Un-Mother’s Day

My Mother on a different day

My mother and my son

Mother’s Day opens with breakfast in bed and other culinary delights shared with family. I don’t recall if I ever sat up in bed through the burnt toast routine, but there may have been one year. It was a long time ago.

I rarely followed through with my own mother either, though I have a vague recollection of perhaps supplying the breakfast one year. When your mother is always up early, it is not easy and it was never really a tradition in our house. There was little fuss around Mother’s day.

Even years ago, I dismissed the day as commercial and therefore of minimal relevance. I think after my grandmother died, the importance of the day (for me at least) diminished further. The ritual dissipated and I left home and moved interstate and generally marked the day with a phone call. Duty done.

I miss my mother every day of course, but today especially is a day of sadness and embarrassment. Sadness because there are times when I really want her company or support. I want to tell her things, or to share things with her. There are days when I want her to kiss it better.

Embarrassment because I realised in hindsight how much I had taken her for granted over the years, and for all the things I never said to her and should have. I’m not putting on the rose-tinted glasses; there were times when she was vitriolic or manipulative, or conniving even. It was only in hindsight though that I realised how much she had done for me and sometimes at what personal cost.

One of the illuminating moments was when I became a mother myself. It wasn’t instant understanding, but gradually I came to understand what the status entailed, especially as I was raising a self-centred child who thought the world revolved around him. The older he got, the stronger this belief was. This is understandable as a child develops an appreciation of their place in the world and acquires degrees of independence. At least I don’t have a child who is tied to my apron strings.

My child no longer speaks to me. This may be a short-term situation and may not. I have no way of knowing, but he has decided I no longer have a role in his life. We live at some distance from each other, and the challenges of misunderstandings have not helped. I have extended the olive branch, which he has ignored. So be it. Today is a reminder I wish I didn’t have.

A day like today is tinged with sadness and regret. It is a day to get through as painlessly as possible. Instead, my heart goes out to all the mothers and would-be mothers for whom the day is a stark reminder of a situation that is not of their choosing.

 

Phoning Mother

This morning, just before waking, I dreamt of my mother. It was just a fleeting connection and very mundane.  I was at the kitchen sink doing the washing up and she brought me some more dirty cutlery to add to the pile needing to be washed.  Moments later, I woke up and felt both astonished at her appearance and bereft.

Ironic that it was today, Mother’s Day that she chose to appear.  She died with breast cancer twelve years ago, and of course I miss her – even though she often exasperated me or we disagreed on things.  I realise with hindsight though that although I was aware in a general sense that she did so much for me, I took a lot for granted and never really thanked her properly.  This morning’s episode reminded me of a story I wrote in the months following her death.

 

 Answer the phone Mother – answer the phone!  

     “This call is being diverted to another number.  Please hold.”

     Not again!

            “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

     My mother’s disembodied voice.  I listen intently, absorbing the tonal nuances and waiting for what else she might say.  You never know, this time it might be something different.  The two names are spoken distinctly, as though there is no association between them.  Nancy – pause – Shorne.  Two separate words, not Nancy Shorne, with the words running into each other with a combined inflective melody.  I listen to the message, hesitating.  Should I speak?  What should I say?    I dither and the silence extends into an embarrassment.  I hang up, feeling stupid and bereft.  Unfinished business is so unsettling.

       After a few moments I collect my thoughts and pick up the phone again. 

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

            “Ummm, it’s me Mum.  Just calling to see how you are.” 

     This time I’m prepared and hang up the phone quickly.  No pause.  I feel a little flushed and unsteady though. 

     It’s strange – it’s not as if I am a kid any more, but there are times when you still want your Mum.  I was surprised when it first hit me.  I was always quite independent and confident.  I had unexpected surgery a few years ago.  When I awoke, I was overcome by post-operative melancholy, to say nothing of pain, and all I could think was ‘I want my mum!’  That was bad luck, because we were in different parts of the country.  I wept miserably, saved only by a nurse of mature years who recognised my distress and isolation and sat with me for a while. 

     I would have phoned Mother then, but only local calls were permitted from my bedside phone, and I couldn’t walk down the hall to the pay phone.  I had to wait for her to call me, just like I am waiting now.  I wonder if she knows what time it is?  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t rung.

