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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mum wasn't always easy

This post is not easy for me to write. It feels disloyal but I think writing it will help.
My mum died in September 2009 after a long tussle with cancer. When she was diagnosed, there was a period where I gave her a saint-like status thinking only of all the good things she had done, the hard life she had faced, the achievements she could be proud of.
Of course, like my guru Freddie Mercury once said "We are all a mixture of good and bad".
Mum was an amazing woman and if you read my posts from February 2009 until April 2009 (don't worry - there aren't many of them), you will see that I had a fabulous mother.
However, nobody could wound me as powerfully as Mum and I spent a lifetime trying to gain her approval. My brother once said that Mum was really good with very young children giving them magical moments and I believe that is true. However, once you started challenging her (something all children have to do at some point in order to grow up and break free), she was so very difficult. Even when I was quite small, if I displeased her, she would not talk to me sometimes for days at a time. There were slaps and smacks but I am not going to overplay those as it was the sixties and seventies when different childcare standards applied. No, it was the emotional stuff she could lay on me that I think have impacted adversely on my life. You see, I have never quite been good enough.
Growing up, I used to feel I should be grateful she had adopted me. Later, I realised that although there is no doubt I benefitted from a secure and stable upbringing and lots of love, she adopted me at least partly to fulfil her own needs and desires for a daughter. She wanted to give me all the things she did not have in the poverty-stricken thirties. It was not her fault that I was the sort of girl who wasn't interested in pretty dresses and thought bras, handbags and make-up were a complete waste of time and effort. She tried as a older mum to be so "right on". She held a tea-party when I got my first period and telephoned all my relatives to share the news of me "becoming a woman".She wanted to put me on the contraceptive pill when I turned 16 which was ridiculous as it would take me well over a decade after that to lose the big V.
So we battled and over the years, I became intent on making her proud one day. I did really well at school flying through examinations. The other children said I found it easy. I would say I found it easier but I still worked hard for those certificates. I did not go on sleepovers preferring to be at home with my head in a book or at the library taking research that bit further.
When I went to get my A-Level results, Dad took the day off work so he got the news from me first that I had got enough grades to get into Cambridge University. Mum was at the hairdressers and turned up much later. With an adult head on, I think she was so stressed about the whole thing that she booked an appointment as a distraction. When I told her the news, she burst into tears and was so happy. It must have been so overwhelming for her having left school at 13 to go and work in the mill. She had earned her Grammar School place but could not go as her brother took the King's Shilling so there was no money for her to go. Maybe, in her heart of hearts, she resented my success or the fact things were made so easy for me. She would say poignantly that to live in a place like Cambridge, she would clean and clean and clean. I knew, although I don't think she ever did, that she was bright enough for Cambridge - she was just unfortunate in being born in the wrong era, into the wrong circumstances.
I loved my time at Cambridge and it was hard balancing the two parts of my life which were so different. Working-class Dewsbury does not share much with the rarefied atmosphere of Cambridge. I came home talking a bit posh despite not wanting to do so. Cambridge was my everything and I wonder how much that might have hurt Mum and Dad who dutifully delivered me there every 8 weeks and handed over cheques to me that they could probably ill afford.
When my 21st birthday came round, I did like all the other students did and had a party at college. Mum threw a fit that she was not invited but it was a student party for god's sake. She saw it as me rejecting or being ashamed of her. She was the mistress of the long silence and the hard-faced meaningful looks. When I knew I had passed or whatever they call it when you know you are going to be handed a degree in a couple of weeks, I invited my best friend from school down to celebrate. Mum reacted to this news by telling me she would not attend my Graduation Day. This was totally devestating and it is only down to the efforts of two very good friends that I turned up for the day at all. Needless to say, Mum was down the road in a hotel getting ready in her specially bought outfit whilst I was going through agonies. She turned up fashionably late but there as if all was forgiven. Realistically, she would not have missed such a huge event for anything but that day is forever slightly marred by her antics and harsh words beforehand.
When I left Cambridge and later turned my back on any idea of a legal career, I think things were easier for Mum. She could cope with me having a "normal" job in Carlisle so we had many great weekends there together. I had a feeling she felt like she had got her little girl back.
But then 3 years later, I had the audacity to get a boyfriend and things got very rocky again ...

1 comment:

  1. I think it's wonderful you can remember your mum for who she was rather than focus and the memories that made you happier. All of who she was moulded the girl then the woman you are today and to deny her less pleasent attributes wouldn't be fair to either of you. xx