Every Birthday and Mother’s day I would trawl through Clintons card selection and be faced with this question over and over again.
Inside these cards would read a gushy poem about mothers wiping away your tears, tucking you in at night and supporting your dreams.
They’re the types of cards that my Mum would pick up, roll her eyes at and stick her fingers down her throat because they’re so sickly.
So on every special occasion I tended to sway towards the more sarcastic greeting cards that usually went along the lines of:
‘I’m awesome, you’re welcome – Happy Mothers Day’.
But going back to the question in hand, the biggest reason I tended to sway from those cards is because they’re so generic. Yes a mother does all of those things, but they never really captured who my mum was or what she was like as a mother.
I’ll start back at the beginning as far as I can remember.
As a young child I was somewhat of a mummy’s girl. After having me, she went back to work after only a few months as being a self-employed hairdresser meant she couldn’t risk losing her clients. She always said I was an easy baby (shocking I know) which made life easy having to take me from house to house doing their hair.
This continued throughout my childhood and when I think back now, the reality for a child to go from house to house watching people having their hair done is pretty boring but I used to love it. Partly because I would be fussed over by the old ladies and was extremely nosey poking round other people’s houses, but I think the truth was that I just liked spending time with her, no matter what we were doing.
Some of my fondest memories will always be the times we spent in the car singing along to ace of base, the cranberries or Sash! I know I used to absolutely dread hearing the intro to Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares’, Everything but the Girls ‘Missing’ but she would insist on playing them over and over again and singing along to them (badly I might add).
My mum was someone who always did the right thing, never took a day off work unless she absolutely had to and trying to get a day off sick from school always felt like a full blown military operation. So I couldn’t believe my luck when I was about 10 and on the way to school she stopped at a roundabout and declared that she didn’t want to go to work and asked if we should take the day off?! I thought she was joking but she turned the car around, drove home and then phoned the school to tell them I was sick! We then spent the day on the sofa under duvets watching films and probably consuming far too much junk food.
Watching films together was a way we frequently spent quality time together. In later childhood and my early teens, Adrian would often stay away for work and we would spend those evenings renting movies from blockbusters and more recently we would spend Saturday afternoons having lunch together and going to the cinema.
As an avid Eminem fan, one of the best trips we took was when I was 13 and she dressed me up to look like a 15 year old chav so that she could sneak me into see 8 mile.
In my teenage years we somewhat drifted apart and had a bit of a fractious relationship as mothers and daughters often do. I think part of the issue was that we were so similar in lots of ways, and clashed in the ways we different. It also didn’t help that I was partial to a bit of under-age drinking (I will come back to this!). Something she didn’t appreciate when she would turn up to whatever situation I had gotten myself into and would run into her colleagues from the Police station. On my first adventure drinking down at Eureka park, I ended up paralytic with police attendance. Mum had only recently joined Kent Police and when an officer asked why she was there, she pointed to me passed out on a log outside KFC and declared ‘that’s mine’!
Growing up I thought it was so cool having a mum who was a hairdresser but having recently delved into some old family photos I question why I ended up with such horrific hair styles (I can share these with you later!) given she always looked so glamorous. I don’t think I will ever be able to smell Chanel number 5 and not think of her.
I have spent years watching her make-up routine meticulously applying mascara and tweezing apart each eyelash, but the item she would never be without was her lipstick. No matter where she was going or what she was doing, she would never leave the house without her lippy! Even in the moments when she felt at her illest and we were only popping to Sainsburys, she insisted on wearing it.
Her hair always looked immaculate which was hardly surprising given she would use enough hairspray to withstand gale force winds. I dread to think of the amount of hairspray she has got through over the years. She alone has probably kept Wella’s Silvikrin Maximum Hold product afloat given she got through nearly a can a week.
She always loved shopping and had such a wide variety of clothes (which filled 3 wardrobes!) but her biggest weakness seemed to be handbags and jewelry. As someone who doesn’t use a handbag, I could never understand why she needed to have so many! When she started collecting pandora charms (most of which are pink!) a couple of years ago, she quickly ran out of space before having to move onto a second bracelet and a necklace. When she started considering a 3rd bracelet, I almost staged an intervention but she thankfully realised that would probably be too much.
As a parent she always encouraged honesty and detested lies. After several rounds of sneaking alcohol out the house, being caught and getting grounded, I decided to give plan B a go. I found that being truthful enabled me to have more freedom, she could trust my judgement but I respected the boundaries more when said no – even if I did try and push them now and again.
One of the biggest things she taught me (which is a strong character trait in me now) is to take responsibility and face the consequences of my actions.
I am not a parent but I have seen many friends carry out the go to ‘empty threat’ tactic to get their child to do as they’re told. Unfortunately, my mum’s threats were never empty!!
Some things were small like the threat that I didn’t start brushing my hair properly, she was going to chop it all off, which she did.
I was told numerous times as a teenager that if I continued to leave my shoes by the front door, they would be thrown outside. Again, I foolishly thought nothing of it until one morning when I went to leave the house and couldn’t find my shoes I discovered them out on the front lawn!
There are 2 particular incidents which stick out in my head though.
After the second near hospitalistion of under-age drinking (I promise this is the last reference to it) not one to be fooled, she worked out that to have gotten the alcohol to its destination I would have had to smuggle it into school. After another talking to and grounding sentence issued, I thought that was the end of the matter. That was until the following Monday at school where I was summoned to the headmistress office and subsequently suspended for bringing alcohol onto the premises!! I couldn’t believe that my own mum had dobbed me in!!
The best one however was when I was about 16 or 17. I was always somewhat of a messy person and we’d have the age old argument about tidying my bedroom. She had absolutely reached her limit and she kept threatening to throw everything away if I didn’t sort it out.
