedies weren't the norm.  They weren't entirely wacky, and my folks were by no means against going to the doctor or using conventional medicine in addition, but for the everyday niggles that cause me to reach for Calpol, my Gran had other answers.

My sister and I had the privilege of growing up with a live-in Grandma.  When my parents needed her help with childcare so that my Mum could return to work, my Gran sold her house in Karachi and moved to the UK to live with us.  I wish I could remember the Karachi house.  I've been told so many great stories about it.  My favourite is that of my Gran potty training me, both of us sat underneath her mango tree.  Me on the potty, her on a little wooden stool, which I've now inherited.  I had sweet notions of sitting on the stool while I potty trained my own children, but the dear British weather and my lack of gardening skills could never quite recreate such grand settings (the above pic is A mango tree, not THE mango tree, sadly).  I can't tell you too much about Gran because I wouldn't know where to start, but she was wonderful.

We lost Grandma unexpectedly to a stroke, the week before my eldest was due.  She passed away a week later, my Mum calling to tell my husband just as he was calling to tell her that I was experiencing the very first twinges of labour.  You might call it beautiful.  Generally, I do.  But sometimes, I'm still caught by the rawness of that grief, the sense of being cheated out of an amazing source of wisdom and comfort just as I needed it most.  You never know how long you'll have someone for, and you never think to ask them for all their advice, remedies and wisdom upfront - how could you?  I remember asking my Gran for one of her recipes, and she duly described it all to me, right down to 'use this much chilli powder', indicating with her thumb against the tip of her forefinger.  I wish I'd at least taken a ruler out and measured how much forefinger!  I suppose that's the thing.  These days we have so much information at our fingertips, science has provided so many answers, overturned so many rules that our parents lived by.  She would find it hysterical that I want to know how many millimetres of chilli powder to use, or what temperature exactly I was supposed to warm the almond oil to.  Like the whole 'check the baby's bath water with your elbow' rule that has supposedly been 'bettered' by the invention of baby bath thermometers etc, it's all got a bit complicated, hasn't it?

Maybe that's why I struggled so much to feel what I thought was maternal instinct coming through at first.  I knew I had heaps of love, I just didn't know exactly how warm to make the milk.  I think I thought the latter was about instinct.  It's only now, with the benefit of dear old hindsight and his wonderful friend sleep, that I can see it didn't really matter, so long as no-one was getting scalded.  Our babies were loved and loved and loved - that was the instinct part.  At times they were wept over, puzzled over, and studied with a sweet bewilderment - we took it all very seriously.  But while we were taking it seriously, reading the books, swotting up on the milestones, our boys merrily did their own thing.  Ate, pooped, grew, became little people.  And it all became a little easier.  A little less dramatic.  I still have plenty of moments of wondering what on earth a grown up would do in a given situation, but I'm learning that on the whole, my instincts aren't steering our little team too far wrong.  So the almond oil is joining the Calpol in the medicine cabinet.  An addition which makes me feel oddly proud.  If my eldest's ears drop off overnight, I'll let you know.

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