My mum was the kind of mother that everyone wanted. She was immense fun and our house was filled with laughter, books, animals (gerbils, cats, dogs and guinea pigs) and a warm fuzzy sort of chaos. She never asked people to take their shoes off and always invited whoever we had round that day to stay for dinner. As the youngest of three, there was always plenty of people around and lots going on.
She wasn’t big on routine or rules and she didn’t sit down and spend hours playing with us. She was too busy making chocolate brownies, drinking G&Ts, reading or chatting to her friends. She was our mum but she also had her own life, irrespective of us and made that quite clear from the outset. She made sure that her values and the things she thought were important – family, language and literature (she was an English teacher), horses, kindness, cuddles and good manners were instilled in us as much as possible… but other than that she let us get on with it. As a result, we learned from our own mistakes and to trust our own judgements.
She died, very suddenly of heart failure, when I was in my 20s and she was just 57. The months and year or so that followed was rather bleak and, when I look back, something of a blur. When I became a mother myself, just after my 31st birthday, I grieved for her all over again. It gave me a whole new appreciation and understanding of what she must have felt and gone through when she gave birth to me and my siblings.
I was totally awestruck and overcome with the responsibility that comes with having a newborn, the love, sweat and tears that come with bringing a human being into the world. Now I have a baby, toddler and a five year old and find myself navigating the extreme and crazy world of motherhood without her. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about her. I can still hear her voice and raucous laugh so clearly. But the searing sense of loss has subsided to a dull and (mostly) manageable ache.
There are still so many little questions, however, that crop up on a daily basis that I would like to ask her: When did I start walking and talking? Did I used to scream and shout in the same way that my eldest does when things didn’t go my way? Is it normal to feel such extreme frustration, boredom and overwhelming love that makes me want to burst in the space of five minutes? Is it really meant to be this hard or, on a good day, this easy? How long is it okay to keep chicken curry in the fridge for before it goes off?
I also miss having someone that puts me first in the way that only a mother can. As much as I love and adore my children it does sometimes feel as it it’s all give. I miss being her child and all the privileges that came with that. And having someone to come in and take over when I’m feeling lost.
Sometimes I picture her laughing as I wipe the wriggling toddler’s bottom in one hand, drink a glass of wine in the other and try not to roll my eye balls as the five year old asks me for the 100th time if I know Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s father.
Being a mum without a mum is not easy. I mostly just have to trust my instincts and go with what feels right and, fortunately, I am able to do that because that’s how I was brought up. As a child of the 80’s there was none of this helicopter, totally child-centred parenting and we were more or less left to our own devices. I have adopted a slightly more hands on, structured approach with my own children in keeping with today’s attitudes and expectations. My upbringing was good training for me now though in that I know the buck stops with me, as it were, and I am so grateful to my mum for that. I just wish I didn’t miss her quite so much and that my children had got to meet their amazing granny.
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