Today is mother’s day. It is a day of recognition and appreciation for all that mother’s do. I don’t like to catch myself reflecting too much on the point because the realisation of what my mother has done for me can sometimes be crippling, with reference to everything that follows. Because when I think of her, the first word that comes to mind is sacrifice. Because in my mind, to be the recipient of someone’s sacrifice is the greatest form of love.
My mother chose the name Siobhan because it was unique, unlike anything she’d heard before. And because it meant, in Irish Gaelic, “God is Gracious”. An odd name for a Polynesian woman but a poetic and strong name for the woman she wanted to raise.
Shortly after I was born, my mother took me to Mitiaro for some months. I’m not quite sure how many months, but she has retold stories of me running around our yard (beside the church) in nothing but a cloth nappy for weeks at a time.
In Aotearoa, she taught me my ABCs, 123s, how to spell simple words and write them. She would do this via a cardboard poster which she made, cello-taped to my red plastic children’s table and chair playset. I would hold the pen in my right hand, she would place hers over mine and guide the movement of the pen until I could spell my name on my own.
My mother also taught me how to dance; nothing extravagant but just the simple moves. It was not a significant focus for her, what she aimed to do was feed my mind with knowledge and discipline.
Although she was strict, she has a soft spot for me. When I cried at kindergarten because my mum wasn’t going to stay there with me the whole day, she decided that it wasn’t for me and I stayed at home until my 5th birthday. She did not work for a large part of this part of my life, and spent most of it with me.
When I started primary, this obviously meant I wasn’t the best at making friends quickly. She would come to school during lunch time and see if I was ok. And naturally, I would spend lunch with her. This eventually waned until I was less socially awkward and made friends.
She structured her working hours so that it would fit in with me and so that there was always one parent at home in case anything happened. She would do shift work in the evenings and be available during the day for any school events and sick days needed.
As I got older, my mother would take me to my sports games and piano lessons. And when I got to high school, she would still help me make my lunch from time to time (this was when my sister came along so she was busy raising another child too).
At University, she would check in and make sure I wasn’t too overwhelmed with my work load. When I woke up early to study, and she was awake, she would make me breakfast. And when I returned home from work after University, she had left me some dinner, sometimes with my name actually spelt on the gladwrap covering the plate of food.
She told me to keep away from worldy distractions and focus on finishing my studies. To pursue something greater for myself and for us as a family. As an adult, and thankfully, a more liberal Polynesian woman, she no longer gives strict direction, but rather guidance and advice. The world’s we both grew up in are so different, and to a large degree, the world’s we currently experience in our working lives mostly are classes apart based on several socio-economic factors.
This woman, did not have the same upbringing as me. She received beatings, for some tragedies that a woman should never be beaten for, was blamed for things out of her control and was made to leave school before she was 10. My mother was the carer for her other siblings and was kept home to do house chores while her brothers had their education prioritised. She didn’t relive these beatings on me (not in any great way past my primary years). She didn’t tell me to aim low because I was a woman but to be the best that I could be.
My mother accepted what she couldn’t control but capitalised on things that she could and the best way she knew how. And she did that as best as she could for me. And throughout my entire life, more or less, she has sacrificed her own pleasures in life for mine and for the greater good of our family. She could have moved back to Mitiaro to look after her father at an earlier time before he passed, but she stayed here to help pay the bills and raise my younger sister. She could have spent her money on purchases that she wanted for herself, but instead she spent it on uniforms and laptops for my sister’s schooling.
She has sacrificed, loved and raised me to be the woman I am today. But I don’t only owe my make-up to her. There are a handful of other women who have raised me, sharing their energy, time and guidance with me. The power to shape and influence another being, their identity, character and qualities, is a remarkable thing. I don’t take my mother’s, or these people’s influence lightly. You are the sum of the company you keep.
I don’t know if I will get to experience motherhood one day. If I do, I know I will be eternally grateful to these women, including my mother, for showing me the strength, responsibility & power of motherhood.
And I know it’s not Christmas but, I love Kaitlin’s poem below, as a signal of the strength of a woman and (obviously in this case, biological) mother.