I didn’t see what an enormous impact Mum made on my life, because she was always there. There’s a quote in the book Good Omens: “It’s for the same reason you can’t see England when you’re in Trafalgar Square” - Mum was a constant, important, dependable presence for my whole life.
I wrote something for Mum while I was on the plane from Spain to spend what was to be our last two weeks together. I’d like to share some of that with you all now.
Mum, I want to tell you some things before it’s too late. I love you. Obviously. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of me, and you helped me to become me. I’ve achieved so much, professionally, physically, personally, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you and your influence.
You are the core of our family. You made sure the four of us did stuff together. Like badminton and swimming on Saturdays, even though now I know you don’t really like Badminton and I’m fairly sure you’re not that keen on swimming either.
You wanted us to have adventures together. Like that time we came out of Tesco’s in Chester and saw that we were in the middle of a lunar eclipse, and declared “let’s get out of here!”. Which I initially thought meant “the world is ending, let’s hide!” but turned out to mean “let’s get somewhere where we can have a good view and create a new family memory!". I think we ended up on a hillside in Wales, which is where so many of our adventures seemed to happen back then.
When we weren’t driving around on adventures, you were remodelling our house. We might not have been able to go on holiday much, but my school holiday memories were of a different type of adventure: selecting the new room to be redesigned; creating new colour schemes; painting everything; rearranging the furniture. Thanks to this I have a range of skills: I’m unusually good at painting gloss paint in a straight line, I’m amazing at assembling flat pack furniture, I can lift and move furniture significantly heavier than my body weight, and I can tile and grout better than some professionals. Thanks to you as a role model, I didn’t find out until I was an adult that our society considers many of these to be masculine abilities. Yeah right. These skills and more have been put to good use in a number of homes, not all of them mine! Since moving into our current house, I’ve realised though that these physical skills are almost useless without creative energy, something you have in abundance. I wish I’d had time to make use of your vision in our home.
I remember that first time you went into hospital back when we were kids. I didn’t know how poorly you were, I didn’t know until much much later. We didn’t know how your body was going to put constraints on the way you lived your life from that moment on. But you did your best not to let it stop you. It must have been so frustrating, having these constraints forced upon you. We lived with it, because we didn’t really know any different, to me even the illnesses were part of who you are, like the colour of your eyes or your laugh. But I think you resented every limitation placed by your health.
You are not afraid. I think you thought you were controlled by fear. But perhaps you noticed the fear of everyday activities because you overcame the big fears so easily, at least from my point of view: moving halfway across the country for your career and our futures; switching out of teaching to get closer to IT; taking on considerable financial risk running a business. Even when the business failed, you and Dad did what you always did: buckled down, did the numbers, made a plan, and got through it. That ability to face the scary stuff, to set a new direction to life, is hugely inspirational.
Stubbornness is like your super-power. You channel stubbornness to get things done, especially things you don’t want to do but know are important. Like, you’d always do what had to be done before doing the things you wanted to do.
Your unapologetic feminism and unhappiness with the role society tried to get you to play underpins everything I do to make my own path. For me, being a feminist, by which I mean “someone who believes women and men should not be forced into roles just based on gender”, is normal, is natural, particularly for women. Again, something I just took for granted because you are that way and therefore surely everyone is.
My determination to make my industry, even the world, a better and more welcoming place for women comes from you. It comes from your anger that people tried to put you into a box. It comes from my anger that someone so smart, so compassionate, so driven as you are, was disregarded because you’re a woman. You led by example in changing the world - as a teacher, you showed kids that just because things are “always” a particular way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Fairness and justice were principals you taught and lived. One of my favourite memories is that short period of time when I moved back from the States and I was living with you before I found my next job and next flat in London. It was a time of talking about feminism over the morning papers. Of getting angry about the news, about society. It was a time when I reconnected with what was important to me, when I was really quite lost and unhappy. It was a time of very confusing outbursts in the house (“Opium Den!” you cried, gleefully. Mum and Dad must be doing the crossword again). It was also the time when you beat me mercilessly at squash. How could an unfit 54 year old beat a 29 year old who was training for the New York marathon? Repeatedly?! But that’s the great and sad thing about you - people underestimate you. Including you!
We also spent lots of time together when I lived above the shop, and I would spend Wednesday afternoons after I got back from my commute between Southend and Brighton chatting with you and Tricia downstairs. The lack of customers was terrible for the business, but great for our time together! And those afternoons in pubs in Southend setting the world to rights over Bacardi and Diet Coke for you, and some terrible orange alcopop for me. I miss those times. They let me connect with you as a person and not just as my mother.
Unfortunately I couldn’t always live close by. I’ve always had a dream of having bilingual children. I somehow managed this by tricking The Spaniard into dating me, moving to Spain with me, and helping me to create Evie and Amy. Now I live in a hot, sunny country, with my husband and two little girls, I work remotely and travel the world, this is what I’ve always wanted. But it has separated you and me physically, and that’s a hard thing to accept. I want the best of both worlds and I’m not used to not being able to find a way around problems. Travel for work means I can see you more than I ever would have hoped, but it’s not enough. I’m doubly sad that Evie and Amy don’t see you as often as they would like. Evie regularly asks to go to Gran and Grandad’s house “today”, and it makes me sad that my dream is incompatible with that.
I didn’t always understand that letting me be free to pursue my dreams was an act of love on your part. I recognise now how hard it must have been to let me go, when you wanted me near and you wanted me safe. I’m forever grateful that your love for me is one that encouraged me to find my dreams and live them, and not a love that constrains or smothers me.
Mum, I love you, and I’m going to miss you so much.