I sometimes wonder when it was I first realised my mother was “different” from other mothers. I haven’t been able to isolate a specific time or place but generally recall the gentle wave of acknowledgment that slowly seeped into my knowing. It has forever left me questioning why I was born to this woman. I remember reading the children’s book titled Are You My Mother?, and being absorbed by the tale of a baby bird that hatches whilst its’ mother is out foraging for food. The baby bird sets out on a journey to find its’ mother and comes across a cat, hen and even an excavator, asking each “Are you my mother?” until eventually it is reunited with the mother bird. I remember my response to the story, even as a very young child, was that I would have chosen the excavator if I’d had a chance.
As I began to spend more time at the home of friends for play dates or birthday parties once I started at school, I would observe the “naturalness” of the rapport shared between my friends and their mothers, so free of the tensions I experienced with mine. I observed my friends act boldly at times, challenging their parents with a resolute stance, hands on hips and steadfast in their agenda. I would stand back in awe…literally removing myself from the exchange, finding a firm footing a few steps away in anticipation of the eruption that I predicted would ensue. In most cases I was left stunned as the mother after a momentary pause, would throw her head backwards releasing a hearty belly laugh, clutching her sides in hysterics. She may also have been in a state of awe, but more so for her child’s ability to stand their ground, to exhibit the strength and confidence they would need one day when they flew out from under her wing.
Over the years I encountered many other mother figures and they always fascinated me. They almost appeared to float around their homes with a lightness that was so new and refreshing to me. Shadowed by their children as they busied about their chores, their conversations were candid and uncontrived. They were not infallible creatures…they each had their own source of distractions, but they were mostly present and attainable in an authentically loving way.
I truly believe that even amidst this stage of tender childhood innocence I was still discerning in my assessment of what constituted normal rhythms of interaction and was not lulled into a false idealisation of a picture that in reality, was less than perfect. I witnessed the tears, frustration, illness, stress and isolation that peppers the lives of all women as they struggle to balance the competing roles of wife, parent and in some cases “career woman” at a time when this role was still trekking a path through new terrain. I felt the tensions that arose between parents on the verge of separation; in families where the father was late home from work night after night and in the households stretched by dwindling budgets, tested as additional babies arrived home from hospital. Yet I encountered a vibrant honesty flow through these families whose inner and outer worlds were generally at peace with each other. Mine however was the exception…unpredictable and closeted…the ebb and flow of energy spiraled in a constant whir of negativity, creating a fluctuating climate that was depended upon the emotional whims of my mother on any given day.
By the early years of my primary school education, around the age of seven or eight, the awareness of my mother’s strange demeanour had became an ever-present strain. I tried to disassociate myself from her at every given opportunity. I enjoyed my walk to school in the morning which in hindsight, I recognise provided an opportunity to relax into a meditative state in preparation for the day ahead, as I pounded the footpath and reconnected with the rhythm of my heart. It meant I could walk through the gates, un-tarred by the heavy aura she dragged along with her.
For a time, although I acknowledged that my experience of my mother was quite distinct from that of my friends, I was content that it remained largely uncommented on. Although I sometimes caught the quizzical expressions of other adults in response to her odd demeanour and inappropriate remarks, I felt safe that my friends and their families had not yet tuned in to her oddity, allowing me to blend in to the playground without prejudice. Then the day after I had a friend over to my house for a play date, the child approached me at school and stated with an accusatory air, “My mum said your mum looked at her very strangely when she came to pick me up”. I was devastated. My secret had been exposed. There was no way to respond other than to offer a faltering retort of “I..I don’t know what you mean”. But my heart sunk with the realisation that other people could really see it too. I pondered what it would mean for me. Little did I imagine that her behaviour would have such a devastating impact upon my peer relations that in a few years time, the teenage me would be left with no option other than to retreat into the school toilets at lunch times in a desperate state of isolation.