Friday, 8 May 2009

In which I boast about my pet goat, my library tickets, and my inimitable mamá

It occurs to me that since Sunday is Mother's Day (Mothering Sunday in the UK was March 22, but my family celebrates the May Mother's Day. Also, Mothering Sunday is kind of a creepy name. It sounds like we're all meant to go out and nurse and diaper whatever we can find - maybe a frog or the postman or David Hasselhoff), I should say something inspired about motherhood, or name my favourite mother characters in film or TV, or write a poem, a skit. Something.

My best friend just became a mother, and I was moved in unexpected ways when I heard that her daughter was born. That should give me an angle, right? Not so much. It does give me a beautiful new child in my life, and another person to call on Sunday, but no useful angle for a Mother's Day post. (I don't so much like the Mother's Day phone call, because after the somewhat weak "Happy Mother's Day!", you feel like you're meant to keep talking about motherly stuff, and I'm not sure what that would be. And it's a bit like that birthday call where you ask "So what does everyone have planned for you today?" and if the answer is "nothing", what can you say besides "I'm sorry your kids suck"? So I stick to calling only people I'd want to talk to anyway. The others get overcompensatingly exuberant e-cards.)

So I thought and I thought about my own mother and all the things I've learnt from her and what has changed about our relationship and all those things we've all thought about millions of times. I thought about how she always made all our clothes for special occasions, and about how that was the treat, not store-bought clothes. When my mother decided she could find the time to make us an outfit, then sat attentively while we described how we wanted a side zip but under no circumstances was it to be a back zip, and a scrunchie to match - the scrunchie was very important - and other ridiculous but crucial details, it was like Christmas. And I thought about how she would wake us in the middle of the night to make sure it fit because she wanted to sleep too, you know, and she wasn't the one going to Andre's birthday party tomorrow. And we would drip out of bed bleary-eyed and (silently, of course) grumpy, wait for the clothes to be pulled on, and then watch in gleeful amazement as we were transformed before our very eyes into Sheena Easton or Lisa Lisa or Ashley from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Which was of course what we were going for.

And I thought too about Saturday morning trips to the library, when my mother would hang about talking to the library staff about what new books they had gotten in, while we chose our reading for the week. And then we would check the books out ourselves with our very own tickets and feel important because other people's parents were choosing and checking the books for them and wouldn't even let them keep their own tickets. I mean...pfft..what kind of amateur night were they running?

These two habits and passions of my mother's, clothes and books and everything associated with them, were without doubt passed on to me. Less lasting was her interest in farming and gardening. My mother was big on family food security and earning extra for our well-being, which is why I got all warm and smooshy inside when I saw Michelle Obama planting her White House kitchen garden - what we also called our backyard plot. But my mother didn't stop there. she never stopped anywhere. Soon we had chickens, pigs, sheep and all manner of livestock, and quickly realized that this was our deal too: bringing the sheep in from pasture (incidentally, black bellied sheep are given to running around your legs in circles when they're on ropes. So yay for surprise sheep games after school!); helping kill and pluck the chickens; choosing which piglets we would sell on and which we would keep. And when I started to question the whole canine/livestock inequality dynamic - whereby dogs ended up in our photographs and sheep in our stew - I was given a pet goat named Mars, helped my father build a pen for it, and was invited to explore the kind of relationship I might have with pet livestock, which wasn't as exciting as one might imagine.

And I realize that the thing most striking about these examples and about our relationship overall, is the amount of agency and personal responsibility that was involved on our end, as children; the extent to which my mother showed us that it was our thought, our imagination, our creativity and work that would determine the kind of outfits we wore, the food we ate, the kinds of journeys we could take through books and relationships, and the kinds of lives we would live. Even though we were young, we had a space to collaborate with her, and input that was valued. Of course, it was a lot less valued when it came to say, what time we could come home at night, but it counted in the important places. And my mother isn't my best friend these days, which might sadden some. But I don't think she has to be. I have lots of great friends; but there's only one woman on earth to whom I feel an unspeakable connection borne of the independence that she both taught me and allowed me in those early years. And wherever our relationship goes from here, for me, that is something whose value cannot be measured.


  1. Annette Clark9 May 2009 at 21:05

    Gosh, I've been 'tripped up' by BB sheep running in circles so many times!

    Thanks for the reminder and happy mothers day :)

  2. My mom raised me much in the same way, although with very different examples. She wanted us to have agency and be ready for the world. Heh, isn't it such a great feeling? I really dug reading this as it reminded me of how awesome my mom is/was/will always be.


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