What makes a mother

When you have stage 4 cancer, and young children, you spend quite a bit of time thinking about how you are going to prepare your children for the day they no longer have a mother.  Logically there are a lot of things you CAN do.  Letters to be given to them on their birthdays, and special days like graduations, weddings, the birth of the grandchildren you would have loved to have rocked on your lap.  All the things that lend a semblance of your presence to the milestone days that as a mother  you dreamed of actually being there for.  You can videotape messages, and yourself, reading their favourite books, telling them how much you love them.  In this digital age, there is no need for them to forget the sound of my voice, like I have forgotten how sweet my own mothers used to sound to me.  I can’t promise them the warmth of my touch, but there are things I can give them.

On top of all this though, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can really and truly emotionally prepare them, and I have done this, as I have written about in the past, by slowly but surely removing myself from them while I am STILL HERE.  I cooked for them less and less, spent less time brushing their hair, virtually no time helping them with their homework.  Once I had the best turned out kids in Australia, due to a long obsession with buying designer kids clothes on EBAY.  Recently I haven’t cared much what they have worn, and I can’t remember the last time I got out the Napisan and tried to soak out a stain.  I certainly never went to assembly every week, but that had turned into almost never.  And I only listened with half an ear to the cares, and concerns, the slights from friends that hurt a heart.  I used to try and solve it all, but recently I have only been able to offer a blank stare and a few consoling words.  Because I thought if I put their world to rights now, how much harder is is going to be for them when I CAN’T?

As much as I loved my mother, who died when I was 21, sadly if I was to be honest, I remember her a lot for the things that she didn’t do.  Due to her quite severe mental illness, she was physically there, but emotionally she was there for me quite rarely, and on the nights that I went to bed secure in the knowledge that she was firmly in my corner on something, I would invariably wake up the next morning and find out that she wasn’t, because the darkness had overcome her again and she could barely even manage to get out of bed.  I understand so much more now, and gosh I wish I could tell her…I GET it mum.  But at the time, I sometimes envied other people their mothers.  The ones that went to parent teacher interviews, and went to the school when their kids were being bullied, intent on sorting it out.  The ones that went shopping with their daughters, and had home spa parties with painted toes, and cucumber circles cut to deal with the eye bags.  When I got married in the early 90’s, I was living in London, but my mum was really sick, so we flew home for a week to marry in Australia so she could be there.  I hadn’t purchased a dress, and in one last ditch attempt to have a really special mother / daughter memory I asked her to come with me and help pick one.  Unfortunately she felt unable, and I had to settle for showing her when I got home.  Yes, I’ll always remember that.

And yet, I adored that woman, and when she died, I was devastated.  I was an adult, a married woman with a career, not a young child.  But when I got the phone call that she had gone, and I boarded the plane for the long flight home to say goodbye, all I could think of was the huge chunk of LOVE that was gone from my life, the unconditional love that you get from your mum, who always adores you, even if she doesn’t always LIKE you.  And I think the biggest sadness when she was gone was that every day she was still on this earth was another chance to make a memory, to have another chat, to fill the mother daughter memory bank with all the things that I felt I never had with her.  The day we buried her, I know that all the hopes and dreams I still held for our relationship were gone forever.  No more chances.  I know she loved me, and I don’t “blame” her for any of this, just the insidious beast that is bipolar disorder.  There are times that she couldn’t give me what I needed from her.  But there were also times when she could, and she didn’t.  I think she had become so sick, she had forgotten how.

I spoke in a recent post about my attitude adjustment, about my new ability to live day by day, and since then, I have managed to make a few subtle changes around here.  Instead of my daughters having to come to me to sign school forms which are long since overdue, I ask for them out of the bags again.  This term, special lunch order forms went in well before they were needed back.  Yesterday I spayed a bit of detangler in some knotty locks, and I paired some outfits together to make them easier to throw on.  Designer, of course :)   I’m interested in how their days have been, and if there is a sadness, I give comfort, and advise as best I can.  Sometimes I think they just want to know you care, rather than have you solve things for them.  I’m here my darlings.

Dakota recently missed out on being house captain by one vote.  She was very keen on the role, but she is a beautiful girl with a heart as big as Texas, and she was happy for her best friend, who was elected.  On Monday morning just gone, I noticed she looked a little sad, and I realised that the captains were getting their badges at assembly that day.  I asked her if that is why she was a little down, and she said it was.

