It didn’t take becoming a mother for me to start appreciating my own mother; that began a long time ago and grew over the years. But now that I’m in the trenches with children of my own, it’s the everyday things I marvel at the most… How she fed nine children three meals a day, every day. How she managed basic errands when she didn’t drive and lived in the middle of nowhere. How she survived on 3-4 hours of sleep for…I don’t know…20 years? How at one point she coped with having six children under six — the youngest of whom were twins. How she grew the best garden, cooked macrobiotically for a few years, read philosophy, raised farm animals, and remained active in our community and school in the midst of everything else. You could probably write a book about her — but it would have to be after she’s dead, because she’d hate that.
My mother has the courage of a lion and the constitution of an ox. She had her first child — me — when she was 22 and her last at 47. One scene that stands out vividly in my mind is one particular day when I went to school while Mum was 9 months pregnant. That morning, she was standing in the kitchen fixing breakfast and school lunches, and when I came home that afternoon, she was still standing in the kitchen fixing dinner. “Go see what’s in the living room,” she said — and in the middle of the room was a baby in a bassinet on the floor. My new little sister.
When I was in university, after my parents separated, my mother moved all the kids into the city and went to law school, graduated at the top of her class, and was elected valedictorian (some of my high school friends were her classmates). She went back to the country and practiced law part-time while raising my sister Lucy, who has Down Syndrome.
People assume that, because she had so many children, she must be very maternal and domestic. Nope: She doesn’t drool over kids (though she loves her own). She can’t sew, has no interest in crafts, and doesn’t particularly like to cook. Her dream is to live in the middle of the woods in a simple cabin where no one can find her, with just the basics and some books. Though I’m guessing she wouldn’t leave her Frye boots behind — or her leather jacket, for that matter. And she’d still want her hair cut every so often at her favorite salon in the city.
Mother of 10, lawyer, environmentalist, activist, wannabe monk, she wants a new truck when she turns 70. With a mother like this (and a father equally unique), my childhood was anything but conventional. My mum taught me a lot over the years by word and example, and last Mother’s Day I wrote about five major lessons I’ve learned from her. Another big one was to embrace not fitting in. It has served me well over the years, and now as an older mom of two Ethiopian girls, it’s super helpful. I couldn’t care less that we stick out in public or don’t fit the norm of what people expect a family to be — and that’s because I grew up with a model of being different and a mother who led the way.
Tomorrow is my mum’s birthday, and although she’ll never read this (she’s practically a luddite and avoids computers as much as possible), I’m particularly mindful this week of how grateful I am for who she is and how she formed me into the mother I’m trying to be. Happy birthday, Mum!
Image: Zoe Saint-Paul