This Flashback Friday is going to be a little bit different to usual. As we are coming up to Mother’s Day, it feels only appropriate to dedicate it to my mother. The strongest person I have ever known.
In the beginning it was just the three of us; me, my sister Lillian and mum. Being twins, Lil and I were such a solid team we even had our own language. We spent our days making mud pies (which Lillian somehow convinced me to eat), wearing fairy dresses and burying mum in piles of pillows while she slept (we strongly believed for a time that she was, in fact, a wombat).
Back then, mum was more of a feeling than a person; an aura. Like all children, we were under the egocentric impression that her life began when ours did. She existed for us, to comfort us, to give us food, to discipline us. One of my strongest memories growing up is of a night when we were being so rowdy that she threatened to lock us outside. I said something along the lines of “come at me” and next minute I was in the front yard. What an injustice.
It must have been hard raising us on her own, and working part-time. But as I said mum is really strong, so we never saw that.
For our family music was for road trips. Mum has a lot of friends who live out of Sydney, and we visited all of them about twice a year. The nine-hour drive to Bellingen always featured KD Lang’s 2005 album Hymns of the 49th Parallel, which had a compilation of music by fellow Canadian songwriters, as well as a rendition of her own Simple, and her popular cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. For the artist, it was a pivotal moment in her career. It was her first attempt at producing, as well as being a singer and songwriter.
At the time I felt that I was too cool for KD Lang, and for this, I am deeply sorry. I was young, and believed that anyone who wasn’t in a So Fresh Hits album was a waste of my time.
Now, looking back, she was such in important part of our childhood. KD Lang taught us that femininity is subjective. She didn’t fit the stereotype of female music artists at the time, and for that she was often attacked. After the release of her album the London Times declared “It’s a quirk of the music industry that one of the sexiest, most sensual voices in all of pop music comes not from some raven-tressed siren in a glitter dress but a middle-aged woman with a utility haircut and a penchant for male tailoring.”
Being a proud, vocal feminist, mum loved herself a bit of KD. Mum was never someone you would call soft-spoken, she has opinions and she makes sure she is heard. Perhaps this is partly due to being the middle child in a very vocal family, but the lesson we learnt from it was priceless. I think women get shut down a lot in conversation, even in my generation. It’s important to remember that voicing your opinions doesn’t make you arrogant, or un-feminine.
The other important lesson that mum taught Lil and I was to be genuine. Mum has always been a terrible liar, a trait that she’s passed on to me. Growing up I would often cringe watching her talk to other adults. While they had all seemed to master the art of being fake to a degree, mum just couldn’t deal. She couldn’t feign politeness if she didn’t feel it, and if someone was inappropriate she would call them up on it. At the time it made me feel awkward but now I think it’s great.
At the end of 2012, the end of our HSC year, mum was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. In the ensuing years it has taken away her ability to walk, to lift her arms or roll over, to shout, or hold a long conversation. Things that we take for granted, that we believe give us our humanity.
It was hard to watch such an independent person lose her freedom of movement, and then of speech. It was hard for our whole family, but of course it was hardest for mum.
But such is her personality that she will never let it defeat her spiritually. She is still just as jolly, and as fun to be around today as she was two years ago. And when the time comes that we can no longer have conversations at all I know that it will be ok. Because just being with her makes me feel calm, and happy.
Mum has taught me how to be strong, how to be heard, and how happiness has to come from you. I will never forget this.