We grew up in an old red brick farmhouse in the suburbs. It had once owned much of the land surrounding it, which in the early 1900s had been filled with orchards. The house had various extensions, a wood fired oven, an overgrown garden and many, many places to hide. With each subsequent daughter of my own, the more I think about and appreciate my mother, taking care of us in that big old house while Dad was at work, and my admiration for her only continues to grow.
I am the eldest of four girls. Mum was a full time stay at home mother until I was ten years old when she began her part time career in social work. My childhood memories are calm and peaceful. I don’t remember things being busy or chaotic, yet I look around at my own life with these small ladies and wonder how that could possibly be so.
A few weeks ago I had an older cousin visit whom I haven’t seen in a number of years. “Do you still like butter?” she asked. “I love butter!” I said, a little too enthusiastically (who doesn’t?), wondering where this line of questioning was going. She explained that when I was a child I used to ask Mum if I could have some butter, and apparently she would cut squares from the block and let me eat them. The shock! The horror! Parenting seems so serious these days.
I often talk to Mum about what it was like for her back then, with four of us under her feet. She told me that after she had taken us all to school and kinder and so on she would move around the house making all the beds, and before making each one she would curl up in it and close her eyes for just a few minutes before moving to the next. Back in those days she drank nescafe by the bucket load and cafes were out of the question. Whenever we went somewhere on weekends she would always pack sandwiches (vegemite), apples (lots), muesli bars (no frills), bottles of water (tap) and a thermos (of nescafe) for her and Dad. At the beach the sandwiches would get sand in them and would crunch between your teeth.
By the time I was in VCE Mum and Dad had divorced. Mum went back to uni to study law. It took her years to finish it, and while I was at uni she was still also studying. I have a vivid memory of her hunched over the old desk in her bedroom overlooking the front garden, with piles of law books on either side of her. I remember her asking me once (probably more), “Don’t you have homework to do? Aren’t you meant to be at uni today? Shouldn’t you be studying?” “Nope,” I shrugged before heading back to the TV, knowing full well I did, and I was. Now that I’m at a stage in my life where I have plans to go back to study in the future, I am only beginning to comprehend what it would have meant to make that decision (particularly to do something like law) and to stick at it, like Mum did. My sisters and I used to tease her about being one of the mature age students in the front row. I asked her if she always put her hand up to answer all the questions. She admitted that yes, she did.
As I go about my days I often text Mum, or call her and say help me! She always does, even if I can hear her frantically typing in the background. She’s the first person I ask when the girls are sick, if they have a rash or if I have a question about life. When she comes over I cling to her and I make her stay a lot longer than she wants to. I turn up at her house and let her make me cups of tea and cook me dinner. She never makes me wash up.
I am so lucky to have her and to know that whenever I’m stuck or lacking motivation or struggling all I have to do is think what would Mum do? and know that if I do that, things will work out. If that means giving my kids hunks of butter to keep them quiet then… I guess I have to do it. But then again, there are iPads these days.