Last week I found out I need hearing aids. My family find this somewhat amusing. You see, my mum has hearing aids but she never wears them. Anyone who knows me, will have seen me foam at the mouth when talking about this annoying maternal trait.
Those who enjoy a more intimate acquaintance with me, will know Mum also has titanium hips. That she is not walking so well since the second operation. Her walking stick has recently been replaced by a shiny black aluminium frame. If you've had the good fortune to sit opposite me at a dinner party, you'll have heard me, glass of red in hand, saying:
She's only got herself to blame. She didn't do the exercises after her operation — and this is the end result.'
My very best friends will also know that Mum doesn't come to Melbourne anymore. She says my spare bed isn't comfortable enough.
'You can feel all the springs,' she said. 'And the boards beneath.'
Of course, this is both hurtful and embarrassing (you've heard the spiel), to have such a fussy mother. Who does she think she is, anyway? The Princess and the Pea!
These past weeks, however, I have found my self-assurance unravelling. My speeches distorting like an old cassette-tape disappearing into the workings of an out-moded machine.
It started with a visit from Canberra.
Seth's girlfriend Monique was turning twenty-one and, although he doesn't like to talk about it, Andy McCann was about to hit the big three zero. Jack and Ness decided they didn't want to miss out on the party fun. The bed was already set up. No flies on our backs. We have a spare room since Phoebe married, with a good mattress, despite Mum's princess propensities. We made up a second bed on the floor and anticipated a fantastic weekend.
I had no idea a mushroom cloud was looming.
But anyone who knows my daughter-in-law, will know she is direct. After one night on that spare bed she hit us with the truth.
'You need a new bed. That mattress is crap. You can feel the springs. And the boards beneath.'
Well! What could I say? Ness is tough. She has absolutely no princess delusions. If she says my mattress is crap, it must be. No point arguing. We'd have to get a new one, but darned if I was going to tell Mum straight off.
Unfortunately, the Karma Police weren't finished with me.
Mum has been pretty sick this year, with pneumonia and an infection in the lining of her lungs. She's had two extended stays in hospital and, although I've been trying to keep up with the hospital visits, my brother Ian decided it was time to take a turn on the carer's front. He flew home for ten days. We were chatting on the phone one evening, shortly after Mum had been discharged from hospital, when he said:
'Mum had a letter today, Liz. About her hip.'
'Yes?' I said, wondering what this had to do with me.
'Apparently the second hip's faulty. There's been a product recall.'
'You there, Liz?'
Oh yes, I was there. I'd been haranguing Mum since that second operation. Urging, begging, coaxing and cajoling her to do the exercises. Go for a walk. Get motivated. Ignoring her quavery old lady excuses.
'Something's wrong, Liz. It's just not working.'
Now I knew why.
As if'd been hit on the head with a brick.
They say things come in threes. I should have feared the worst. But I'd had hearings tests before. This was in fact the third one in ten years. I knew what to expect.
'A degree of hearing loss, Mrs Corbett, but not enough to require intervention.'
Nevertheless, I didn't take the outcome for granted. I closed my eyes in that little carpeted testing room and concentrated really hard. I picked up every sound. Answered every question. At the end of the session, I looked up smiling.
'You need hearing aids,' the audiologist said.
'But ...,' my smile faltered. 'I heard all the sounds.'
'Yes,' she said. 'But I had to turn the machine up really
Of course, the family think it's hilarious. A perfect twist of fate. On Skype, Jack and Ness could hardly contain their mirth.
'Pardon?' They said. 'What's that? We can't hear you.'
'Hey!' I said. 'Don't make fun of me, I'm now officially hearing impaired.'
'You'll have to wear them,' Jack said, grinning. 'No excuses. Even if they're uncomfortable.'
'Alright,' I said, face glum in the little Skype pane. 'You don't have to lecture me.'
It was time to ring Mum. She already knew about the bed. Someone had squeaked. She had ceased gloating about her hips, telling all and sundry it wasn't her fault. But this was something else. It was going to make her day.
'Hey Mum,' I said. 'Guess what. I have to get hearing aids.'
'Pardon dear? You'll have to speak up?'
'Yes, sorry. I haven't got them in.'
'No, Mum. Listen! It's me. I'm getting them.'
'Yes, Mum, me.'
'I'm getting old. I'll need a walking frame soon.'
Another pause. Followed by a chuckle on the end of the line.
'Don't be silly, dear. You'll get a walking stick first.'
That's the other part of my speech. The bit I always leave out. Mum mightn't be able to walk very well, and she certainly can't hear, but her sense of humour is top notch.