My mother was pulled out of school in Year 8 so she could stay home and help on the family farm. It wasn’t unusual. It was the ‘done thing’ amongst many migrant families trying to make a go of it in Australia.
When my mum told me this during my formative years in high school I was horrified. She just shrugged. In her day everyone had to help keep the family afloat. Education was a luxury. Coming from a life of struggle in Italy her family was all about survival, it didn’t occur to them to value their daughter’s education, even though it was mostly free. They were teaching their children to grow food and sell it. What more of an education did they need?
It wasn’t until I’d finished school that my mother taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.
I’d finished high school, I’d done okay, I was off to university but I had outlandish dreams to be a radio announcer. My dad was horrified. He always taught me I could do whatever I wanted to do but he’d created a monster. He wanted me to choose a dignified occupation not have some crazy idea like this. During yet another argument I ask what would make him happy. “Be a Financial Journalist,” he said. I almost laughed in his face. Maths was not my strong suit. I was interested in the economy but I didn’t have any interest in learning how it worked, let alone writing about it. It definitely wasn’t my forte.
Mum said nothing. She was in the kitchen where she always was, cooking, cleaning, making coffee, saying nothing.
The following afternoon mum rushed up to me while I was watching TV. I thought someone must have died because it was so dramatic and out of character for her but taking a closer look her eyes were shining.
“Jo, I found a local radio station where you can volunteer.”
She thrust a scrap piece of paper in front of me. I can’t explain how this moment felt.
My mum and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was little. I was one of four, she was tired and overwhelmed and I had no understanding of how difficult it must have been for her raising us all while screamed and yelled and tore the house apart. During my teenage years we had some vicious fights. She didn’t understand me. She didn’t get it. She couldn’t help me. She knew NOTHING.
I took the piece of paper and look at her and we hugged. I rang them that afternoon and scheduled an appointment. I started volunteering and it was the beginning of a twenty year career in radio.
It turns out my mum was an excellent listener. She didn’t normally involve herself in heavy discussions about my future but she could hear how much I wanted it. My mum sat down with the Yellow Pages and started flicking through. She found our local community station and set me on the path to the career of my choice. Her parents were delighted by Australia because they had everything they needed to create a happy life. They had opportunity, access to health care and could live in relative safety. Growing up in this environment taught my mum to be grateful for the food on the table and the house they lived in. But I could always tell that my mum wanted more. She’s a social butterfly, she can’t sit still, she’s generous to a fault and she’s always the life of the party.