“There’s no stronger love in this world”, sings my mum as she dances around the living room with the Hoover. It’s Saturday morning and we’re doing the housework to a background soundtrack of Anita Baker. I’m swaying self consciously with a can of Pledge in my hand, singing quietly along with her. I don’t recall what my sister and brother were doing at the time; probably watching the Simpsons even though they couldn’t have been able to hear the dialogue. My sister can’t have been singing as her distinctive voice, which had a maturity beyond her years even then, is absent from the soundtrack. I must have been about 12 I think.
I don’t know why this is often the first memory that comes to mind when I think of Mum. There are so many more poignant ones but there was something about this moment. I remember looking at her, so lost in the music that when I recall it, her doing the housework looks more like a music video than a regular, run-of-the-mill Saturday morning.
Some of the earlier memories I hold so dear feel so much more personal that I don’t feel comfortable in sharing, as though letting others in might take away some of the comfort I get from them. Over the years though, some are more vivid than others and a few stand out as those that define both her character and our relationship.
Sitting in the bath aged around 4 or 5 (I think, I know my sister was not yet talking so I can’t have been more than 6) asking why I was brown and not white like her and what it meant when the other kids called me names. She said that she couldn’t know what that was like for me but it must feel awful. She said that the other kids probably didn’t even understand what they were saying either but that they were mean and there would be plenty of nice people in my life (she was right). I don’t remember the rest of the conversation but I do remember feeling glad that she didn’t pretend to know what I felt like but still showed that she understood me.
During my teenage years I remember arguing with her more but about what, I cannot now recall. I wasn’t much of a rebel so it can’t have been anything too major. Despite the occasional friction, I also remember my teenage years as a time our relationship started to shift a little, and I felt in some conversations that she was relating to me as she would any other adult. I’m not sure anything was different in reality though, as she had always made me feel that with her, I had a voice and my opinion was never dismissed out of hand.
In my late teens in early 20s I was pretty immature and, as many do in their teens, I distanced myself from her a little more. I’m particularly embarrassed to recall a time she visited me while I was at university and I reverted to very childish responses. It was my sister (only 14 at the time) who pointed out to me that I was acting like I didn’t want her there and this made me reflect on my behaviour. I guess I was negotiating my way in the world as an adult and needed some degree of separation at the time. I did eventually get over myself.
My mid to late 20s saw another shift in our relationship as Mum left my Dad and my sister and I found ourselves in the sometimes child sometimes parent role… We supported her as she had, and continued to, despite the emotional turmoil she was going through, continued to support us. By the time I turned 30 life was good. She had met someone new, I had met my (now) husband, although she only met him the once. At some point that year, she told me to follow my heart, that all she wanted for me was to be happy and that she would always be there to support me no matter what. I believed her. It wasn’t the first time she had said this but it was the last. She passed away that September.
Many say that recovery from a major bereavement takes two years. It was probably about two years before I truly got used to the new normal but in all honesty it doesn’t really go away, it just changes. Time does heal but little things can still stir up a storm. Christmas, birthdays, a certain song on the radio, the smell of her perfume… And then of course there are the major milestones at which her absence was particularly painful – my wedding, and the birth of my son.
I had always thought Mum would deliver my baby. She had been a midwife for years and then gone on to become a maternity bereavement counsellor and was preparing for early retirement by the time I turned 30. However, I remember talking to her about my future child or children around then and – even though she said she wouldn’t do it, which I now understand – for me it was just a given. Throughout my pregnancy I also carried the wish that Mum would have been there to help. I asked my sister to be my birthing partner alongside my husband and she was just as calming as Mum would have been had she been there. Post pregnancy though, was a very scary time with pre-eclampsia sending me back to hospital for another two weeks throughout which I wished every day that Mum was there.
The early stages of babyhood, as they are for every new mum, were the hardest. Daily I wanted Mum and the grief returned in waves, both in the challenging moments and in those that make it all worthwhile. His first smile, when he started crawling, then walking, his first words… The list goes on. I still wish she were here for all of it. To meet this gentle, sensitive soul who has so much of her in him. She would have loved him I’m sure and we do talk about her together. He is very interested some days, and less so others. He has told me he wished he could have met her. So do I.
I often talk about my Mum as though she was perfect. We do tend to idolise those who have passed, glossing over their flaws as though we never complained about them when they were alive. Mum wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination. Oh and boy did I whinge about her sometimes (there’s a flaw of mine right there). But she was real. She was human, relatable. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers, she’d admit when she made a mistake and she wasn’t afraid of saying sorry. That, to me, is about as perfect as any parent can get.
So, when people say I’m good mum I tell them “yes, sometimes.” If someone criticises my parenting I do get upset initially but reflection reminds me that everything I do comes from a place of love and the only person who can really judge my parenting is my son. So I keep on, knowing that – at least as a Mother – I am Good Enough. And that’s the legacy of my mother’s love.
Rachael Blair is a writer and life coach based in London, UK. Rachael blogs about writing and personal development on her website Writing. People. Poetry. She keeps her more personal thoughts about parenting and family life over at Mothering Mushroom.