My mother died from cancer 2 weeks before I started grade 1. I remember my first day quite well. It was very exciting. Finally starting “big school” all dressed up in my little blue and white uniform with my little blue and white backpack on my shoulders. It was a Jewish school, there was a lot of blue and white.
Being freshly 6 years old my mom hadn’t had a chance to teach me how to tie up my hair or even how to brush it for that matter. I remember urgently knocking on my older sister’s bedroom door waking her up to ask her to do my hair for me. She sleepily brushed it up into a high pony tail and fell back asleep. She would do this for me every morning for the next few months until I got the hang of it.
My dad took me to school and dropped me off while all the other excited mothers hung around taking photos of their little angels. I felt so out of place and alone. One of the mothers kindly offered to take a photo of me. It was a big scary day but I soon made friends and found my way.
I still remember when my mother was diagnosed. Or at least I think I do. Most of my memories from my early childhood come from pictures or other people’s stories or films but I do own a few snapshots and faded moments. Like when I was lying on my parents bed and my mom rushed in exhausted and said something about being sick. I remember visiting her in hospital and wanting to take the gifted stuffed toys she had in her hospital room. I remember the short pixie cut wig she wore once her hair had fallen out and that I used to play with it after she died. I even wore it in the school play when I played the lead role as the principle of the school. Mrs Lewitan. For some reason I was directed to act drunk and hiccup all over the stage. In retrospect that must have been really offensive to Mrs lewitan but the audience loved it. And I loved making them laugh. I knew from 6 years old that I wanted to be a comedian. Or a hairdresser. But mostly a comedian. Until I got a bit older and heard that most comedians are really depressed. That confused me but I get it now. You have to laugh to get through this life.
I was left at school a couple times and had to walk home. I had to pack my own lunch and make my own arrangements with my friends mom’s. I had to take responsibility for myself because otherwise it just wouldn’t happen. Not to say my dad wasn’t great. He truly was and still is wonderful, if not a little forgetful and well, busy taking care of his three children without the help of his wife, while grieving her death. So he did a great job. But I was forced to grow up fast. The strangest thing I’ve noticed about growing up fast is that I sometimes feel like I need help with the simplest or easiest things. Or I at least want help. Like when I’m sick and need to go to the doctor. Or when I need to buy new underwear. Or ask how to make that one recipe. Or how to turn the oven on. Things that a mother normally tells you growing up. But everything else, all the big things, like dealing with loss, death, fear and learning to communicate and love fully and follow your heart because life is short and you never know when it will end, I’ve mostly figured out myself.
Mother’s Day has always been my least favourite day. It’s like everyone is rubbing the fact that they have mothers and I don’t in my face. Made worse by social media of course. I always used to get so sad on Mother’s Day but as I’ve gotten a bit older I realised that its not just a day to miss my mother, but a day to acknowledge all mothers and all the mother figures I have had in my life. My step mother has been in my life since I was 9 and boy did she have to put up with a lot. I was a typical moody teenager, quite used to the freedom my dad had always allowed me. My step mom came in and brought a lot more discipline into the house, which I am now so grateful for. She took me to and from ballet class, the studio where I worked and all my friend’s houses. She helped me with my Afrikaans homework. In fact she is the only reason I got a B in matric. She has always supported my successes and been a shoulder to cry on when I got dumped by some stupid boy. Its not an easy role to take on- the step mother. Cinderella really gave it a bad rap, but let me tell you that I got pretty lucky with mine. She has always been anything but evil. Thank you Arl! I don’t think I’ve said that enough.
Happy Mother’s Day to all my friend’s mothers that I grew up with, to all my friends that have now become mothers and to all the mothers and grandmothers in my family. Also not forgetting the fathers who have had to be the mothers sometimes too. Thank you for everything that you do!