     Phones have become such a way of life.  They are more than just communication devices.   They are statements of personality, fashion accessories, reminders, companions, and cameras..  I have a theory that in the not too distant future, our phones will be the means of Big Brother keeping track of us all, and we will use them for everything.  They will hold all our identity information and through our personal phone number it will be possible to access our tax file number, credit card info, social security number, etc.  It will happen gradually and we will all be seduced by the gadgetry before we realise what is happening – a sort of pocket sized Trojan Horse.

     Mother’s phone is just of the basic variety.  It took a while to coach her on how to leave the message.  All she wants is to be able to make and receive calls.  It does have other features, but she never uses them and she seems to have lost the instruction book now anyway.

 Once, we used to solve our problems for ourselves, and now when we are unsure what to do, we automatically reach for the phone.  Our children are loosing survival skills, and are really dependent on their phones.  I know it, but I still reach for the phone for the simplest thing.

          “Nancy … Shorne.”

     “Mum, do you know where your address book is?  I need to do the Christmas cards and I don’t know where anyone lives.  I could send email cards instead, but it is nice at least once a year to actually post something.  I suppose all I really need to do is wait until other people send their cards and then just note the addresses from the back of the envelopes.  I’ll write some notes in the cards as well.  Is there anyone you particularly want me to write to?”

       While I wait for her to call back, I could have a look through her desk.  It seems a bit intrusive though – like looking in someone’s handbag.  They are such personal spaces.  If anyone looks in either my bag or goes through my desk it feels like a real invasion of privacy but how else can I find anything?  I’m very careful and try to put everything back just as I found it.  Hopefully she won’t even realise what I’ve been doing.

       Actually, I have been looking through her recipes too, but she never seems to file anything in a logical order.  A lot of stuff she just keeps in her head and never actually writes it down.  When you do read the recipes that she has written, she leaves out the crucial bits, like in which order ingredients should be added, or how long to cook things and at what temperature.  I have to sort of guess, or else give her a quick call at some crucial moment when I’m getting a bit panicky.

           “Nancy … Shorne.”

  “Mum, how long do you cook quince paste?  How do you know when it’s ready?  This stuff that I’ve got on the stove now looks more like jam.  It’s taken so long to peel and cook and sieve and cook, and it just doesn’t look like yours at all.  What do I do now?”

       I wait for a while, just in case she has just picked up the phone and has heard my message and is going to reply.  I know that’s silly, because although you can pick up the phone and interrupt a call to a land line that is connected to an answer phone machine, calls to mobile phones go to virtual mailboxes instead and you can’t interrupt those.  I still wait for a bit, but there is only silence, so I hang up.  With some answer phones, a silence is interpreted as a completed call anyway, and the device actually hangs up on you, the caller.  Bit rude.

     Having got this far with the quinces and seen how difficult it is, I think I will just buy some from the providores in future – there are some good stalls at the Central Market – but it seems such a waste to just throw out this batch.  I’ve invested so much time in it.  Perhaps I will just keep it as jam.  Pity I never eat it.  By the time she calls me back, it might well be Quince Toffee – a new culinary delight.

       Sometimes when I phone her I don’t wait.  I dial her number and that impersonal mechanical voice starts with This call is being diverted to …” and I just hang up.  I get a bit irritated.  I don’t want to hear that strange woman’s voice.  At least it’s not an American voice, like those you hear in lifts telling you what floor the lift is travelling to.  The phone companies seem to have developed some sensitivity to the local markets.  I haven’t thought about it before but perhaps this is a new job for current times.  Qualification – well modulated voice, slow delivery, absence of regional accent.  A bit strange – there would be exposure around the country, all day every day, but totally anonymous. 

     Even one of my printers talks to me, and tells me when it has a paper jam, or if it has finished printing.  Voices everywhere.  I wonder if there is an association for recorded voices, or whatever they might be called.  There is bound to be some very important sounding technological name.  What would happen if they all went on strike one day?  What would we do with the silence?

     Speaking of silences, I wish she would call me back.  It’s a bit of a one-way street, leaving messages and not getting a call in return.  I have my mobile with me most of the time, so I am always contactable.  I miss some calls when the phone is in the bottom of my bag and no matter how frantically I scrabble around, I can’t find it in time and it stops ringing just as I locate it.  She doesn’t have a silent number, so I would know if she had called.  Her number would be displayed as a missed call.

