Our office could have served as a poster for the City of Westminster ‘Some things you only do when you’re drunk‘ campaign yesterday as several people turned up wearing the same outfits as the day before. I had (sadly) missed out on all the fun (I was spared the hangover though) so I felt the need to share my bananas and the toiletries samples that were handed out on the tube the other day to boost the morale. Helena had also just returned from holidays in Greece bringing lots of sweet treats for the crowd (that was originally not that enthused – chocolate does not fare well in a stomach recovering from a hangover, bananas are not ideal either).
As one of the co-workers made references to mothers and our attempts to take care of people, he asked ‘Is it a Greek thing?’ To answer to that I would have to open the big book of concepts to the big, massive chapter that is called ‘Greek mums’. A chapter as complicated as organic chemistry and as simple as the alphabet’s A-Z. If Oxford University’s All Souls College had decided to make its historic and now axed one-word entrance essay about Greek mums (yes, I realise that that is two words but in Greek it would have simply been mums; it’s English that makes it all more complicated), my essay would be somewhat like this:
Greek mums bring the most beautiful babies into the world. When they’re still young, they tell them the story of Mother Grouse and Mother Owl: Mother Grouse and Mother Owl were taking their babies to the same nursery. When Mother Grouse couldn’t bring food to Baby Grouse, she asked the Owl to do her a favour and take some bread to her but Mother Owl didn’t know how to spot the little grouse in the crowd. Mother Grouse assured her that it was the easiest thing in the world, as her baby was the most beautiful one in the nursery. When Mother Owl returned with the lunch intact, the Grouse was met with a disarming response: ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I was trying to find your baby for all this time but I couldn’t find a prettier baby in the nursery than Baby Owl’.
Greek mums worry about how much food their babies are having. They compare the millilitres of milk they have with other mums and many years later, when their babies are grown enough to have their own babies, they still remember how much milk they were having and point out ‘this much’ pretending they’re holding a baby bottle.
Greek mums make you wear shoes you don’t like when you’re a kid. You go shopping with them and you realise you’re not going to get your way. Dictators can be less rigid when Greek mums have something in their head. They will always get their way.
Greek mums make you eat your food telling you stories about the bad policeman or the gypsy man who is going to take you away if you do not finish your food. They tell you that you should be happy you have this nice food to eat when there are poor kids in Africa who are praying for a pint of milk.
Greek mums give you your lunch pack in aluminium foil and plastic bags which you’re too embarrassed to bring out in the courtyard in front of the other kids. They pick up your grades at school and either gloat with pride like the Mother Owl or tell you stories of how unsuccessful you’re going to be in life if you get a B in maths.
Greek mums stay at home when you’re sick. They make you soup and flick the thermometer to take your accurate temperature. They keep doing that even after a week has passed and your cheeks are rosier than roses in the summer.
Greek mums wait until you’ve finished your call to ask you who you were speaking to and what about. Occasionally, they pick up the phone too pretending they didn’t know you were talking to someone. That’s a lie – they always know.
Greek mums drive you to your friends’ parties and come to pick you up. Even if you’re 19, they will still do it.
Greek mums hide the shopping bags from angry dads and give you extra pocket money to buy that new pair of trainers that you really like. When they get mad at you, they tend to bring that to the argument: ‘Ego ftaio’ (It’s all my fault.) ‘I’ve spoiled you, doing you every favour you ask me to. Now if your dad finds out, I’m going to get in trouble.’
Greek mums are there to listen to your troubles when your friends disappoint you and your love interests won’t return the attention. They tell you that you’re too good for them and one day someone is going to see you for who you are. They do that when you’re aged 12. And 15. And 19. And 25. And 33.
Greek mums worry more about your school exams than the upcoming elections. They announce your grades to their friends and treat all of them on the day you find out you’re going to college. They talk about your university as if they’re taking the course with you, they know how many exams you still have to pass. A few years later, this is not something they’re very happy about. They tell you that if you don’t finish uni, you’ll have no career prospects and you’ll end up working as a cashier in the super market – ‘is that what you want?’
Greek mums will be sure to ask you if you’ve packed everything for the holidays you’re not spending with them any more. In the past, they were packing for you so you didn’t have to care about details like that.
Greek mums cry at your graduation. They cry the first time they have to leave you in a new house, in a new city or in a new country. Change is something a Greek mum is not equipped to deal with immediately, she needs to take her time.
If you want to spot a Greek mum in any university campus, look for the cleanest curtains in halls. She is behind the miracle called clean windows. She is the one who sends the parcels of meat, tzatziki and olive oil and who’s bought that bottle of carpet cleaner that’s still intact under the kitchen sink.
Greek mums talk with their kids on Skype. They think they can tell everything about you from that little video image on their screen: You’ve lost weight/your eyebrows need shaping/your clothes are wrinkly, don’t you iron them?
Greek mums call you at precisely the same time every evening. If by any chance, you miss that call, you’re met with a number of unanswered calls and answer phone messages that scream ‘I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU, WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?’
Greek mums mark their calendars with the date that their kids are coming back home. They already know what they’re cooking that day, what bedclothes they’re going to put on the bed, which carton of juice they’re supposed to buy.
Now that chapter on Greek mums could go on forever. And it does go on forever. But for another reason.
The reason is that Greek mums have a way of sneakily passing on their traits to the next generations. Before you know it, you’re 25, living in a different country and you’re making your friends finish the food you’ve cooked because food is a terrible thing to waste and there are people starving in this world. You criticise people’s cleaning habits (you never used to care before) and leave messages in distress when you can’t reach your loved ones.
Jesus, I’m becoming my mother!
And I’ve definitely failed the All Souls exam.