Greetings, felicitations, good wishes, and (if I must) Happy Mother’s Day, to all the mums in my life, past and present.
I wish all of you the best of days on this commercially motivated, highly publicised, and mostly pointless event.
Pointless not because there is no need for richer and more heartfelt celebration of ‘mumsiness’ , but because the implication is that we can satisfy all our obligations to female parents on only one day of the year. I used to say that I didn’t believe in Mother’s day, and that I celebrated my mum every day of the year. But whilst that rolled off the tongue easily, it wasn’t really true. I love my mum but I have been focused on my own day-to-day life and family much more than focused on my mum. I guess many sons suffer from this fault. But as I get older (as does she) I feel the need to think about her more and be part of her life more.
So, first and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day Vonnie Russell, my peerless and awe-inspiring biological and “official” mum. Your constancy has been endless; your generosity and love have been boundless; you have taught me and taught me and taught me lessons that have lasted decades and that I use pretty much every day. I see your hands and heart and head in almost everything good that I do, and I’m thrilled that I can now recognise this influence: it wasn’t always as clear to me as it is now.
You’ve been so strong for us: you’ve supported us while Dad studied, and often played both parental roles. I’ve worked a couple of jobs that I didn’t really like, but nothing like the shit jobs that you did over the years to keep the roof and pantry intact. And you did it with style and panache and art: how piggish and childish was I to wish that you would make the ordinary meals that “other kids had”, instead of the wonderful meals that you put on our tables and in our lunchboxes. Why shouldn’t a school-boy take a sandwich to school with cream cheese, raisins, celery and cashew nuts in it? Why should I wish to have crumbed cutlets and boiled peas “like everyone else” instead of the more exotic meals that you cooked. You gave me my “papagallo” sense of colour that is recognised constantly, and internationally (as we were told one night in that bistro in Paris when I was wearing one of your hand-made shirts).
Secondly, bug hugs and good wishes to my so-called “monsters-in-law”, of which I’ve had two now, and that may be enough for one life. The colloquial and rude term is pervasive in Western society, and has parallels in Asia. It’s rare that there is much harmony between the groom and the mother of the bride because we exist in a paradox that is centred round your daughter. You and I had completely aligned goals, but starkly different methods for achieving those goals. This produced a dissonance that is difficult to overcome, especially because our objectives are so well-intentioned. The very lack of objectivity with which you dealt with me was only the flip-side of the total lack of objectivity that you brought to the daughters in whom I had placed my heart and filthy desire. You were only looking out for your daughter’s happiness and fulfilment, but how normal and human of you to see it through your own eyes instead of hers. Perhaps your view was truer and more insightful than theirs in the end. But for all that, you were pretty good sports, and I did have many happy times in your embrace.
And to my ex-darling-missus’, only one of whom is ever likely to read, let alone understand, this yarn: if you are reading this, despite any events or distance or time I have nothing but a warm gooey fondness for you, my first love. You’ve become a mum and I have no doubt you are equally as wonderful as a mum as you were as a partner. We were just babies when we met and when we married: everyone said it was the wrong thing to do. As events have turned out perhaps they were right, but only at a practical level. At the heart of the matter we were right and nothing will ever change that. I’ll never forget “Shine on you, Crazy Diamond” the song that changed everything. I send you much love.
While we’re on the subject of matrimony, I also give an extra big hug to the mother-in-law that I probably should have had, but never did. I enjoyed your company but our relationship never got to that level of formality, seeing as how your daughter fired me before that could ever get on the radar, although I felt that it was a possibility. I was fired for just cause I hasten to add: I had it coming but couldn’t see it. That single act says much about your daughter’s strength and intellect and looking back I can’t find it in me to contest the termination (although it knocked me for a six at the time). I have few real regrets in my life (I have come to accept that I have reaped as I have sown), but one of them is that you never became my “monster-in-law”; I wish it had turned out otherwise. She herself has long been a mum, and so I doubly hug you both for the joy you brought me whilst we were in each other’s lives. I may have learned some lessons that took decades to bloom, but I was better for it.
Thirdly, to all the honorary mums I’ve had over the years, who’ve given me all kinds of love in all the kinds of situations a life brings. My paternal grandmother Hilda (and it is her birthday today also) cared for me always, but I spent a couple of long periods living with her and Gramps, as well as many short-stays at summer. Hilda was strong in the old Irish Catholic country girl strong: but she used that strength mainly to sublimate herself in the support of her menfolk, myself included. The rest she used to cope with a plague of arthritis that wracked her body daily. I never knew my maternal grandma Trixie, but based on my aforementioned Mum, and the gentle but devastatingly handsome man who was her father, I’m pretty sure that she was a star too.
There have been so many family friends who’ve provided bursts of maternal care and love over the years. I don’t remember you ever treating me as a child, and that you gave it to me straight. You fed me dinners and asked me to baby-sit your kids and gave me advice on just about everything, whether they wanted it or not. At the time, as a child and young adult, it was your menfolk that I idolised, not you I’m afraid. But over time I realised that although they were flamboyant and intellectually scary, underneath they were just men, and they could be just as selfish and temperamental and sometimes crazy as any other man (including me). I think you may have been the real reasons that they were able to be someone that I could idolise, but I just didn’t realise it at the time. I’d much rather have your questions and counsel on my life than to have a bloke drunkenly trying to teach me to fight (seriously) in the hallway before they went home from my parent’s house parties. And some of you gave much-needed “tough love” better than the men: there’s not much that will bring your pulse and adrenaline to life as a 13-year-old than being castigated for your (previously unknown) innate male chauvinist attitudes by a severe intellectual feminist!
Before I finish I also should mention the more casually known mums of my parents circles and later my own, who I flirted with or lusted after or to whom I made advances : I’m sorry if I caused any embarrassment but I’m going to make it worse by offering hugs and kisses (again). I never had a “Graduate” experience, but there was that one moment…..
And lastly to the many mums of all ages with whom I interact in my various peer groups, both work and social, and who bring their maternal strengths to the tasks we share. Honestly, although I love to see your offspring’s stories and photos of everything from pre-natal to the grandchild, and the endless canine, feline and reptile proxies, I much prefer the real and present you, hearing about your take on things, and watching you navigate through the endless male short-sightedness and prejudice and just plain penis-driven stupidity. I don’t know how you do it. If you were running things, our lives might be much simpler but richer and more productive. There are many good reasons that Muhammed Younis makes his micro-loans to women 97% of the time: mums are women and women are for the future; women are sustainability itself; women make the difference.
And so, to all the mums in my life of all shapes, sizes, relationships and ages: I wish you all the very, very best of life on every day of every year. But, like so many of my gender, I am making this special effort on this commercialised and obligatory day: I am sending you big hugs and much love and all I ask is that you stay both ‘mumsy’ and in my life.