     Dad has the phone now.  He inherited it by default, but he is even more technologically illiterate than mother was, so he often forgets to take it with him, or even to switch it on.  As for changing the recording or even reading the messages, forget it.  He has no idea.  It means that any time I want to talk to Mother, she’s there, her voice permanently preserved in virtual reality.  It’s comforting in a bizarre sort of way. 

     “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy …  Shorne”

     “Hi Mum.”

                   24 June 2004

 

Shortly after this story was written, my father erased the recording, as he pressed random buttons on the phone, trying to figure out how things worked.  My trojan horse comment was more prophetic than I realised at the time.

 

Digging up Mother

My parent’s house will shortly be put on the market.  Father died in February 2013 and clearing out the house has taken much longer than I would have anticipated.  We are almost there (my sisters and I) with some garden rubbish to be disposed of and a few shed items as well.

We will probably manage the sale ourselves and if we can find a willing auctioneer, will sell it via auction.  What this means then is it is time to dig up Mother.  That was the decision I came to this Saturday as I surveyed the house and considered what needed doing next.  I knew that she was under a rose bush and was confident I knew which rose bush.  My sister disagreed however and was sure that it was the adjacent bush.  Perhaps it was.

We have had what seems like weeks of rain and as a result, the clay-based soil in the front garden is damp and heavy.  Cutting through it was hard work.  I circled the rose bush that I favoured, levering out forkfuls of soil as I went.  I repeated the process and then resorted to the shovel to dig out the loosened soil.  Thus I dug a circular trench around the rose, exposing the roots and freeing them from the clay.  Eventually I pulled the bush out, severing some roots in the process but leaving a large bowl-shaped excavation that I continued to work on.

After a while, the soil changed consistency and I reached a layer of greasy clay that looked as though it would have been brilliant for making clay bricks.  It was also incredibly resistant to either fork or spade.  I now had a large and quite deep hole but had not found Mother.  I conceded that perhaps my sister was right and turned my attention to the second bush.  It was only about 12 degrees but even so by this stage, I felt the need to remove my jacket.

I started on the second bush, a bit peeved I had been chatting to the wrong shrub.  There had been those occasions when visiting dad that I had felt the need for a discussion with Mother and had slipped out into the front garden to commune with that rose, filling her in on the events of the day or just having a general chat.  The knowledge that I had misdirected my attention made me feel a bit silly.  I repeated the excavation process I had followed with the first bush and soon had that plant released from the ground as well.  I dug deeper and wider until the second hole was about the same depth as was the first.  I still didn’t find Mother.

I turned my attention to a third bush and divested myself of my jumper, leaving just a thin T-shirt on.  I was puzzled by this stage as my memory of the day on which we buried her did not support the location of the third bush at all but she had to be somewhere and I was starting to doubt the integrity of my recollections.  I repeated the process followed with the first two holes and dug the third hole and removed the bush.  Mother wasn’t there either and by this stage daylight was fading and I was exhausted.  I walked out of the garden 10 centimetres taller from all the claggy clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes, a bit cranky and perplexed by it all.

Today being Sunday, I was back at the house again, tackling some of the fun pre-sale jobs such as cleaning the oven.  My brother-in-law joined us early afternoon and somewhat in mirth when I advised that I could not find Mother, undertook to dig up further roses while at that time I supervised and cut back some rampant vegetation.  He dug up a fourth rose leaving a small neat hole that did not disclose mother.

I thought he needed a broader hole but no matter, he launched himself at another rosebush and dug that one up too.  This was now rose number five.  By this stage, he was feeling the heat and his jacket came off.  I noted a fair amount of huffing and puffing as he struggled with the sticky clay.  With that hole finally excavated, there was still another option (the sixth) and he tackled that rose bush as well.  Somewhat slowly by now and with frequent rests in between.

There was some talk of perhaps leaving her in situ and that maybe we would never find her.  I heard what they were saying but really did not want to leave my mother behind.  When the sixth hole did not yield a result except for yet another bare-rooted rose looking somewhat shocked, I suggested a cup of tea and a bit of a break.  We all needed it by then.

Suitably refreshed, we emerged to widen the last three holes, giving a greater area to investigate. My nephew had also arrived and he manned the digging implements for a while as well.  I watched them using a stabbing motion with a narrow-bladed implement as they chipped at the bottom of their holes – holes that I still didn’t really believe would yield success.

