So here we are, it’s Mothers Day. I’m not sure it even existed when I was a kid, but these days, it’s the full commercial hooray hoopla: Show your mum how much you love her with these gold-plated diamond earrings. You’ve GOT to be kidding!
But it does make me think about my own mother. Not that I don’t think about her often, but the more blogs I read, the more grateful I am. Other mothers seem to have been decidedly unkind. I doubt my mother knew how.
She was born in 1905, the youngest of four in a household that was reasonably affluent at the time (though not later). Victorian standards were held dear, children were seen and not heard, and although by the time I lived with my grandmother for a year she had reputedly mellowed, she scared the hell out of me, so goodness knows how what affect she had on my mother 45 years earlier. Perhaps she was saved by the fact that maternal contact was limited.Surprisingly, though, she was allowed to go to Sydney University, where she met my father. Luckily for him, he was a friend of one of my mother’s cousins, which was probably the only thing that saved his bacon. He was definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, in my grandmother’s opinion, although my grandfather was apparently far more open-minded. And besides, they could hardly quibble when by the time he approached my grandfather for her hand in marriage (doing the right thing, you understand) he had just returned from two years at Oxford, where he got his D.Phil.
What wasn’t surprising was that my mother was not overly confident. Love and cuddles were not thrown around in Victorian upbringings, her brother was the golden child (not that it ever affected him, and my mother adored him), her eldest sister could look down her nose for Australia, and she had never been allowed to use her degree to teach, which she badly wanted to do. But the one thing she knew for certain was that her own children would have all the love and support that she had missed. And we did.
As I said earlier, I don’t think my mother knew how to be unkind. She was gentle, and loving. And we weren’t the only ones who adored her. Friends we brought home from school or university still remember her warmth and total acceptance as a highlight of that time. But she wasn’t a pushover. There was a Look that said No, you’ve pushed the boundaries too far, and you stepped back, because you respected her, and you respected her standards.
And then there was the other Look. In a family where the other four members could talk the legs off iron pots, my mother was the quiet one. But when she looked at you with that twinkle in her eye, you knew she’d followed every word, and that she knew you were talking total rubbish. Even hardened academics in full flight tended to stumble before that one, no doubt feeling sheepish that she’d seen through them so easily. But no one held it against her. They were more likely to become her devoted slaves. Perhaps they saw in her the mother they’d have liked to have.
My children sometimes accuse me of seeing my parents through rose-coloured glasses and thinking they were perfect. I don’t, and they weren’t. They made mistakes. But not one of the mistakes they made arose from unkindness, neglect, thoughtlessness or selfishness. And in my opinion, that’s as close to perfect as parents get.