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Janey Southey with Tabatha.

"Children like to talk on the phone," my mother told me when I asked her for a piece of baby advice, belatedly, as my children aren't babies any more. "I found calling Dial-A-Prayer and giving the phone to the child amused him for a while. He'd chatter away."

It felt like baby advice from another era to me.

Do they still have Dial-A-Prayer? I wondered. But then my mother never had to tell me how to raise my babies. I, of course, got to learn how to raise babies by watching her.

I've heard people describe what it's like to be in the presence of a very gifted politician – one of the naturals, as they're sometimes called, the ones who connect with people instantly and with great intensity, seemingly relishing every minute of the encounter.

It's rare, I understand, and something of a phenomenon to witness.

More than one person has told me, for example, that when you're in a room with Bill Clinton and he turns his attention toward you, you are the only person in that room.

My mother is the Bill Clinton of babies.

I was two years younger than my eldest brother (two more brothers followed) and my parents were very young when we were born.

"We were so poor," my mother said to me as we both looked after my one-year-old niece, Alicia Peach, last weekend, "that we owned nothing of any value. That was quite relaxing," she added, moving a vase from Alicia Peach's beady eye line "There was almost nothing to worry about."

My parents were students and as I remember it, we had everything and, with not much else going on, my brother and I were my parents' entertainment. We weren't so much spoiled, in fact not at all, as we were exorbitantly enjoyed.

I was told to "shut up or I'll give you something to cry about" by my father, I was spanked and yelled at, and forced to eat those beans the colour of human toes – such were the times – but my mother, at 23, had the patience of a grandmother and such con-stancy.

Somehow my mother always managed to make me feel, even when she was yelling at me, and tired from work, and dinner wasn't even started yet, that there was nothing in the world at that moment she'd rather be doing than standing right there, in that slab of student housing, and yelling at my naughty self.

What more could a naughty child ask for?

I watched my mother last week enjoying Alicia Peach in the un-possessive, respectful way she has with babies.

She is a grandmother now, has grown into that patience. She's older, and three weeks past her last treatment for cancer, diagnosed in September, and what struck me, seeing them together was that while in the presence of that baby – an artist working in her medium – my mother still had the energy of a 23-year-old as well.

"I don't really do regrets," she said in answer to the question I'd been asked to ask her, "I prefer to give advice."

"But it's my job … " I said.

"Well, I suppose, if I must have one," she said, "it's that I only wish you'd been identical triplets."

As if I wasn't feeling lucky enough.