Yes, for once, that apostrophe is in the right place. I think.
At a school visit last week, I was joking about my mother’s opinion on my hair colour and how, since I’ve been published, she’s been able to modify her opinion. It’s now completely acceptable for me to have pink hair because I am an “eccentric author.”
“But Miss,” said an observant young man, ” didn’t you just say your Mum died when you were little?”
Very true. Glad you were listening. So here’s the story. Some families are complicated.
I have mothers, plural.
I adore this picture. There is so much love beaming from this photograph, you could warm your hands on it. How cute we were in our matching dresses. Sadly, not long after this picture was taken, Vivvy died.
For a child to lose their mother, at any age, is a very terrible thing. I dread losing my parents even now and I’m 47. But when you are very tiny, to have your mother torn from you is a trauma I am glad I don’t remember. I wish I had a few more memories of Vivvy though. And sometimes, I get lucky.
Something will surface that gives me back a tiny piece of the mother I lost.
A few weeks ago, my Auntie Lynn sent me the last precious letters that my mum, her big sister, had sent to her. Such treasure. They taught me things I never knew, and they added a new layer to my relationship with Shirley Hodgkiss, the woman who gave me a second chance at having a mum.
Don’t misunderstand me.
It wasn’t happy ever after from that point on. Rebuilding a family isn’t easy. Nobody gets everything right – especially when work, tours of duty, money worries and cancer all conspire against you. And I made a lot of assumptions as I was growing up, some of which turned out to be quite wrong.
I had a constant knot in my stomach as little girl and I didn’t like eating very much. I remember sitting in the school dinner hall of my play school while all the lunch tables were cleared up around me. I was left, on an island of my own: one small girl at one small table in a giant, empty hall. I had to sit there until I had forced down my throat one tiny, triangle of a sandwich. I never like eating bread. It seemed to form an inedible lump that just refused to go down. I don’t remember leaving that hall but I suppose I must have done, eventually.
My new mum worried about my skinny frame. She took me to the doctors and they told her I was just one of those lucky people who could eat a sack of potatoes and never put on any weight. As young as I was, I knew they were wrong and for years, I believed my poor appetite was all to do with the grief of losing Vivvy.
And then I read the letters my aunt had sent me. In them I can see that I never ate very well. Vivvy had worried about the exact same thing:
“Kathryn is very small for her age…I get quite worried…She’s got no appetite and hasn’t put on any weight at all, in fact, she’s lost 2oz…”
I had always been a poor eater – quite probably I was always a bit of an anxious child. And Shirley took all that worry on. She didn’t have to, and I wasn’t grateful. Oh, the silent battles of wills we had, the pointless misunderstandings, and all the while, she shouldered all the worry of a mother. She made it hers. She made me her daughter despite how hard I made it for her.
That’s what a mother does, whether they borned you or not.
I will always be sad for the mum that I lost but I will ever be grateful for the mum that I gained.
Happy Mothers’ Day to both my Mums. I love you xxx
PS Thank you Auntie Lynn for the treasure of these letters, I will take good care of them, I promise xx