The older I get the more I realise how truly remarkable my mum actually is. As a teenager I was extremely critical of her. I honestly thought she was annoying and out of touch and downright ignorant. We had some shocking fights over the years, of which I am now ashamed. I cursed her. Screamed at her. Treated her like the scum of the earth. Now, I’m not sure I could survive without her. She is my number one hero.
The other day I was overcome by the urge to tell her and here’s what I wrote:
I just need you to know how much I love you and esteem you.
It’s taken me a very long while to realise how completely awe-inspiring you are. 26 years in fact. But after a little growing up of my own, I can finally see you as you truly are. You are a strong woman and a strong-willed woman. You are smart and street smart. Wise and warm and generous. You are loyal to the very core and you are ready to fight for those close to you. Indeed, you fought hell for me. As a young woman, you were well ahead of your time. You were (and still are) a little bit crazy. But mostly you are wonderful. I am so proud I can say that YOU are MY mum. You are an inspiration and I respect you completely.
Firstly, at the age of 18 you packed your bag and moved to Paris. That is possibly one of the scariest and gutsiest things a young woman can do. You arrived without a place to go, without a job, without a friend in the world. Mum, you didn’t even know the language. And you were 18. You were barely even legal.
I remember you once telling me that it was hard going for a while. I imagine that’s quite an understatement. I moved to London almost a year ago and it’s been a real challenge. That’s despite the fact that I already had friends and family living here, I arrived with an amazing man by my side and I actually spoke the language. How did you do it Mum? You told me this story once and I still think about it sometimes…
You said that on New Year’s Eve after you arrived, you were sat in your tiny little apartment accompanied only by a bottle of champaign. But you couldn’t open it. And all you wanted to do was drink a glass of champaign at the stroke of midnight. You weren’t asking for much. You weren’t asking for a big party with fireworks and cocktails and canapés, you weren’t even asking for a friend to celebrate with. I imagine you would have been cold and lonely, possibly still jobless, and frustrated. Incredibly frustrated. So you cried. You cried your poor little eyes out. But instead of falling down a hole of despair and self-pity, you scrambled around for a pencil and on the back of a scrap of paper you wrote down all the things that you were grateful for. I don’t know what you wrote. And I don’t know if you ever managed to open that damned bottle of champaign. But I do know that you are one tough little cookie, because the story doesn’t end there. You picked yourself up and got on with it.
You had the tenacity and courage to find a job and an apartment on the Champs Elysees. You found friends. You started parachuting for crying out loud! And eventually, you found your very own Frenchman who loved you and adored you and begged you to marry him.
In many ways, you were well ahead of your time. Dad has told me how you felt about marriage before he convinced you to finally take the plunge. You were simply not interested. You told him that everyone you knew who was married was either unhappy or getting divorced. So at a time when many women were desperate to tie the knot and settle down early, you were making up your own mind about an institution that was and still is largely ingrained in everybody else’s. You went your own way. You were free thinking. You thought for yourself.
But Dad pled and kept pleading. He promised to do all the housework and all the cooking and cleaning. He assured you married life would not mean you have to be unhappy. He requested that you wear a wedding ring for a few weeks to see if it made any difference to your life. It didn’t, you said, except that people called you “Madam” instead of “Mademoiselle”. And just 6 months after you met, you got exchanged vows.
Again, you were ahead of your time. You didn’t care for a lavish celebration and a great deal of fanfare. You opted instead for a registry office. You didn’t care for a big white dress. You wore a ruby red skirt suit. There were 9 guests. I don’t even know if you all went out afterwards for a meal or a drink. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t the point. You were doing things your own way. You are a practical woman and it was a practical wedding.
Pretty much straight away you moved to Australia. Because hey, why not? Once again you had to start from scratch, with no job, no home, no money. You said you landed with a suitcase, $1000 cash, and a parachute. It was meant to be your honeymoon, but you stayed for good. And somehow, you made it. You made a life for yourself in your typical superwoman fashion. BAM. Found a job. BAM. Made friends. BAM. Found a home (and used your parachute as the security deposit, since that’s all you had). All the while, you helped Dad learn English. Did I mention superwoman? You knew what you had to do and you just got on and did it. With flare. I respect and admire that.
Next, you had children. Yet again you paved your own way, even with that. While most women had children in their early to mid-20s, you waited until your 30s. You weren’t ready before that and so you waited. You were ahead of your time. Only now, two decades later, are women choosing to have children later. It’s almost considered a form of liberalisation, empowerment. Both of which, describe you so well!
But once it was on, it was really on – three kids in three years! I deeply respect your decision to have children in your 30s. I get that. And I also sympathise that it must have been challenging bringing up three toddlers at once. But I think I will have to have children myself before I genuinely understand how amazing that feat was, and still is.
I think back at all the things you’ve done. All the places you’ve lived. All the risks you took. All your triumphs. And I just think, geez my mum is unbelievable. I have had this inspiring, strong, wonderful power woman right next to me my entire life and I never even realised.
Mum, I’m also writing to apologise. There have been many, many peaks and troughs over the years, but you were always there for me with open arms and an open heart. Somewhere deep down my heart has always been safe and secure and rested upon that knowledge. You were, and are, a rock. And I dismissed you. I’m sorry for taking you for granted. For all the times I showed you disrespect, defied you, fought with you. And I thank you for taking me back. Over and over and over again. You have loved me more than I loved myself and I count you as a best friend, a mentor and a confidant.
Forever in awe of you,