It made me think again about the first hole that I had dug and I asked my B-I-L to use that digger to chip away at the bottom of the first hole.  Chip, chip, chunk, chunk.  He chipped away and then I scrapped out the loose clay with the shovel.  Suddenly there was a flash of colour.  I directed him to it and then I could see that we had found her.  Just 5 cms below the first hole that I dug, she was waiting all along.  It was a relief to know that I had been speaking to the right bush after all.

Mother has now been extracted from the garden, the clay washed off the cream plastic brick, and she is now sitting alongside father in one of the bedrooms.  I am not sure if that is what they would have wanted but for now it will do.  The next resting place is a decision for another day.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

At last, we found Mother.

At last, we found Mother

Ode to Mothers

Mother’s Day is approaching, giving rise to what it all means – mothers, acknowledgement of mothers, the relationship with our mothers and then our relationship with those that we mother.

And here I have a confession to make.  Sure when I was a child, I bought my mother ludicrous ornaments and soaps and scents or whatever, and eagerly watched as she opened them.  Looking back I had totally abysmal taste.  As I grew up though I moved around a lot, and lived interstate for a long time.  I lived  a single lifestyle and although I was always family orientated, was also fairly self-absorbed.   Mother’s Day was not something that featured strongly on my horizon.  After all, it was such a commercial event, with the letterbox full  of brochures and the retail industry in your face for weeks before hand.  I didn’t want to be part of that and I was sure that my mother didn’t either.  Mother’s Day faded from focus for me and sometimes I never even registered that it had come – or gone – beyond wishing my mother a happy Mother’s Day in our regular Sunday  morning call.

Time rolled on, and then I was pregnant.  This was a long time coming, given that I was a couple of months shy of 40 at the time.   I was a whole 8 weeks pregnant by the time the next Mother’s Day came around.  To my surprised delight, a friend and his partner sent me a Mother’s Day card.  It made the who motherhood business seem so much more real.  That card was so treasured.

By the next Mothers’ Day of course I really was a mother, with an infant who was a few months old.  Parenthood was a solo venture for me, so I didn’t have a partner to express any sort of appreciation for my maternal efforts, but I had a beautiful child and we had a mutual adoration thing going. We were pretty absorbed in each other and my mother was a big help too, making the interstate trip whenever possible.  She had a special relationship with my son as well.

With each year, another Mother’s Day rolled around and passed again.  Another commercial opportunity that I chose largely to ignore, except that I was a little more aware of it now.  My friend never sent me a card again, so there wasn’t any acknowledgement of my own motherhood, beyond my own reflections.  My son and I moved back to my home state and my mother was so pleased to have us close to her.  We were pretty pleased as well and over the next years that were challenging over many fronts, Mum was always there for us.

But then she wasn’t.  Her cancer was sudden and cruel and we never made those last goodbyes, mostly because we hadn’t quite comprehended that it was really happening.  We were rather a ‘stiff upper lip’ type family anyway and weren’t open about affection and our feelings.  That last morning I reached her a few brief minutes before she slid into a coma.  I’m sure that she knew I was there during those minutes, but I never knew if she heard and understood the words that I softly whispered to her over the next hour as I massaged her hands with cream and gently massaged her scalp and face, easing the transition for us both.

As the saying goes, your never appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.  So, it was far too late to tell her when I really acknowledged and appreciated all that my mother had not only done but sacrificed for me.  Part of this understanding came from an evolving maturity (so OK – I was a late developer) and part of it, well perhaps a lot of it came from being a mother myself and looking at life and events through totally different eyes.  I was very much aware of what I did for my child, with much of it unacknowledged and un-thanked.  I began to understand motherhood in a way that I never had before.

It’s poetic justice of course that my son, now in his late teens, gives no recognition to the significance of mother’s day.  He always sleeps in on Sundays so there is no breakfast in bed.  I may get a passing hug if I’m lucky, and perhaps he will ruffle my hair on his way out the door with his mates.

I still think that Mother’s Day is unnecessarily commercial and that making an event of one day out of the year is in a way to belittle the support our mothers give us not just through the year but through all of our lives.  I still could have shown my appreciation more demonstrably. I could l have told her how much I appreciated all that she did.

I miss you Mum.