Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mothers - Who knew?

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no two mother/daughter relationships the same. Some are all buddy buddy like girlfriends, some are fraught with tension and resentment and some mothers are considered someone who is slightly annoying but occasionally useful (which is where my daughter's thinking is at).

After talking to around a dozen women (and some men) about their mum, the consensus seems to be the more tension in the relationship, the more the person wants to talk about them.

As I don’t presume to know the truth and situations behind these stories, I will stick with my own story.

I’m the last of six children my mother had given birth to so my upbringing was just that little bit different from the siblings before me. When I was just beginning puberty, Mum was going through menopause. We were all around 4 years apart so I virtually only grew up with the two next sisters at home, the other birds had flown the coop.

There were some skeletons in the closet that weren’t revealed to me (or I snooped out) until I was about 14. My Dad was not Mum’s first love (far from it!). She grew up on a dairy farm, made to leave school when she was 13 (this was 1938 in NZ) and married what I think might have been the first available bloke when she was around 17 so she could escape her alcoholic parents and the hard work.

She soon found herself in what we think was an abusive marriage with another drunk (of course she didn’t tell us this herself, but we heard from Dad and relatives about her past), so she divorced him. Not sure of the timing of this but in her album are many many many photos of her in pubs with sailors (the US Navy were in town!). She was a popular girl in Christchurch during the war! So popular she even got engaged to one American sailor who sailed off and was killed at sea [I always think of this when I hear that wonderful song by the Waifs, “Bridal Train”].

She told us of working around NZ in pubs as a barmaid and on sheep farms as a shearers cook where she learnt the art of a good Irish Stew with dumplings and the best Lamb Shanks I’ve ever tasted. Still mastering the art of those but I did inherit her near perfect roast dinner. I like to think this was an exciting time in her life but I’m pretty sure she learnt how to drink like a shearer here, maybe it was to forget her American sailor or maybe it goes back to her relationship with her Mum. I’ll never know.

During this time she met and married another man and had a boy and then a girl with him. She talked of this man with a lot of bitterness but I don’t think she was the perfect wife either, because during this marriage she met my Dad at a dance. Dad used to tell a great story of how he and Mum’s husband had a fight over her outside a pub. They were swinging fists at each other, grappled then collapsed together exhausted. Having realised they were done, the husband said “take her, she’s yours”. They shook hands and parted almost friends. I was never quite sure whether Dad regretted that fight, but I got the feeling he wished he had lost. Glad he didn’t though! Otherwise I wouldn’t be here!

Timing of what happened next is very sketchy. They lost their first son at around age 7 to mengingitis. I cannot imagine what this would have done to Mum and I shiver everytime I try to. The thought of losing my little Nugget would bury me.

I’m not sure if Mum was able to leave husband no. 2 right away, because Dad said she was still living with him when Mum and my Dad conceived my brother (her third child).

Eventually they moved in together with my eldest sister and brother and got on with life. Dad was an English immigrant and had no family in NZ as far as I know. I believe he was quite close to his Mum and missed her terribly – but I will write Dad’s story another time. They had a daughter together and THEN married a month later – nothing conventional for my parents! Four years later they had another girl and then four years after that, Me! Not sure why they spaced us out every four years but if you know them, you would know that it probably had nothing to do with planning.

Sometime between us last three, Mum and Dad moved in with Mum’s parents and ended up looking after them until their death. There’s a whole other story there, between her sister’s husband and a weekend he was supposed to be looking after my grandparents. And don’t get me started with the Aunty’s intriguing history – more skeletons there than a museum!

Anyway ….. my point is (and there was to be one at the start of this post) that though we all have a different relationship with our mothers, it comes from a lifetime of experiences and comes about from how their relationship was with their mother! And until we have grown up and have our own experiences we cannot fathom to understand our mothers.

I’m not saying she was a bad mother, not even entirely neglectful, but she must have taught me some skills to handle the shit I went through early on. She may have not taught me how to cook, but she taught me how to deal with almost any situation without killing anyone or myself. OK, she did teach me to cook a meal out of whatever is left in the kitchen (two potatoes, one can of tuna and a cup of milk? Whala! Dinner!).

So even though my mother is more of a mystery to me now then ever (and apparently I’m a mystery to her more than ever – in fact Alzheimer’s has made everyone a mystery to her), I understand why she is who she is.

How is your relationship with your mother and did you discover her after you grew up?


  1. At my mum's funeral I heard her friends, only a few left, and my cousin's wife in particular, talk about my mum being such a wonderful, generous, kind person. I don't remember her like that at all. I remember a critical...actually that's the only adjective I can think of. I wish I had known that version of my mother that people spoke of. You are lucky that your mum taught you to cook - mine wouldn't let me into the kitchen. I like that my house has an open kitchen/dining area. Maybe my daughter will pick things up through osmosis as she sits there doing her homework as I fuss around the kitchen.

  2. I thought I commented on this post ages ago...damn phone! Anyway. Really interesting stories. I love to watch people go past on the street and wonder what their families and lives are like. Reading blog posts like this is kind of like that.


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