I’ll admit it straight away – I was, and always will be, a Daddy’s girl. When I was little, I had him wrapped around my little finger; when Mum said no sweets, I’d turn my hazel eyes and dimpled face to Dad, and wait for that inevitable “oh alright then”. My first word was “Dad”, and I resolutely refused to say “Mum” for a little too long. It’s just one of those things, but luckily one that doesn’t always last forever.
My relationship with my father was always relatively easy – we have the same temperament, happy to sit in silence at the dinner table in each other’s company, whilst Mum says again and again “why aren’t you talking to each other?!”. It’s a quiet, strong, and secure relationship that I treasure incredibly highly; my Dad is an incredible man whom I trust and love beyond all else, and gave me a protected and wholesome childhood.
My relationship with my mother has always been slightly different. Our personalities are dissimilar, I always saw her and my sister as getting on better, and I think we often found each other frustrating. Whether or not that’s just down to the mother-daughter conflict, I’m not sure. But it’s just one of those things – a different way of interacting that takes time to mature and relax.
Now, I see my mother as an inspiration, a truly remarkable woman, whom I am only now beginning to fully appreciate both as an incredible parent, and a growing friend.
I’ve always known that Mum’s own childhood wasn’t all rainbows and lollypops – the youngest of four, growing up in 1960s South Africa, divorcing parents, and not the best economical circumstances. But I think all this made her the fiercely strong woman she is today, and I wouldn’t for a minute think any of these factors put her at any disadvantage. My parents had a whirlwind romance, marrying just 6 weeks after their first date (which was 1 week after they’d been properly introduced), and within three months Mum was pregnant with my sister. Surrounded by family, it was a surprise but they got on with it, and within months of my sister being born Dad was transferred to America with work. They packed and left everyone they knew, heading to Brooklyn, NY, with little money, and only a tentative work contract. Which fell through. And thus a year-long adventure in America began, my sister sleeping in a drawer, Dad getting a little work, and Mum getting to grips with raising a child in a country, culture, and community she didn’t know.
Returning to South Africa, it was another 5 ½ years before I came along – a bit of a change to my boisterous sister – and my parents made the decision to leave for England, again with Dad’s work. But this was for the benefit of mine and my sister’s futures, with more prospects and security in the UK than South Africa could ever offer. So Mum packed up again, leaving her family to travel far away, this time permanently.
When I think about it too much, I don’t quite know how she did it. Left with a 6 year old and a brand new baby whilst Dad went to work – often commuting for an hour or more each way – Mum set up house, found a school, and a work-from-home data analysis job. And thus went 15 years of my life.
Before getting married and having a family, Mum was a biology teacher in South Africa, and found teaching a passion. So once I was settled at secondary school and becoming more independent, Mum decided to return to teaching – and wasn’t prepared for the shock of the UK schooling system, and huge difference in discipline. The experience saw her drop 2 dress sizes in 6 weeks, and doctor’s advice was to stop straight away. It was difficult to watch, especially as she suddenly seemed adverse to all teenagers, but she came through it, and chalked it up to experience. Instead, Mum investigated administration – closer to the data analysis she’d become so proficient at – and following an IT course found herself within admissions at a university, where she has now been for 6 years and I’ve never seen her happier or more fulfilled in work.
What truly inspires me about my mother is her strength. Her abounding enthusiasm for life. Her fierce determination and protection over everything she encounters. There have been many heartbreaks – within the space of two years she lost a niece and her own mother, and just last year her eldest sister and life-line to back home in South Africa was taken by cancer. But through it all, she’s remained resolute, always trying to see the best in everything, loyal to the end with all her friends, and never giving up the hope of a better, ideal life. Through my own heartaches, disappointments, and frustrations, she’s been there – even when discussions have ended in tears and angry words, when I’ve thought she cannot possibly understand who I am and where I’m coming from, beneath it all she has never wavered, and has always come back with a hug and a cup of tea.
On the one hand, I’m a little sad it’s taken me this long to truly see her for the fantastic woman my mother is. But on the other, I’ve had to grow and develop my own ideas, both based on and separate from the way I’ve been brought up, and from there I have come to a place where I see my mother as my friend. At 21, a time when life is changing for me with graduation and the need for a real job looming, I think it’s the perfect time to now have someone else to turn to. Someone to talk to about adult life, a woman of experience and (whether or not I remember) understanding for everything I’m going through in all areas.
My mother is not perfect. She is not a saint, and she has made mistakes. But she has shown me never-ending love, protection, advice, and support throughout everything I’ve done, regardless of whether she agreed or not; even when I defied her ideal, she has never failed to encourage me. She has given me the best possible example of what a mother should be. I’ve always thought I lack maternal instincts, and it’s true that the idea of having my own children terrifies me – but I know that when that day comes, I could only hope and dream of being the same mother to my daughter, as my Mum has been to me.
Happy Mother’s Day Mum.