I thought for most of the day about it.  Should I go to assembly so that she knew her  mother was nearby.  That something hurt, and I knew it, and I ran to her so  that  she could feel my love.  Then the part of me that worries about how they are going to go when I am gone if I love them “too much” while I am here started to take over, and I went back and forward until I asked Facebook, as you do, and got the overwhelming response that I should GO.  The look on my daughters face when she saw me is something that won’t be forgotten, and brings a tear to the eye.  She hugged me super tight on the way back to class, and asked me if could come to assembly next week too.  I said I would, and every one after that that I could.  My other girls hugged me too, faces of pure delight.  That night Tana snuggled next to me in bed and said “thank you mama for hugging me at assembly today”, as she wrapped her arms around me again.  The next morning Indi asked me to come into the school and talk to the teacher about her lost reader bag, as she was worried she would get into “trouble”.  To her surprise, I said to her that I would.  The look of relief on her face – priceless.  My god, what have I done to them, taking myself away from them while I am still here?

So bring on the assemblies.  The forms, the homework, the readers.  Give me another cuddle, and for goodness sake let’s have a facial and put cucumbers on our eyes, because mum hasn’t been sleeping well and the bags are like suitcases!

No matter what happens from here on in, they won’t remember me for the things that I didn’t do.  They will remember that I loved as much as I could, for as long as I could.

And that, my friends, is what makes a mother.

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13 Comments on “What makes a mother

  1. Tears as usual usual Julia – and again – as usual – you hit the nail on the head

    All on Red beautiful family

  2. Wonderful .. Your writings are explanative direct and sigh such feelings ..I feel I’m there sometimes …xxx

  3. So so beautifully said Julia, your children will remember all that unconditional love yo give them. This was so touching, to hear about your own Mum, my daughter in law was diagnosed with bi polar about 7 years ago, before that, it was a nightmare, never knowing how you would be treated or if you would be spoken to at any given time. I’m so glad you knew that your Mum loved you. All on Red xxxx

  4. That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. If I can ever live long enough to be half the mum you are, I will be happy. Seriously. You honesty and your overwhelming love is incredible.
    Looking forward to many many more posts, and to reading that book.
    All on red.

  5. Oh I’m so glad you’ve had a change of heart! Love and cherish every moment, and I’m crossing everything that you’ll have many years to come! All the best for tomorrow xx

  6. Exactly. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do these things. You are a great mother Jules, and always will be.

  7. You know, we make the best decision we can *in the moment*, but I always reserve the right to change my mind as I go along. When I was diagnosed I was told I would not need a mastectomy. I was comfortable knowing that if I HAD been offered a mastectomy I would just remain “flat” and not have any reconstruction. And then, 6 months later, I DID need a mastectomy and I did a 180. I absolutely wanted to attempt reconstruction. The difference was perspective. In 6 months my perspective changed. You made your original decision to p pull back from your girls because of your circumstances at the time. Now your perspective has changed. Years ago my friend’s husband passed from bladder cancer. They had 9 children, and the kids said goodbye to him nearly two months before he passed. He wanted his children -some of them quite young – to remember him like himself, not the shell of the man he had become. The last two months he spent in their master suite, really not able to move about the house due to his weakened state. The day he actually passed the kids knew but were not upset. They had said their goodbyes long ago. I don’t know that I would do the same thing, but for them it worked. As the parents it made sense to do it this way for their kids. You life and its circumstances have brought some very difficult decisions, and you can only do your best in the moment.

  8. You’re amazing, just an incredible human being. Tears and smiles from a stranger. x

  9. I can’t express how much your words mean to me. You’re an amazing mum and inspire me with every blog post to be a better mum to my children. I don’t know you but think of you daily and send pleas out to the universe for you to come out of this operation safe and fighting.

  10. Julia i read this with a heavy heart ….. today 12 years ago i lost my mum…. she was my best friend , my secret keep ….unconditional love is the pure and faithful .
    I have secretly following your story . It is incredibly healing to read this …..I cry for your children but I believe you are truly

    giving your girls the most beautiful gift ,

    memories will help them in the future to
    remember how amazing their mother was
    and always will be .

    It takes courage ……. Julia you are

  11. Yes. To all of it. Because while we are here, that is all that matters. Our presence. There can never be too much love. For it is often the thing that carries us once a loved one is gone… This is so beautiful!!!

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