Sorry Ms Jackson & Mothers Day Magic: this one for all the Mamas, Mama's Mamas...Mama's Mama's Mamas

elephant family.jpg

It's Mothers' Day in Australia today, and I always find this is a DOOZY for so many of us. 

Just the mere mention of it can send people into a right tizzy.  It can be a funny/sad/trying/incredible/celebratory day for so many, and also just downright depressing or horrible for others.  Who would have thought that a day created by greeting card peddlers would become such an emotional hot button for mothers and children everywhere?  #kachinghallmark

I get it, I truly get the emotionality of it all, for I have had years in my life where this day would send me into a flood of tears for all the things I had and had cast aside, and also for the things I did not have and would never have.  Yup, I got done by the greeting card day.  Done like the proverbial dinner. 

However, leaving aside the commerciality and odd sentimentality of something created by a corporation, if nothing else, today is just another gentle reminder of the extraordinary gift to humanity of motherhood and mothers.  It's a day that rather than buy a card or hand over a gift, I choose to reflect on what motherhood means for me,  and for no good reason, and without needing one, to celebrate all the mothers, of all kinds, shapes and sizes, especially those in my life, you extraordinary humans. 


You people are bloody amazing, and I bow down to you, all of you. 

Motherhood is such a tricky thing, whether as a mother, or as a daughter or son, it's one of the most nourishing, yet potentially damaging, relationships that exists in humanity.   It's our first experience of women, of the feminine.  A mother's love (or lack thereof) is one of the things that even as grown adults can send us into a tailspin of despair, or a flurry of joy.  It's the initial example of relating to women that is so formative, that it can make or break our relationship with women for the future to come.  Wow. I mean, with that in my mind, who's panicking?  #nopressure

Mothers, not overstating the case here at all, underpin the world as we know it, which is why motherhood and all it brings can be the most delicate of flowers, the growth or death of which is based on a very subjective (and sometimes volatile and wildly vacillating) recipe of nourishment, space, love and light that the mother is able to give herself and her little one.  In this analogy, it becomes clear that even a cactus could be killed by motherhood gone wrong.  And we all know, sadly, many many cacti mamas and babies have died trying.  

Indeed, at its most basic, the very survival of our species depends on mothers literally (sorry fellas, science has taken care of that one for us now).   So it is not so difficult to see that both the literal and emotional survival of a single human being is often dependant on its relationship to its Mama.  It's rarely a smooth, calm, easy road as most mothers, and children will attest.  It's rough, hard, challenging, full of potholes, roadblocks and detours, and most often you pretty much end up nowhere near where you started.  Am I right? 

In a moment of personal sharing, and to give hope to any Mamas reading this, I can say with love, that my Mum and I have struggled throughout our life together, it's not always been smooth sailing.  She would not mind me saying that because it's honest and truthful, and said with equal amounts of love, but it's been no picnic. 

At times, we've pushed each other away roughly, painfully, and equally pulled each other close desperately, frenetically, driven by a whole range of very basic human needs: love, anger, fear and pain.  Ours is seldom a steady love which has been hard on us both.  We love hard in our family, and that comes with a dark side.  A very dark side.  For us all.  But where there is shadow friends, there also must be light.  Brilliant bloody light that could light up a whole heart.  Two whole hearts.  Maybe even the whole of humanity.

Me and my Mum, two (chic) peas in a strange little Germanic pod: we are the shadow, and we are the light, blended together. For this lifetime and beyond, until we are just stardust once more.

Let me start by saying my Mama is a lioness: a pint-sized one, granted, at whopping 5"2', but a lioness nonetheless.  Fierce, brave and protective is my Mum.  Not in her eyes though, she would never use those words about herself, for as with most mums I know the fear of her perceived weaknesses is strong and amplified, and the self-deprecation within is keen, forever hungry and razor sharp.  I'll wager my Mum thinks she is far more mouse than lion, so perhaps for the sake of this story a reluctant lion she is. 

My Mum was/is a single working mum, she worked tirelessly under less than ideal conditions, it wasn't easy for her, she gave very little nourishment to herself (emotionally, financially or energetically), saving most of what she had left after working hard for her little blonde troublemaker, I mean toddler, that beautiful creation that she both loved and feared with equal ferocity. 

Taking my own Mama as an example, I think we don't make enough, by virtue of acknowledgement or understanding, of how terrifying it is to be a Mum: the sheer unadulterated fear that something will happen to your precious offspring if you don't watch, or control, closely enough.   That something could, in an instant, rip away the thing you love more than anything else on the planet:  this surpasses any kind of love/fear combination you can dream up in your head (hello again Daniel Craig) because this is a matter of biology.  That little human is your blood, your DNA, the extension of your line. That little human is your everything and every cell in your body tells you so.  Constantly. At a very loud volume, I imagine.

I truly can't imagine the terror of being a mother, and how this would skew how you are actually able to relate to that little person, how afraid you would be of f**king them up, and how this would warp your expression of love towards that needy little person, that person that looks to you to teach them everything they need to know about the world #keepcalmandkeepmothering.  

