Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother's Day

I felt surprised when my diary told me it was Mother's Day today.

But of course. I shouldn't have forgotten. There have been the usual ads all over the place, and messages from retailers wanting to sell flowers and gifts for the occasion. Just as with St Valentine's Day and sundry other 'events' during the year. And if you were at all receptive to these nudgings, you'd have bought the Mothers Day card and flowers, and booked a meal for Mum somewhere nice, as a treat. Only that because I've been unwell, and have mostly stayed indoors, I've rather lost track of all this. And as you know, my mother has died, so there is nothing to buy or arrange. Nor has there been for four years.

To my mind, you can celebrate a person on any day of the year. And without any special artifice. I refuse to make this day the day that I will think about Mum, and spend, spend, spend, just because the card and gift industry wants me to. In truth I think about her nearly every day. Just as nearly every day I ponder all my other significant relationships, past and present. But Mum is a unique case. There is that biological tie: she gave birth to me, and nurtured me as a child, and was my mother for nearly fifty-seven years. I can never turn the page and forget her.

Fortunately hers is not a memory I wish to blot out. I was always fond of Mum. But I learned very early on to be careful what I told her. She was inquisitive, and inclined to probe if she felt there was anything she ought to know. She had no-nonsense opinions about all kinds of subjects, mostly based on her notions of what was plain common-sense. She trusted her own intuition, and would not be deflected by bland or strange arguments. She had a strong personal sense of what was right and wrong, and would not be brow-beaten by anyone in authority. She would take a robust line with bluster and pomposity, and was for instance firm and implacable with shop owners reluctant to give cash refunds for unsuitable goods. And she was positively fierce in the defence of myself and my brother, sometimes to our great embarrassment.

Most of what I have just said about her paints a very positive picture indeed. She was certainly a role model for me, showing me that it was no good appeasing people with concessions, no good making compromises that couldn't be lived with, and generally that it was right and proper to hold definite views in defiance of what others might believe or push at you. Dad had a more diplomatic approach to life, but basically upheld the same individualistic principles, and, like Mum, would never give up.

For most of my life, I did not come close to matching up to my parents' standards. But perhaps I found at last reason to be just as steadfast when I discovered what I really needed to do with my life, and embarked on transition as a first step. If you have done the same, then you'll know exactly what is required in the way of nerve, clear thinking, and readiness to face endless confrontation, criticism and hinderances.

It's ironic that when I took up this, the greatest personal challenge of my lifetime - and embraced it with my parents' conviction and determination to succeed - no support or approval came from them. And especially not from Mum. All I got was protest and the obvious fear of ridicule. Then denial. It was a failure of vision, a failure to recognise the true nature of the person they had made, and a failure to put the happiness and comfort of their child first. Some parents can manage it: mine could not. Of course they were getting old and worn out, and maybe mentally inflexible, and Mum had a death sentence from cancer hanging over her; but this was fundamentally an emotional and parental instinct thing, not something abstract to debate and rationalise and tire one's brain on. It was about my feelings, my dismay at the situation that I found myself in, and what the best, most supportive response ought to be. I still don't understand why they did not reach out to me in a heartbeat, and I still wonder how it was possible, whatever their age and decrepitude, to thrust their only remaining child away, and not be on that child's side. But, of course, parents are only human and they don't necessarily do the best thing. I half-knew they wouldn't; but it was, and remains, a major letdown and disillusionment.

Well, all that is gone, receding into the past, and I refuse to let it beat me. Mum's wish to keep me at arm's length in her last three months can be forgiven, and I do forgive. It wasn't her finest moment, but those three months really do not matter when stacked up against the preceding fifty-seven years.

And if I have painted a stern picture of her, don't be deceived. She was a laughing, chatty, very friendly woman. A woman I will have to rediscover. But you need to understand that although Mum was proud of her children, the real love of her life was her husband. They were inseparable and completely devoted to each other. I think these pictures, which I took in the years from 1975 (the first year she was touched by cancer) to 2008 (the year before her death), show everything you need to know about their relationship in their last thirty-four years together, and say a lot about Mum herself:

I hand-produced several Mother's Day cards for Mum over the years, to go with the flowers I bought her - as in this shot from 2008, her last Mother's Day of all:

Lovely flowers. I'm glad to have found them in my photo archive. I don't take nearly so many pictures of flowers nowadays: I need to get back to it.

I may have been a little wary of Mum, but I did enjoy her company, and liked to indulge her love of country walking. For years my Mother's Day treat was to take her out in my car - just her and me - to somewhere like the New Forest, or the Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead, and have a good wander together. It was nearly always sunny. These were our best and most intimate moments, when she might tell me some of the deeper things on her mind. They were an annual institution that I still miss.

1 comment:

  1. Celebrating not just on one day but throughout the year applies not only to mums and dads but to everything Lucy. This world runs on money so it generates excuses for spending it! This is one of the reasons I don't celebrate many of the year's events. Had my mother still been living though I certainly would have visited her with a gift. In many ways she was like your mum from what you say except perhaps mum and dad doted on their children, all five of us, and were very supportive and encouraging to us all. Although I never came out to my parents as they both died before my decision to transition, I am pretty sure they would have given their support after the initial shock. I think they probably would have tried to dissuade me but would have finally accepted the inevitable.
    Hope you are getting better by the way.

    Shirley Anne x


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