This is my lovely mum!
If you had met me when I was 6 or 7 years old, and asked me what type of hair was the best in the world, I would have answered: "Red hair. Red hair is the best and most beautiful hair ever. I wish my hair looked just like Mum's."
My mum had then, and has always had, the most gorgeous natural red hair, cut into a flattering chin length bob. It frames her heart shaped face and makes her look elegant. Even at that young age, I loved it, and I wanted to imitate it.
But it wasn't just my mother's hair I wanted to imitate. I have always loved my mum. More than that, I have always wanted to be like her, to share those qualities that I admired in her.
As I grew up, I tried to imitate my mum. I was the eldest child, and I tried to have the same good influence on my siblings as my mum did. I wanted to be a good housekeeper, just like her, so I became a good cook (even though, despite all efforts, I never had a tidy room!). I saw how much she was interested in learning, and also gained interest and respect for learning.
By the age of twelve, I was doing my best to be just like mum. I even had my hair cut in a similar bob to hers and wore long skirts and shirts just as she did. I thought it was a compliment when someone said they couldn't tell the difference between my mum and I from behind.
After the age of twelve, I had some very difficult years. It was also then that I found my mum imitation failing. I began to think that I was never going to be like my gorgeous mum, and, worse, that I was never going to make an acceptable woman at all.
If I had described myself, I would have said I was lazy, undisciplined, messy, fat and sulky. I constantly compared myself to my mum. How come she could get up at 6 am and keep house, care for the baby, teach everyone, pray, make sure the house was clean for dad coming home, and stay cheerful, when I seemingly couldn't even wake up at 7.30 and complete my relatively few tasks?
Maybe it wasn't fair of me to compare myself so closely to my mum. Maybe it was a symptom of mental illness that kept me from seeing things clearly and realising that it was ok to be different. Maybe I was just a confused teenager who took criticism way too seriously and used it to beat herself up instead of motivating her to do better.
But whatever the reasons, when I found myself starting to want to break away, to dress differently, listen to different music, do different things, to, in short, form my own identity, I thought that was terrible. I felt guilty about it, and I was sure my mum wouldn't approve. Maybe, for all I idolised her, I had put her in a box.
When I was 18, I left home. I left my mum's care and went to a convent. I went from seeing her all day, everyday, to writing her a weekly letter, and seeing her once a month for a few hours. I missed my family. I missed my mum. But I didn't think I was allowed to talk to her about anything really important anymore, so I didn't. I was to become a nun, and nuns didn't talk to their mums about their lives and problems.
But I was always reminded of my mum at the convent, mainly because their lifestyle, while different to home, had some similar values. I was at home with a large group of nuns only because of my family, and I excelled at my studies because of my mum's influence. I never forgot her, and at night, when I was at my lowest, and I cried into my pillow, I would tell myself how much I wanted my mum. Not Mother Prioress, not anyone else, just my mummy.
I eventually left the convent. It wasn't the place for me. I felt like a failure, a loser so terrible that even God didn't want me. Anxious, depressed and guilt-ridden, I felt I couldn't stay at home. I felt I had no place anymore. I ended up going to Perth, on the other side of the country. I think I was hiding away.
I ended up renting a little room, alone, while working full-time at a cafe to support myself. I was lonely. But I didn't forget to call home every couple of weeks, and I didn't stop visiting when I could. For all my shame, I couldn't cut myself off from my mum and family totally. And I lived by the standards I had been taught.
It was only until after I met my now husband that I was able to really start talking again to my mum again. So much had happened since we had last really spoken, that we had to rediscover each other. I had to tell my mum about my new diagnosis of mental illness, about Graham, my husband, about the things I had learnt and the struggles I had had. And I found I had been right to admire my mum so much. She really was intelligent and thoughtful, feminine and wise.
The time I spent away from my family, while being the hardest times of my life, did shape me into an individual. I learnt about myself, and I became my own person. By going away from my mum, I found out good things about myself, that maybe I wouldn't have at home. I found I was strong-willed and resourceful, that I had strong principles and a big heart. I found it was ok to be myself.
But its also been amazing to come closer to my mum again. We are both adults now, and I can admire her without needing to try to be her. We still share many, many things in common. Now I am more stable, and have a better idea of who I am, I can talk to her without feeling guilty that I need to be something or someone else.
I love you, Mum. Thank you for always loving me!