But if I have any of the nurturing qualities one would expect of a good mother, any of her natural instincts, any knowledge of how to rock a child to sleep, what rhythm is best, how to listen to my child "speak" using his eyes and hands and facial expressions; if I have a gentle approach, if I know how to coax laughter, nay, relentless giggles (and I do), it's all down to this woman: my mother.
My mother at 17.
This photograph was taken 60 years ago. I've always loved this photo of my mum. She is so dang beautiful in it and I look nothing like her. I inherited my looks from my father's side of the family, but I always wished I had her nose, those lips. I have this photo framed in my house. It sits beside the old wind-up clock my father's father fixed however many moons ago. Each time I catch her image as I walk through my dining room, I wonder what it was she was thinking when the shutter clicked. She gazes out from this frame at me as I secure my son in his high chair these days; watches her baby feed her baby. My brother-in-law is correct in saying there is a Mona Lisa-esque quality to my mother's expression in this photograph. Is she sad? Her eyes appear so to me. I think of that time. She was so young, and World War II had just ended five years before. Ireland, which was 'neutral', would be mistaken continually for England and Dublin was bombed. My mother told me of hiding in bomb shelters, keeping curtains drawn. The curfews.
She had known my father for a year at this stage. One year; their first, together. Both of them worked at a textile mill and how they met was she, quite literally, fell for him. She was coming down the steps at the mill and she tripped and he caught her in his arms. How romantic is that? "She was wearing a green coat," he always adds. Then he got up the nerve to ask her to the company picnic. He says, on this, their first date, he kept asking her if she was enjoying herself and she'd answer, "immensely." People don't use that word anymore. "Immensely". I'm not even sure it was used all that much then. 'Course our family uses it quite a lot, if only to make my poor wee, Irish mother roll her eyes at herself and us.
Me and my mum. High Tea for her 75th, February 2008.
She is the ultimate straight man. We LOVE teasing her to death and she plays along so well, sometimes we truly don't know if she's sincerely being duped or allowing us the belief that she is. I get my acting talent from her. From her, I inherit ingenius comic timing. For instance, she had this habit of hers where she'd go check the mail every day (when the postal service still did home delivery). And she'd "come in on the door" as they say back in Eire, and we'd all turn to her to see if she had any mail to report in the mailbox. And if there was nothing in the box, she'd stare back at us, pause for effect while our eyebrows were all raised in expectation, and report, "Not a sausage!" At which point, we'd almost kill ourselves laughing 'cause we thought this was the most ridiculous phrase to do with mail you could ever choose.
I was about 7 years old when my older brother P. and my second-eldest sister, C., got it into their heads to put a sausage in an envelope and place it into the mailbox one night. The next morning when my mum retrieved the mail, we all turned to see her reaction and she came in, mouth agape, slightly speechless at first and then looked up at all of us and almost whispered, "there's a...there's a. em. a...sausage." We just fell all over the place. We were "in bits", laughing until our sides hurt.
This was the kind of shit we pulled on her all the time growing up.
Definitely not my mother.
Definitely me as a child.
When my father emigrated to Canada, my mother was left back in Ireland with two children under five and a third on the way. For an entire year, my father slaved away to save enough money to fly my mother and their three kids over to Canada to join him. He used to call "home" every once in a while, and she'd be teased terribly for putting on her best blouse and some lipstick to answer the phone. Her siblings'd all smirk at her and say, "Did he like your hair like that? What'd he tink o' yer dress?" When she joined him, she would weep inconsolably, missing those siblings and her parents so far from her. It's a running joke in my family that my mother has yet to forgive my father for taking her from the Emerald Isle. But she has learned to love this second home of hers, this country Canada. Despite the cold, snowy winters, she has warmed to this nation in the 52 years she's been here.
I've mentioned before the sacrifice they both made in coming here. I can't imagine leaving, not only your homeland, your birthplace, but your own parents, your brothers and sisters, everyone and everything familiar to you, believing you might never see them again. And you go off to this unknown place. You're the first of each of your families to set foot on this strange soil so there's no one over here already saying, "C'mon, it's great. You'll love it. Pack an extra cardigan. Buy wellies." or "Jaysus, you'll hate it here. Don't spoil your Sunday dinner by coming over atall, atall. It's colder than a mother-in-law's kiss over here. Truth to God, 'tis."
No one warned them. Yet, she's the reason I love Canada, my homeland, the way that I do. With the passion I do.
She's the reason I love the arts. She is the reason any of her children are artistic. She instilled in me a love of poetry, of Yeats. Of crosswords. Of history. Of libraries. Of reading. Of Ireland. So much so that I shed tears of Joy when the plane lands and I wasn't even born there. I cry buckets when I leave that isle. This, I inherit from my mother.
With 'Nana', his first Christmas, December 2009.
She told me once of a quote: a rich child sits in a poor mother's lap. And how truly rich my life is for all the sacrifices she and my father have made on their parts. They continue to enrich my own son's life in so many ways. My mother's wisdom runs just as deep as her Irish wit.
What used to crack me up: she had this tiny, little prayerbook, Prayers of an Irish Mother. Seriously, I'm not making that up. I used to think that was just priceless. Prayers of an Irish Mother. Like those kind of prayers just had to be the ones that were especially heard. Of all the prayers reaching God's ears, if they came from an Irish Mother, they were, like, somehow fast-tracked.
God: "Who's on line 4?"
"A mother from Kansas. Something 'bout a tornado."
"Well, who are the other lines?"
"Got a mom from New Jersey on Line 2, an Irish mother on line 3 and a mother from Venice on line 1"
"'Kay, put line 3 through first and keep line 1 on hold. If the New Jersey call is an Italian mom, you can put that one on hold, too. Otherwise, take messages from lines 2 and 4 and I'll call them back or my name isn't...um. I Am Who Am."
(I told you it was real.)
And what, pray tell, is the particular prayer of an Irish mother, you well might ask?
"Please send us more potatoes and make sure they've not the blight on dem, Divine Fadder."
"Jaysus, please let me go at least one year without having another child, I beseech you."
"Would ye ever please make it stop feckin rainin' already, tanks O Holy Mary, Mudder o' Gawd. (Sorry fer swearin'.)"
That's what I imagined was in this book.
Now, she'd kill me for blaspheming in this way. But she'd be laughing inside. That's what she's good at. And she knows I can SEE right through her. She and I have a special bond. I'm her baby, her last. And we have the same highly perceptive quality. We pick up on things not everyone does. Especially as regards each other. She has lost children herself, even with her brood of six and she has held my hands through the loss of my own children, witnessed my long years of trying to become a mom myself. She has cried tears into my hair, her hands clutched round my waist as though she would cup my womb and hold it gently if she could, kiss away my barrenness when I was going through those years of struggle, never giving up hope for me that I would know this joy myself, as she has.
I can, literally, see right through her. ;)
A decade ago, when I first moved to this house, she assured me she saw a child of mine running around the old apple tree on my property. This spring, before I move from this farmhouse, her prophecy will likely come true. I am so happy she has finally witnessed me become a mother, a longed-for dream of hers, as well. I am so blessed to call her my mum.
Like mother, like daughter.
So if I can shout without reservation that I'm an 'amazing mommy', if I can feel that I've a particular knack for nurturing, if I believe I harbour an unusually adept nature, a deeper love and understanding for mothering a child than the average woman, it's down to this woman. To this woman, I owe everything. I love her so.
This post and this song (below) is for you...it is of you.
I'm so blessed I was born to you.
I'm so glad you were born...happy birthday!
Music: Mná na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland), Kate Bush