One day I came home from work, went upstairs and found the only thing left in my bedroom was my bed and wardrobe (I think they only only remained due to the difficulty of moving) and in a task which must have taken her hours, she had emptied the entire contents of my bedroom (some furniture included) onto the back garden and garage. I remember making a comment that in the time she had spent emptying my room, she may as-well have tidied it (which didn’t go well) and as I angrily started sorting through everything I was silently impressed at the lengths she would go to prove a point.
As a strong woman, my mum was never a fan of dramatic behaviour so would either just ignore my tantrums, take the mick or tell me to get a grip.
There was the odd time that things backfired though (and I tell this story with gest).
When I was 9 or 10, I started doing the odd ‘chore’ around the house. One of things I was tasked with doing was making the evenings coffee. I am not sure what happened but I ended up missing the cup and pouring the water over my hand.
In a state of shock, instead of stopping when one bit of water went on my hand, I ended up pouring the whole kettle over it. I was absolutely hysterical and mum kept telling me to calm down as she held my hand under cold water. After a few minutes of hysteria she slapped me round the face to snap me out of it! I just want to add here that my mum never used physical violence as a way of punishment and it wasn’t hard.
She tended to my hand with burns gels out the first aid kit and after about half an hour of me crying and whining and her telling me that it would get better soon, she reluctantly took me to A&E stating that the nurses would only do what she had already been doing at home and that I was wasting their time.
After an hour or so I was taken in for treatment, and by the time the nurse unwrapped my hand it had doubled in size and the skin was coming away. The doctor said I likely had 3rd degree burns and would need specialist treatment so the burns didn’t get infected and they could minimise scarring. I remember my mum being utterly horrified and guilt ridden as she explained to the doctor that she wasn’t originally going to bring me in and she felt awful. As the doctor comforted her, I smugly declared ‘and she slapped me!’
My whole life I have been told how much I look like my mum. When in the hospice, some of the nurses had dubbed me ‘clone’ or ‘mini me’. Although at one point one did ask whether I was her daughter or her sister, I am not sure whether mum was looking particularly youthful or I was looking haggard that day!!
I don’t think I realised how much alike we were in other ways until more recently though.
I have a bit of a dark sense of humour and my default coping mechanism is always to crack a joke – something which I definitely inherited. After an emotional conversation when I was 16 and she explained that she Breast Cancer and what it all meant, there was an awkward silence which she horrifyingly declared ‘hey, look on the bright side, if I die you’ll get my life insurance pay out’!
We both have a dry sense of humour, like to take the mick, are sarcastic and always right. In those final weeks it was like all the best bits of her character were on overdrive. On one of the final nights she was awake, I remember cracking a joke (I can’t remember what it was) and she turned to look at me and told me to eff off!!
She kept her humour right through to the end and even in some of the dark moments when she became confused, she always managed to find a way to laugh at herself as we regaled stories to her.
For those who know Adrian, you will know that he enjoys to crack a bad joke that’s sure to make you groan – his favourite remark being ‘said the actress to the bishop’.
Whilst in the hospice her sister, my aunt, Geraldine came to visit and as we sat in the room talking, Adrian passed her a drink containing a straw and make some reference towards sucking something little before adding on ‘said the actress to the bishop’ to which my mum, clearly having had enough of the joke by this point, responded ‘do you know what, that actress don’t half say a lot to that bishop’ to which we fell about laughing.
I have learnt so much from my mum – her approach was at times tough but I understand now that it was always filled with love. Some of the biggests lessons though were completely unintended,and I don’t know whether she fully realised how much of a positive influence she has on my life.
Her strength and determination have always been utterly inspirational to me. Even though she was exhausted, she would literally drag herself into work and try to continue with as much normality as she could. In the moments when she was weak and just getting downstairs was a challenge, even if it took her hours, she would get herself up, get washed, dressed and of course, do her hair.
There have been so many moments over the years, and I know there will be more to come, when I haven’t been able to face the day. I can’t say it’s worked every time, but on so many of those occasions I have thought about the things she has endured, and the lengths she had to go to for just a simple task and it would enable me to pull myself together and get on with the day. For me, it was her strength and strong will which at times fooled us into forgetting how ill she really was and why in so many ways these last few months have been such a shock.
Mum was always so kind and thoughtful, putting everyone else’s needs above her own. Throughout the final weeks she would repeatedly apologise for how awful all this must have been for Adrian and I, despite the fact this was happening to her.
She was never someone who had a lot of money yet she always found a way to give me things that I wanted and needed. From every disney film going as a child, to working overtime to provide me the wedding I had always dreamed of.
The mistakes she made and heartache she suffered earlier in her life instilled independence, self-worth and courage in me. She taught me to recognise the good eggs in life so that I could surround myself with amazing people.
The struggles she faced during her life taught me that things aren’t always easy and sometimes you just have to suck it up and get on with it.
But by far the biggest, hardest and most bittersweet lesson has been how short life truly is, how much we take for granted and how much I want to live it. I have known since I was 16 that this day would come far too soon and there is so much time that we probably lost and so many things I wish I could do differently. This is by far the worst pain and strongest heartache I have ever experienced but it has made me eternally grateful for all the great things I have in my life. I never got a chance to tell my mum everything I wanted to say, but I did manage to tell her that. She told me to grasp life in my hands and to make the most of every opportunity that came my way and for her, I always will.
So back to my original question – ‘What is a mum?’
I don’t think that question can ever be universally answered.
But what I do know is that my mum was an incredible woman and the best mum I could have wished for. She may not be here physically but her influence will shape my life forever and her spirit will never leave me.