I read a quote recently by Bhagwan Rajneesh, an Indian spiritual teacher, who said that “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” IMHO Rajneesh nailed it!
In the sixties (and that puts me in the category of a baby boomer!) the only resource we had was a book by a guy called Dr Spock (no not the Star Trek Spock, although honestly he might have been of more use). There was no online tutorial, manual, syllabus or Idiots Guide To Parenting. From the beginning we hit the ground running relying on instinct, common sense and often a sense of humor to protect and nurture this new life for which we were responsible and, in my case, totally unprepared for. The most valuable resource available to new mothers is usually their Mum because she’s been there, done it and gotta know what to do! And if you’re really lucky you’ll know that the greatest gift a mother can give her child is unconditional love because that’s what yours gave you.
In my family, as husbands came and went (just the two!) and my kids got older, adolescence kicked in, hormones raged, doors nearly came off their hinges and the rows got louder, it was my mother who was the buffer between us all – the quiet arbitrator, the mediator, the counselor, the listener, the unsung hero.
Eventually things settle down and the natural order of family life prevails with mothers becoming grandmothers and the emotional, if not physical, connectivity between the family unit tightening around the grandmother like an invisible wall as she enters the autumn of her life.
Recently I came face to face with a situation that challenged that scenario and which I found disturbing.
It was lunch time and I’d left my office to get a sandwich from the local supermarket. Along with a lot of other pedestrians, I was standing on the pavement at the crossroads on the corner of King and George Street in Sydney’s CBD, a few minutes walk from two of the most famous icons in the world – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, waiting for the traffic lights to change to green.
As they changed and people started to disperse I turned and saw her standing there. The tiny figure of an elderly lady, probably in her 70s, wearing a long grey coat and a woolly hat, both of which had seen better days. In front of her she was holding a small round straw basket in which were a handful of coins. I crossed the road but stopped on the other side of the street and turned to look back at her. Immediately I felt guilt and shock. Guilt because I’d not put any money in her basket. And shock because I don’t recall ever seeing such an elderly woman begging on the streets.
I crossed back over to her and as I put some money in her basket I saw a gentle face with beautiful clear blue eyes. Loose strands of her grey hair fell from beneath her hat and danced around her face in the wind. She thanked me for the money. I asked her how long she had to stand there before she had enough money and could leave. She said she’d already been there for two hours and ‘would have to stay a bit longer as people didn’t seem to have much spare money these days’.
I hesitated before I asked my next question because I knew it was intrusive, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked her if she had any family. She didn’t answer. Instead she politely thanked me again for stopping and talking to her. She wasn’t going to share her secrets with me.
Back in my office I wondered what the circumstances were that could put her in this position and whether she had children and, if so, did they know what their mother had to do to survive.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to look after my own mother and make the remaining years of her life comfortable and safe, but she too had her secrets – many of them.
It wasn’t until I started researching my family history that I discovered her past and the answers to questions that I’d been asking for decades. What I discovered through my research astonished me, broke my heart but in the end filled me with so much admiration for her that I was compelled to write about my discoveries in ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’.
I miss my mother and think of her nearly every day and if you’re lucky enough to have a good one, as I did, you can fly. She was the wind beneath my wings.