Feeling stuck in a career rut? Feeling conflicted that you don’t have a career or even a job? Feel like you may have missed the boat ride to The Life You Wanted? This story is going to change the way you think. Acclaimed author and Mamamia reader and contributor Kylie Ladd writes a very personal story about turning your life around…….
Twenty-eight Christmases ago my mother had an epiphany. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know she was in the car, no doubt ferrying myself and my two siblings around between swimming lessons, tennis practice, cubs and calisthenics. It was early December, and John Lennon’s song Happy Christmas (War is Over) came on the radio. Somehow through the heat and the stresses of the season and our noise from the backseat the opening line resonated: And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?
I don’t imagine Mum stopped the car. She’s not like that; at the very least she would have made sure we were delivered to our respective venues in a timely fashion. More likely she waited until later that night, when the family was fed, dinner cleaned up, homework checked, bags packed for the next day. Maybe it wasn’t until she was lying in bed, or had a spare moment sometime in the next few days. But when she did, she asked herself the question- what had she done?
My mother left school at the end of Form Four, or Year Ten in today’s parlance. She failed English- not, she says, because she wasn’t much of a student but because she wasn’t paying attention. There were more interesting things going on: boys, the tennis club, dances and life. Besides, her own mother expected her to get married fairly young- as one did even just a generation ago- and there didn’t seem much point staying on. Instead, she became a radiotherapy nurse and worked in this role on and off for the next twenty years, in between marrying at 21, miscarrying twins at 22, having me at 24 and my two siblings in the next few years.
I used to love visiting Mum at the large city hospital where she worked. It always seemed such an exciting place to be, full of energy and purpose. I was particularly impressed by the doctors. I loved their white coats and their air of authority; I thought it would be a wonderful thing to be able to cure people.
It turns out that so did Mum. I have no idea how long the desire had bubbled away inside her, but once she heard that song and asked herself that question she realised something: she wanted to be a doctor. Before December 25 she had signed up to start Year Eleven at night school the following February. She got through that, then did her HSC spread over the next two years, achieving 99% for English, the subject she had failed two decades earlier. And then, at the age of 42, she started medical school.
It sounds simple when I put it like that. It wasn’t. Medicine can only be taken as a full-time course, so, with three children aged 16,14 and nine, she would be gone from eight am to six pm every day, come home, eat dinner, then study for four or five hours every night. My sister and I dropped our part time jobs at Myer and were paid to run the house instead, taking over the cooking, cleaning and shopping. The course was tough, and Mum struggled for the first two intensely academic years- probably not least because she was the only mature age student in a sea of teenagers. To be frank, it caused all sorts of upheaval at home. My father and I both struggled to adjust to Mum’s new life. She started at university the year I did my HSC, and I remember feeling distinctly put out- I planned to become a doctor myself, and with all the self-involvement of a seventeen-year-old was terribly piqued that my mother was going to beat me to it.
I never did become a doctor, though I had my chances and I have absolutely no regrets about turning them down. To be honest, it was watching Mum struggle with that first year of medical school that made me question what had until then been my entire life plan, and I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful too to have a GP I can call on any hour of the day or night, and who is always happy to make house calls. My mother is a wonderful, natural doctor. That’s not just me being biased- I can tell from the way she cares for my children certainly, but also from the flowers, gifts and phone calls she is constantly receiving from people she has helped; from the fact she is now an invited lecturer in community medicine at the university where she once studied; from the way that when she changed practices a few years ago and moved to a new location one hour across the city all her patients promptly followed her, so that she is now often booked out weeks in advance.
My mother has shown me the power of dreams. When she first announced that she planned to study medicine I know there were some detractors. She was over 40; she had a family to care for; educating her was surely a waste because by the time she qualified she’d be ready to retire. But my mother has been qualified for 18 years now, has worked all that time and shows no signs of stopping. More to the point, she is utterly fulfilled as a person. She got what she wanted.
I have dreams too; different ones, but whenever they seem too outrageous or too unlikely I am inspired by my mother. I inherited her drive, but I’m also grateful for her example. And though I’m no John Lennon fan, whenever it gets near Christmas and I hear that song on the radio I smile to myself thinking of my mother in traffic all those years ago, dreaming her dream, then making it real.
What are your dreams for 2011?