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lynda shepherd write on! showcase short story

Family Challenges

by Lynda Shepherd


Spaghetti bolognese and a school letter had brought me here. Well, my own stubborn streak might have had something to do with it. Olivia, my daughter, hadn’t intended for me to read the school’s letter. Their correspondence, like takeaway menus, were junk mail to her. We’d rowed often because of it.

“Mum, what are you doing?” Olivia said, as the front door slammed shut.

“Er, cleaning.”

“So, shimmying helps you clean what exactly? What’s for dinner?” my teen asked. School bag dumped, she slumped down on the sofa, looking at her mobile.

“Why don’t you take your bag upstairs?” I countered, but she just continued to look at her screen. “Olivia, now please!”

“What about dinner?”


“I can only cook one dish, its hardly going to be a surprise.”

“Ah, but you didn’t know you would be cooking it this evening.”

Olivia rolled her eyes at me but got up, kicking her bag and its contents across the floor as she marched to the fridge freezer. I gathered up her possessions, annoyed I’d partially given in again.

“Mum, where’s the mince?”

“Freezer drawer,” I called back.

“Can’t find it.”

Surprise, surprise. Putting down the bag and a letter I’d found on a barstool, I went over. Olivia stood there, fingers drumming the work surface.

“Ok, let’s see.”

Mince found, I sat on down and flattened out a letter bearing the St Mary’s Crest. ‘Help Us Raise Funds For Comic Relief’, its heading implored. Olivia put a pan on the hob with the mince, found some garlic, herbs and red onion to add to the mix. Suddenly, the chopping stopped.

“What are you reading?”

“Have a look.”

“Mum, that’s my mail.”

“It’s addressed, ‘Dear Parent’. Why don’t you take part?”

She raised her eyebrows at me before stomping off.


Half an hour later I knocked on her door.


“Come on, I’ll do something, too.”

“What are you going to do, Mum? Dance?”

“If that’s what it takes, I could do a danceathon!”

“I’ll bake, then.” My daughter said through the still-closed door; Olivia who had an hour earlier admitted the only thing she knew how to cook is Spag Bol. It appeared she got her blind pride from me.


After that day, it felt like we barely spoke over the following weeks. Olivia wouldn’t let me help her with her baking, more arguments followed.

“I just want to help darling,” I said during a practice run.

“Mum, your last Victoria sponge looked like a Jammie Dodger.”

“That’s not very nice, Olivia.”

Usually, I took the teasing over my baking in my stride, but just then it stung. Grumpily, I attempted to fill a watering can for my house plants, but found I couldn’t as the sink was so full it resembled a drystone wall made of Pyrex.

“Anyway, Granny’s coming round in a bit. She’s found an amaze-balls’ icing idea for the cupcakes on YouTube.”


So that’s how I ended up here, under a marquee with eleven other mums. We’re all wearing Deeley boppers and red nose t-shirts. My daughter is outside selling cupcakes. All my joints hurt, despite my regular intake of cod liver oil and having eaten what felt like a months’ worth of pasta cooked by my mother-in-law last night. The eyebrows went up again when I looked puzzled at my mountainous portion. Apparently, I was carb-loading; all the top athletes do it, my teen informed me with the sage-ness of someone who has the internet never far from their fingertips.

I haven’t thought this through. Something I’m always reminding Olivia about, but I’m just as bad. I haven’t been awake for this long in a single stretch since Olivia was teething. On a big screen down the front, Davina whatever-her-name-is is visiting a homeless shelter for Comic Relief. She’s meeting a girl wearing dirty jeans and a Rollin’ Stones t-shirt. It’s her birthday, we’re told via subtitles; she’s fifteen. Ellie is her name, and she’s the same age as Olivia but looks older, but not because of any make-up. Three months on the street had done this. She doesn’t say where she’s from or why she’s not at home under a duvet on social media like so many her age. She says she misses sketching with her mum in their garden.

This tips me over the edge. My face feels damp despite not being out in the elements. An unusual emotion to experience when dancing the Macarena.


I’m still not sure I’ll make it to the last song, although there’s not long left now. I can’t remember what it was supposed to be. I have to finish; for all the Ellie’s out there. By the grace of god, go I and my Olivia. The other mum’s and I have all learnt dance routines using our teens’ game consoles and a chosen playlist.

Olivia appears in the crowd, near the marquee opening, but by time I’m facing her direction again, I can’t see her or Dave, who’s supposed to be looking after the electrics.  Suddenly, the music changes, all the mums sit in a line one behind the other and the Deeley boppers threaten to become a health hazard as I realise what’s about to happen.

Now though, as I see my daughter walk over, I don’t care. Kerry shuffles forward in front of me to accommodate Olivia joining us for the final dance: ‘Oops Outside Your Head’.

I realise that we may say a lot of things, but actions speak louder than words.



Copyright Lynda Shepherd 2020


Lynda wrote Family Challenges to coincide with fundraising efforts around Sports Relief Day. If you would like to donate, you can do so here. It will also be appearing in print in #writeon magazine, out on 2nd April!

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I realise that we may say a lot of things, but actions speak louder than words.