When I was a little girl, I thought my mum was a tiny bit magic.
Not quite up to the magical experience level of, say, Glinda The Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz or the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. I never saw her wave a sparkling wand and make a road appear while battling angry flying monkeys or turn a slightly rotting pumpkin into a gilded coach for special occasions.
But on the other hand, small children are notoriously unobservant about the things that go on around them… so maybe she did stuff like that all the time and I just never noticed. I guess we’ll never really know.
Now that I’m an adult out in the real world, I can see that my mother was and is a special kind of magic, wielding the kind of powers that only mothers, and sometimes single mothers in particular, really know how to harness. I just couldn’t see it at the time.
Sometimes, the experience of growing up with a single mother can get quite a bad rap.
Listen to this episode of This Glorious Mess to see the other side of single parenting.
Whenever I tell people that I grew up without a father, and that my mother raised four kids alone while working full time, their first response is often one of pity, tinged with a strong sense of bewilderment and just a spoonful of morbid curiosity added into the mix for good measure.
There seems to be this stereotype that any story involving a large family cared for by a single mother and with not a lot of money should always be set against the backdrop of a gritty trash-tastic trailer park. A place where all the kids are miserable and ill cared for and one of them ends up doing something awful like embarking on a cross-country car theft spree or auditioning for the later seasons of Australian Idol where everybody is so over the format and it’s clear that even the winner is not going to land a record deal.
But what people don’t like to talk about are the moments and memories that are made all the more lovely because they were made so much harder to come by.
Looking back on my childhood, all my memories could have just been about survival, because that was certainly a slightly cloudy factor of life that could creep into even the brightest of days. But somehow my mother was able to keep the worst of our fears at bay.
She filled our lives with safety and activities and treats and traditions. And books, so so many books.
When we were little, night after night the four of us would lie on mattresses around her feet while she read aloud to us from an array of books that are still favourites of mine today. I don’t think life will ever seem quite as wonderful as the nights I lay under a blanket and listened to my mother’s voice lift and fall with animation and suspense as she read aloud to us from Little House on the Prairie.
Thanks to my mum and her passion for bringing books and words into all of our lives, my whole adult life and career have become about telling stories.
I’ve worked as a journalist and a writer for a whole bunch of magazines and newspapers during my career and while I’ve had my work sub-edited by some of the best in the business, I’ve never found an editor who hold a candle to (or spot a grammatical error) quite like my mum.
When I was first trying to make it as a writer, my mother would read ever word I wrote before I sent it off to be judged as worthy or rubbish by some far-away commissioning editor. With a pen in hand and her glasses firmly propped upon her nose she would carefully and meticulously work through the masses of paper I would hurriedly hand her, sorting through the mess of text over and over again until she was sure it was word perfect.
And let me assure you, these were words that were not always easy for her to read. And not just because the prose was sub par or the topics were as bland as plain bread rolls on the days you run out of butter.