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Motherless mothering

9 November, 2013

I offered to write some words on motherless mothering for someone’s book. She said she might use some or all that I’d written but either way I might find the exercise healing.

In my writing I didn’t feel anything much. I feel like I’m watching on unemotional. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too vulnerable to feel, I’ve processed the feelings or I’m just cold hearted.

I do miss my Mum though. It’s been nearly 30 years since she died. In the 13 years since I’ve been on the other side of the world from my family I have moments when I wouldn’t mind the family crap.

My Dad keeps telling me he’s getting on now at the age of 84. Because I am so bad at keeping in touch (I always feel like I’m imposing) I don’t see how he’s ageing.

Anyway, here’s a glimpse into my upbringing:

I have few memories of my Mum. I don’t know how much of that is due to my dodgy memory or down to the time with her being traumatised and therefore repressed.

I was an accident. My family were 11-16 years older than me and Mum was 40 years old when I was born. My Dad tried to convince me life began at 40. I wasn’t so easily pleased.

When I was born my Mum was already on epilepsy medication and therefore I was bottle fed.

I have memories of family dinners where I had the high stool at the table as we squashed around the table in the kitchen.

Mum would cook her roasts and I would grab a mustard spoon to eat the marrow from the lamb bone. There were always desserts on the weekend and her cooking notebook was well loved.

When I was 7 years old my life turned upside down. Mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour and I can recall her medications being an everyday part of our lives.

Mum had surgery which left a huge scar across her head, post cancer fluff grew back and she wore a wig when out.

I remember playing cards together, Rummy, Sevens, Whist, Canasta and being taught different games of Patience.

One vivid memory is trying to sit next to her in the armchair and struggling to squeeze my growing self alongside her.

As she grew less mobile we utilised home services like talking books and we regularly played them during the day.

My family, siblings, tell me Mum was strict and didn’t handle boisterous noise.

I remember her walking with a calliper on her right leg, walking with a tripod we called “Joey”, progressing to a wheelchair and having more people come to the house to help her.

Unfortunately some of the time I could get to know my Mum was taken from me as I was sent off to boarding school at the age of 10.

For two years I saw Mum once a month, when I went home or when they came to visit and we might go for a drive.

I came home from school in June and my sister had taken over some of Mum’s main care. She had lost a lot of her speech and used a board to tell us what she needed.

On September 14th I was up in my room when I suddenly ran downstairs to find out that Mum had just died. No one had called out. I just knew.

On September 15th I turned 13 and had the most people ever be around for my birthday.

Mum remained at home for “the wake” of two days. I couldn’t touch her.

Because I’d felt abandoned by my Dad I pulled back from him emotionally. I had two older sisters who tried to mother me but they moved on for different reasons.

When I was 16 Dad announced he was dating a woman and in September they got married merging two families of 5 kids in each.

My family had mostly moved on anyway but I was pulled away from my family home into this new “step family”.

My step Mum felt I was out to break up herself and Dad and I often heard her crying to him in their room at night.

The only time I ever felt accepted by her was when my oldest sister had to tell them I’d gotten pregnant. She held me as I cried. My Dad had a look of disgust.

She never supported me to keep the baby leaving the parenting to my Dad. I didn’t have anyone to talk with and I ended up feeling pressured to give my baby girl up for adoption.

At age 21 I was married due my own baby and starting our family. I wanted my kids close together like my siblings had been.

I had no idea about babies and no one to help me in those early days. As a new Mum I made so many mistakes with my son and it took until the first two were toddlers before I seemed to relax as a parent.

As a Mum I kept toys simple – a throw back to what I’d been brought up on. Blocks, simple wood, chunky plastic and Fisher Price toys.

Memories of playing with Tupperware came to mind. Playing in our old kitchen drawers, building forts in the lounge room and fantasy play in the garden emerged as my boys grew.

One thing I never seemed to be able to do was play WITH my kids. I didn’t seem to be able to do nonsense play, make a fool of myself and allow messy play.

I was always reluctant to let the kids paint, to cut up paper and boxes, to make and do, glue and create.

I always struggled to know why I didn’t cope so well with that. I’d the books you cut up, I’d colouring books, my brother had made me a cardboard boat that we nicknamed.

All I can think of is the trauma of the clean up stopped me somehow. I can remember helping fold the bed sheets, her at one end, me at the other as we worked together. Our house always seemed neat and tidy.

When we went on and had two more kids ourselves after a short interval I was a much more relaxed parent and when our girl was born we ended up moving to Australia from Ireland.

I guess I have ideals of what a Mum could be like. I watch other women and men with their Mum and I have a pang of loss and jealousy, a yearning for what I lost.

Once you lose your Mum there really is no replacing her. I have a friend whom I call my kids adopted grand parents but I’m so conscious that she has her own family and grand kids that she loves so much more than she would me and mine.

Due to my parent’s age when I was born my grand parents had died while I was young or before I was born. I hurt for my kids that they don’t have grand parents to spend time with.

Having moved around the world we don’t have family close by. We’ve had to create family around us and together. Unfortunately friends don’t stick around as much as family do with all their idiosyncrasies.

My life is a Swiss cheese of holes and other people don’t fill those spots. Mum can really only be replaced by Mum, not my step Mum or a friend.

Only our Mum whom we grow up with daily, through good days and bad, laughter and yelling can love us so unconditionally.

In my own parenting I have tried to nurture my kids. I get occasional hugs from my eldest but we always talk, time, coffee and phone calls together.

The middle boy is allergic to hugs and hates my closeness. We have learnt how to dance this mother son dance of life and we live alongside each other with him being ever so practical.

My youngest boy sits close to me (if not ON me) and I make sure I let him know he’s loved by hugs and words.

My daughter and I hug daily and I still pray with her at night when we have a brief chat about her day.

I love being a Mum. I hate the idea of not having my kids around. I generally enjoy who they are as people and spending time with them.

I have struggled with knowing when to stop having kids. We tried twice since moving to Australia but lost two babies.

I’d still love to be pregnant as I don’t really like other babies as much as my own but I am trying to get used to the idea that I can enjoy my grand children so much more in what could be the next season in our life (there’s no hurry).

Being a Mum is such a tough job. I’ve read many books, watched how other Mums have done it ahead of me, gone to mothers who have walked through the difficult times and gleaned new strategies from them.

If my Mum hadn’t been sick life would have been so different from now.

On a photoaday project I do we were told to take a photo of “Someone I miss”, I struggled to know if I missed my Mum or my idea of “my Mum”.

I wish I could I knew the woman better. I wish I could remember interacting with her more. I just seem to have an emptiness inside which I have learned to accept as a part of me.

I am very certain that I will not let my kids have an absent mother for as long as I am here. I try and be present, to enjoy the little conversations that only a Mum can have.

Being a Mum and knowing how well my kids will survive thanks to our relationship to release them to take chances in life fills me with love (and fear).

I’ve done the best job I can with the best mentors than I could find.


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