As a non-Mum (is that the correct term?), I am only beginning to understand how I have manifestly underestimated how fear drives many of the things that we come to resent in our mothers.  The projection of all those hopes onto one person, the smothering, the overprotection, the coddling, the telling us what to do and how to do it, the judgment:  largely, and imperfectly, it's all to protect the most precious thing they have in this world.  Yes, the list of annoying, and at times, hurtful things is endless for us children, but imagine if that's the case for us, what must the fear be like for the Mamas.  They are living that fear/love dichotomy #helloadrenalexhaustion

However, one thing I have learned lately, through watching my friends with their children, is that as children, we don't live in constant fear (well most of us don't thankfully) of losing our parents at an early age, or at least not hourly.   We're not typically spending most days afraid they will take a wrong turn on our watch that will end their precious existence.  So, now, with that in mind, perhaps, for all those missteps our parents made in all their wonderous imperfection and hamfistedness, imagine how it is for them. 

How would you feel being constantly worried that everything you did for the next 18 years minimum was going to fuck up an entirely separate human life?  Uh.  Well, when you put it like that...

So, maybe have a moment of compassion for what it must be like to live in that state of heightened alertness.  For 18+ years.  Jesus.  It's not exactly a great marketing campaign in the making is it? "Motherhood: 18 years of fear.  Come on in and make yourself at home".  HELL NO. If they told you that upfront no one would ever do it. 

Yeah yeah yeah "but what about the love?" I hear you all say....and that's fine, but love isn't making you scream into a tea towel is it? 

Love and fear all day, every day, and that's before Mum can even begin being human, before they begin to think of what their needs might be.  I cannot even imagine the internal conflict that is being a parent; I need this, but my daughter/son needs that, the two are incongruent, it's the ultimate and constant battle for emotional/material/spiritual supremacy.  Someone always loses really.  Whoosh.  Not sure I am signing up for that one, thanks. 

It's with that at the forefront of my mind, that I can also say, very lovingly, that my Mum was more afraid than most.  Balls out terrified is probably an apt descriptor.  BUT, dammit if she didn't keep trying, despite her fear.  Day after day after day.   Now, this is someone for whom fear is absolutely mentally and physically crippling, figurative chains around her legs, neck and hands.  Shackling her to the fear inside.  And she did it all alone, no one to hold her hand, no family, no partner, just her and the voices within telling her whatever she did was never good enough.  Scary stuff being a Mum, especially a single Mum, when you look at it in all its reality huh?  

So, I guess you can understand why I stand in such admiration of my Mum? Seeing her for ALL she is, not just the bits that are pretty (of which there are many), makes me honour her deeply, as a woman and a mother, in a very real way.  For as I see it, the things that she sees as shameful, the things she would rather not admit to or thinks of as her failings, are actually the things I see as a badge of honour, of something far more precious to me than the times she came to my swimming carnival or baked me a cake for the bake sale (which were excellent by the way). 

For me, my source of pride in my Mum is this: my Mum was prepared to go inside herself, to battle the demons within, to protect me from them, to give her little daughter the best chance in life she could.  To face things far scarier than we can imagine, you and I, to ensure that her kid had the chances that she did not, that she could do the things that she could not, because she knew her little one could make a difference, that she could overcome all that which was thrown at her.  So she gave her little angel (her aptly named biological missive) her very last bits of hope, courage and tenacity, leaving herself the sacrificial lamb to the darkness within, with nothing left to fight it with, having given her all to her little progeny.  Sacrifice like this is so brutal, so honest and so raw, that it's neither poetic nor dramatic.  When you consider what it would take for a human to sacrifice themselves in this way for another, that could only be a mother's love.  It's ugly, it's gritty and it's real: that's what love looks like in all its gory glory.  The preparedness to give one for the life of another.  

Did she execute it perfectly?  No.  But what would perfect even look like in a situation like this? So, it is for this bravery, and for the love as the reason behind the bravery, that I'm going to give my Mum a hall pass, for all the things she has done or not done throughout this life together, because I know, that for all the missteps, mistakes and blunders, all that she has done ever, was the absolute best she could with what she was given.   She choked down fear, doubt and pain to be a Mama.  Lay herself down on the altar of the most brutal kind of love to be a Mama.  That's not nothing.  That's not something.  That is everything.  That friends, is what real love looks like.  In it's purest form.   Mama Love. 

So, go and have a look at the Mamas around you, be they your Mama (love you Mum), your stepmama, your grandmas, your closest and most beloved friends (Susannah, Kasia, Pauline, Janelle, Neenie, Kristy, Muriel and Mary I am looking at you, you amazing women), the women you work with, the women down the street or in the cafe, or the woman you are judging for the screaming kid on the airplane (yes I do that - I will reconsider this position I promise), and really look at them.   

Stop and wonder what it takes for them to be a Mum, what they have given up, put aside, gone without or sacrificed to be that woman that puts life and love into this world. 

For it's only as a fully grown woman, that I finally realise, what it took my own Mama to give up so that I may receive, so that I may stand here as a woman today and that I may live the life of my wildest dreams (writing this for you all), it's only now that I can truly see (not with rose coloured glasses or the faux-sentimentality expressed in a Hallmark card) the exceptional nature of this everyday loving sacrifice.  If that doesn't take your breath away, melt your heart or make you proud to be or know women, then nothing ever will. 

So once you are done wondering, marvelling at this incredible women, go up and tell that woman how extraordinary they are, and how you see them for the radiant and loving courage they are.  Tell them how lucky we are to have them, and (not to a stranger perhaps), that although it's not "perfect" or "right", that what they did or are doing, is perfectly imperfect, just as it is. 

For a Mama's love in action, is a gift to be treasured, wherever you may be lucky enough to see it. 

Happy Mother's Day, Mamas. 

Postscript: This piece is dedicated to my Mama, Jenny.  If I am half the woman you are, I'll be pretty damned happy with that.  You are more than enough, you are love and you are...MY MUM.  I love you.  xx