Life lessons from my Mama

Today I’m celebrating being 69 days alcohol-free (get in!) but more importantly, I’m celebrating my mum. We don’t usually go in for the ‘Hallmark holidays’ (something about being northern, I reckon) but this year, I hope she’ll forgive me if I jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon…

Kate Anderson, Titch, Katie-noodle, Mama. My mum grew up in the north of England and escaped down south as soon as her independent streak kicked in and my Gran would let her. She lived in London and worked at the BBC before meeting my dad – a fellow northerner – at a party where he was drinking beer from a vase (legend). They were married 6 months later and are celebrating 50 years of marriage in October. Boom!

My mum has been a strong and loving constant for me, and my brother, through our best and worst times. My dad travelled a lot for work when we were growing up so mum was often on her own – a long way from her own mum and family – with two young children who could turn arguing into an art form. She made the best chocolate crispy cakes and created a safe, warm, happy home that I’ll always treasure.

My parents have never been judgmental or placed any expectations on my brother and I, aside from wanting us to do our best and be happy. There’s been no pressure on either of us to have children (phew) and we’ve been raised to be independent and to live the lives we choose. I saw a mug the other day that said: “The best mothers are promoted to grandmothers” WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? The best mothers nurture their children and don’t place emotional pressure on them to procreate just so they can call themselves Grandma. In my humble opinion…

In the past 6 years – since David, the children and I moved in together – I’ve apologised to my mum and thanked her A LOT. Living with teenagers is hard, really effing hard, and I know I didn’t navigate my stepchildren’s teenage years with half as much grace, understanding and patience as my own mum did with me and my brother.

The looks of pure disdain, the frequent requests for money, the endless lifts, the hormones, the mess (teens) and of course the crying, the slamming of doors and the gallons of wine (me). So again, mum, thank you for the teenage years and for so much more…

My mum and dad once did an 8-hour round trip from their home in North Yorkshire to give me a hug when I’d had my heart broken. They celebrated with me when I got married at 26 – and picked up the pieces when I got divorced two years later. They pretended not to mind when I flew to Australia instead of going to my graduation. They listened patiently as I questioned their choice of education for me through a haze of cigarette smoke when I was 19; a choice I now thank and respect them for enormously.

And I’ll never forget the day, after years of pestering, that mum gave in as I announced, once and for all, that I was giving up meat. I was 12. She cooked more lentils during those years than anyone should have to. She also didn’t remove any of the photos of dying battery hens I used to pin to our fridge in an attempt to shame my parents and brother into going veggie…

And she’s done all of this at the same time as losing her parents and her brother, helping to look after her often cantankerous father-in-law, studying for a degree and graduating in her 50s, living alone when my dad moved to the States for work and supporting my brother through years of addiction.

And I’m sure there are a whole heap of things I don’t know about because she’s protected me from them. I remember being a bit taken aback once when she told me, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mum”, but now I know exactly what she meant; she protects me, not burdens me. Plus we don’t talk about sex. EVER.

Our shared love of New Zealand Sauvignon (gosh, I miss it), Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and reading have characterised our relationship more recently and I love doing mix CDs for mum of my latest music finds. When life gets too much, my parents’ house is the first place I want to escape to and I’m heading up in a few weeks for some much needed mum (and dad) cooking and hugs.

I’ve been unlucky enough to experience some incredibly unpleasant and bizarre behaviour from my stepchildren’s mother over the past few years – which I know isn’t normal or typical – but I suspect isn’t unique either, and that breaks my heart. My experience of motherhood – having the mum I have and watching my friends as mothers – is positive, warm, loving, caring, selfless and strong. Yes there are frustrations and irritations but that protectiveness and love is always there.

I hate that Connor and Claudia don’t have that, especially now, when they need it most as they grieve for Joe. Their mother’s frequent absences, incessant dishonesty and brazen self-centredness were confusing for them when they were younger, but as they grow up, they realise it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with her. They are safe in the knowledge that David and I will always give them unconditional love, emotional support and as much time as we possibly can.

I’ve learned the importance of that from my mum and while some may say it’s different when the children aren’t biologically you’re own, for me it’s no different at all. Love is love.

Ma and Pa

I know how hard it is for my mum and dad to see me, David and the children in so much pain since losing Joe. I know they wish they were closer and could see us all more often and I know mum lies awake worrying about us. All I can say, mum, is that you raised me, so stop worrying. You and dad made me the strong, independent and resilient woman I am, along with the whacking great dollop of cynicism, sarcasm, anxiety and humour you threw in there for good measure.

I’ll be fine, and I’ll make sure my family are fine as well. Better than fine, in fact, it’ll just take some time. The axes of our lives have permanently shifted, but we’ll find new paths and Joe will be with us, laughing at our choices, along the way.

So today, and every day, I raise a glass of non-alcoholic fizz to my mama, and to all the incredible women in my life. Thank you.

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