On Mothers Day
As the nation prepares to celebrate the fierce irrational force that is motherhood, I think of Mum’s last words to me – “What would you know?”
The hospice people had done all they could. Her body rattled with cancer. Alone in the room with her, I’d stroked her hair and whispered something banal like “You’re doing well”. It was just to fill the silence between each ragged breath, to let her know she wasn’t alone.
She wasn’t a conventional mother. By today’s standards she was practically scurrilous. She smoked and drank and took a least one lover. Benign neglect was her parenting style. I adored her.
“Don’t waste your talent,” she’d say, drop dead gorgeous through a haze of cigarette smoke. “It’s the best story in the Bible, the man who threw away his talents and regretted it.”
While she hadn’t exactly neglected her talents, she’d definitely compromised them for her demanding-though-not-meaning-to-be family. If it hadn’t been for us, or the War, she’d have gone to England and become a famous singer like Kathleen Ferrier.
She wasn’t fully alive unless starring in one of the Operatic Society productions. Her performance as Bloody Mary in South Pacific was legendary.
During World War Two, when most of the men in her country town were sent overseas, she took a job as a reporter in the local newspaper. She thrived on the challenge and excitement.
The reference she was given when she left the newspaper to get married sits in a frame on top of my bookshelf. It says she developed a sense of news values that “would have done credit to a male reporter of greater experience.”
Like many women of her generation, she was expected to repress her intellect and enjoy baking scones. I sometimes felt a responsibility to make up for her frustration, to at least try and make the most of what ability I had.
Yesterday, ferreting through outdated cough lollies in my bedside chest I unearthed an old Walkman with a crackled recording of Mum singing. Though the song’s maudlin, her voice is rich and deep.
Mothering is an inexact science. We all do our best, and none of us achieves perfection. The power of maternal love still astonishes me. I’d throw myself under a bus for any of my kids. Mum would‘ve probably done the same for me – providing she was wearing makeup, and a corset.
But what would I know?