I woke up this morning to another Mother’s Day and thought about how lucky I am. Not because I am a mother, but rather because I have a Mother. I wish I could take credit for this inspired piece of wisdom but I can’t. That kudos goes to the incredibly gifted poet, Gwen Harwood, who wrote about it in “Mother Who Gave Me Life”: ‘It’s not for my children I walk/ on earth in the light of the living./It is for you, the wild daughters becoming women…’ Gwen knew how it worked a long time before I did. She was born ten years before my mum, raised four daughters of her own, philosophised about life and the passage of time and many other things, giving them voice in ways that I could only dream of. Thank God she did.
She also says ‘Forgive me the wisdom/ I would not learn from you.’ Don’t we collective mothers all know that one? And we know it better and better with the passage of time and the deepening of each well earned, well deserved, well honoured facial line? The first time I heard the words leave my mouth that my mother used to say to me, the same ones I swore a blood oath in my youth to never say to my own children (who I think were probably four at the time) I wanted to bite off my tongue. Then I wanted to apologise – to my mother. I haven’t stopped wanting to apologise to her since. In fact I apologise on a regular basis, whether she can hear me or not.
I have so much more to learn from my mother. I haven’t acquired her tremendous generosity yet. She tells me “I wasn’t so bad” even though I know I was, or that she “can’t remember” me “being difficult”. Ask my brother. He’ll tell you. He used to remind me of it constantly until only a few years back. Is that a part of the gaining of wisdom with the passage of time? Increased generosity I mean. I hope so. I truly do, because I aspire to be like my mother. She holds families together my mother. Geographically distant relatives will detour on holiday to drop in just to say ‘Hi’ to her. A lot of them will be related by marriage rather than by blood. She has a particular type of wisdom that is hard to describe – I’m no Harwood. My mother’s tough love kind of loyalty is measured out with a gilt spoon, velvet gloves and a steel strength. Oh, and legendary pasties, scones, the occasional divine quondong pie and bottomless cups of tea and coffee. Her fairy cakes and biscuits are right up there as well. Really, my mother’s cooking all round has been the stuff of family legend most of her life. She’s self deprecating and has no idea of either her levels of intelligence or power. It used to infuriate me, now (because fortunately as I’ve managed to clock up a few years some sense has settled in) I love her because the fact totally escapes her. Although, I wonder if perhaps she does get it and she just doesn’t care.
My mother didn’t just keep families together, she saved people. She still does. Not in the conventional way. Not in the way that either she or they knew it was happening. My mother has some sort of magic that quietly sits within the least quiet woman on the planet. It baffled me as a child why friends would gravitate to my house when they had far younger, trendier mothers. “But your mum is great!” they’d say as if I was an imbecile and go off to have a conversation in the kitchen of our tiny house with her. I’d look at her and just see my mother and try to imagine what I was missing. Nothing but insight as it turns out. I had it all. Our house may have been tiny but it was a Tardis when it came to packing in love and people and time for both.
Mum still gets regular gifts and cards: Mrs May Robertson, Broken Hill, Australia… The postmarks say ‘Amsterdam’. One of those school friends told me many years ago that this boisterous, creative, nurturing, fierce, loyal, stubborn, loving, four feet eleven inches of giant inspiration was more of a parent to her than her own had ever been. That may have been said in a time of youthful fancy or pain. Any mother of a teenager (and we’ve all been one) knows the rollercoaster of angst and myopic vision that can be. However, my mother held that girl together, she saved her, when neither of them knew it was happening. It made such an impact on my friend’s life that she keeps in touch with my mother more than she does with me. That’s the way it should be. She’s not the only person who my mother has saved. Her life’s journal is littered with them.
What a story. What a ripple effect she’s had and keeps having, but then that’s mothers for you. If I could write poetry like Harwood I still don’t think I could pay tribute to my mother in the way she did in her wonderful elegy. To capture the beauty of motherhood, the childhood memories of your own mother and shared relationship and the essence of the fabric of life through a mother’s existence, nurturing and wisdom is something that only the most gifted poets and writers can capture without cheesiness. So, today the best that I can do is to give thanks for my mother on Mother’s Day, and to say I remember how blessed I am for her existence and the existence of all the mothers who came before her to give me life.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mum. Happy birthday. Happiest of happy every days. May there be many more. I love you.
Originally dedicated to May Irene Robertson, 12 May 2013, by Ann Robertson.