On Mothers’ Day

I know a number of people whose parents have died. One of the best people I have in my life, her mother died several years back. I’ve spent a lot of time with this lovely friend of mine, talking a bit about this event, how it has changed her life, what it means. This experience has privileged me with being able to appreciate just how much I owe to my mum.

And I owe so much. It’s hard to know where to start.

I think of times like when I was back in Adelaide last year, at a friend’s 21st. I’d been stranded for a ride when my supposed chauffeur had begun taking advantage of the bar. I called my mother. She said if she picked me up, it’d have to be by midnight. In that case, I said, I’ll figure something else out. But Ruth was having none of that (I was, after all, making a special trip to Adelaide). In the wee small hours of the next morning, she picked me up, in the classic big car, dogs in tow. She brought me home. Then she went back to sleep.

I think of realities that have struck me only since moving out – that things like sheets require regular washing. When I lived at home, this somehow happened without my intervention. Now I’ve moved out, I have to deliberately and mindfully actually strip my bed and do laundry to get my sheets clean. Sadly, it actually took me this long to appreciate what my mum did in this regard.

I think of the many times I’ve decide to make lasagna, or risotto, or enchiladas. Of how natural it seemed to call mum, to get her on the line, and learn from her the craft she has spent 30 years, 8 children, and countless meals honing. Of how enriching it is to practise the same culinary rituals on which I was raised, to cook the food of home, to smell the smells of family.

“Hey mum…how do you make Bechamel sauce again?”

If not for my mother, so much of what I and others value in myself wouldn’t have been possible. The phenomenal growth of the AYCC in South Australia is due to a lot of things. But one chance factor that no one fully appreciates is the role of Ruth Dignam. Her supplying a meeting space, meals, transport, meant that there was always an option for where we could have a brainstorming session, paint banners, or watch the Federal Election. At a deeper level, her unwavering love and support meant that I was able to take on the role that I did: to endure the slings and arrows that are an unavoidable part of being a State Coordinator.

In December of 2010, I organised a two-week “Climate Activism Festival”, F14. For three weeks (there was prep time, you see), a host of volunteers basically lived in my house. Vegetarian meal after vegetarian meal was served, bed after bed was made, love upon love was heaped. Not many other people would have dreamt of such a demanding regime of activism. But few others could have had such well-founded trust and security (albeit unconscious) in what their mother would provide.

Meanwhile, she was also doing laundry for me and my four siblings then living at home.

One of the scary things about leaving Adelaide for Melbourne was the detachment from a safety net. I was aware that if any shit went down, I’d have far fewer people to depend upon.

Well, late in 2011 I was in a traffic collision. A car cut me off while I was cycling, I hit its bonnet, flew on to the road, and wound up in hospital.

Waiting in the emergency room, I called my mother. In the face of fear and uncertainty – I was in pain, my bike was wrecked, and my urine was blood-coloured – her voice was what I needed to hear. She continued to call back throughout the night, interrupting the visits from a friendly intern, offering to come to Melbourne herself if necessary. It’s what Anne Manne calls caritas, loving service, and it’s an amazing and beautiful thing.

I learnt recently that, perhaps counter-intuitively, children need attentive love and care throughout their formative years in order to be independent and resilient adults. So, this mother’s day, I can authoritatively express my gratitude to my indispensable mother. For doing so much to make my life possible, for making me the person I am, for being the person she is, I am grateful.

She can also bust out an incredible plank.

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4 Responses to “On Mothers’ Day”

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  1. Book 14: “Motherhood”, Anne Manne | Scit Necessitas - June 7, 2012

    […] Manne considers an intimidating volume of research and paediatric knowledge to draw her conclusions, making heavy reference to John Bowlby, a pioneer in attachment theory. It turns out (this may not shock my peers who are educators) that the first two years of a child’s life are, as they are known in the technical literature, “quite bloody significant”. In these years an infant undergoes a long-term process of forming intimate attachments with, let’s hope, its parents, and potentially other careers such as a grandparent. This takes time and love; attachment-forming to new carers at this age also requires the support and attentiveness of established carers such as the mother. That is, a baby may warm to a grandparent if its own parents are present; a baby abandoned at childcare isn’t about to attach itself readily to a staff member (who may, by the by, be unqualified and ‘caring’ for four others to boot). To neglect children’s needs in this tender phase is a risk to the foundation of our society itself; it is also gross negligence to the rights and needs of our children. Even at a young age, my geometry was much better than my fashion sense. Indications of loving parenting, right there. I haven’t totally covered Manne’s perspective on this issue, but in total it had the effect of making me greatly appreciate my own upbringing. I’ve just confirmed with my father that my mother’s tendency was to resume work fairly early in her children’s lives, but that she would do this at reduced hours, increasing them only gradually. For example, in the first year of my life my mother worked two four-hour days a week, and I spent this time in the loving care of my godmother. Thus my mother’s children wouldn’t be in insititutional childcare but in the loving supervision of a kindly other. (In fact, I recally one such other simultaneously supervising well more than five children…how did she do this?) In my memory, too, a woman named Erica features. More strongly is an awareness that if I were sick at school, Mum was all too ready to pop down (admittedly, in her lunch hour) and take me home. Jackpot. Not just in terms of missing school, but also in terms of a mother’s attentiveness. (Read more about my lovely mother in this Mother’s day blog post.) […]

  2. Book 14: “Motherhood”, Anne Manne | Scit Necessitas - October 20, 2012

    […] I haven’t totally covered Manne’s perspective on this issue, but in total it had the effect of making me greatly appreciate my own upbringing. I’ve just confirmed with my father that my mother’s tendency was to resume work fairly early in her children’s lives, but that she would do this at reduced hours, increasing them only gradually. For example, in the first year of my life my mother worked two four-hour days a week, and I spent this time in the loving care of my godmother. Thus my mother’s children wouldn’t be in insititutional childcare but in the loving supervision of a kindly other. (In fact, I recally one such other simultaneously supervising well more than five children…how did she do this?) In my memory, too, a woman named Erica features. More strongly is an awareness that if I were sick at school, Mum was all too ready to pop down (admittedly, in her lunch hour) and take me home. Jackpot. Not just in terms of missing school, but also in terms of a mother’s attentiveness. (Read more about my lovely mother in this Mother’s day blog post.) […]

  3. How to be generous | Scit Necessitas - September 4, 2014

    […] while ago I was in Adelaide, in my childhood home. I had one of those moments of revelation about how much I owed my mother, and I wanted to do something to show her my appreciation, gratitude and love. Suspecting that her […]

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