Saturday, May 8, 2010

Portrait of my Mother

My Mom does not celebrate Mother's Day. She doesn't believe in it.

I don't know my Mom's exact position on Mother's Day, but I think if asked, she would say, "it's a load of commercial nonsense invented to make people spend more money." I gather that this attitude is not unusual amongst women of her generation. They were raised in the frugal post-WWII era, when meat, eggs and butter were still rationed. My Mom saves brown paper and pieces of string. For her children to spend $5 on a card and a $20 on a bunch of flowers for Mother's Day would be, well, an outrage.

In lieu of celebration, I have written down how my mother will most likely spend Mother's Day. You will get a pretty good picture of her from this description.

Mom will start the day with a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal porridge. Over breakfast she will read a book. ("The Diary of Samuel Pepys" would be typical, for her.) Mom's day does not really feel 'started' until she has been outside. She surveys the state of her plants, all of whom she knows intimately, and she will water 300 baby plants. "Get out, Wanda! Go on, Nougie!" she scolds the dogs, who are always in the way.

On Sunday mornings, my Mom always leads some kind of outdoor activity involving nature. She might take some folks on a canoeing trip in the national park and give them a lecture on owls. Or frogs. Or birds. Or insects. Or native plants. Or endangered species in general.

Alternatively, she might go for a working bee on her Dune-care project, in which she and her gang of helpers do battle on behalf of Australian native plants in their eternal struggle against a South African plant called Bitou bush. Bitou bush was mistakenly used for dune stabilization, and has been growing out of control ever since. (This was done in the benighted 1960s when people didn't know any better.)

For my Mom, this work is heady, politically-charged stuff. She does battle on behalf of honest, hard-working, worthy Australian plants against lazy, wasteful, greedy, evil, non-Australian plants that had no right to be growing here in the first place. Over time, the Bitou has receded, and the Australian plants have found ways to thrive. Mom finds this extremely satisfying.

After she gets home from canoeing or saving the Dunes, my Mum will be a little weary. Some people would require a nice lie-down and a foot massage after such a strenuous morning. Not my Mom. That would be totally against her work ethic. She wouldn't lie down during the day unless she was mortally ill.

Instead, she will have a sandwich on multigrain bread. To relax, she might sit at the kitchen table and read a novel. If that doesn't sound too challenging, let me just add that it might be in Italian, which is a language she learned the year before last. I didn't even know she was learning Italian. Then one day I noticed her reading an Agatha Christie mystery novel and I remarked that it was an unusual choice of book for her. She complained, "it is taking me ages to find out who-dunnit." Then she added, "But it is in Italian; perhaps that's why."

Yes, that would be it, Mom!

In the afternoon Mom might go and babysit some small grandchildren. Mom wouldn't be herself if during the visit she did not teach them something. Hence, they will be read to, despite any other wishes they might have. Mom will bring a children's book about whales, frogs, pandas, or some other animal which needs to be saved. On the dashboard of her car there might be a large interesting bug, a beautiful speckled bird egg, or a wing feather. To stimulate the curiosity of the grandchildren.

After driving home in her diesel-powered Volkswagon Golf, my mom will descend into a gloomy mood. This is because of dinner.

In Mom's world, "dinner" is synonymous with "ball and chain". She hates cooking, but for reasons nobody really understands, my mother is still committed to making my father's dinner. She she feels guilty if she doesn't. I guess it's a throwback to an earlier time in their lives when she was a more traditional wife. (The irony is, when she goes on a trip, my Dad survives very happily on microwaved Lean Cuisine. Actually he prefers it, because he says it is gloom-free.)

As Mom pokes chicken tenders and vegetables around in the wok, her mind lost in whatever she is listening to on national public radio, she will have a nip of brandy and dry ginger in a small glass. The dry ginger is to disguise the brandy, which my Dad reckons she shouldn't have. Don't ask me why not. There is no sensible reason.

During the period 6pm to 9pm, Mom's phone rings almost continuously. These phone calls are from the people I call "Mom's colleagues". All of them share her zeal for protecting our natural environment. They are ringing to plan their next moves. There are grants to be written, press releases to be drafted, government meetings to attend, money to be spent. (Trust me, if you are even thinking of building something on habitat for plant or animal species, you do NOT want to do battle with these people.)

In the evenings, my Mom will allow the small dog to sit on her lap, and she knits. Mom knits the most wonderful, complicated jumpers. When I was a child, she used to sew as well. She sewed clothes for us, and for herself. She is very clever that way.

Here is a picture of my Mom.

Family Picnic: My Mom talking to my Husband

Now that I look carefully, I realize my Mom is waving a knife. Don't read anything into that. She is a huge fan of my Husband. She was probably getting ready to cut up a cake, or something. I would like you to notice my Mom's large and capable hands, which I love.

My Mom always has a knife on her somewhere. In this post 9/11 age of airport security, this has been a slight problem. Mom once checked all her luggage, and then realized she still had her knife. Not wanting to have her favourite knife confiscated by security, she hid it (yes, hid it!) in the soil of an airport pot plant. She memorized the features of the plant so she could find it again. Several weeks later, when she returned from her trip, she went to the plant and dug up her knife.

In times passed, I have sometimes gone out on a limb and wished her a happy Mother's Day. She laughed in a slightly scornful way, as if she was embarrassed that I (her offspring) would indulge in such sentimentality. It was an awkward moment.

To all you people who are not my Mom, Happy Mother's Day!

I admire my Mom for her strong beliefs, her determination, her ability to lead people and her courage. I love her devotion to her family. I am dazzled by her voracious appetite for knowledge and her openness to new places, foods, and cultures. If I had a chance, I would say this to her.


  1. oh i love her already!!! what an amazing woman!

    in south florida we have the same problem with plants and trees from elsewhere killing the everglades. funny i think one is from australia called a melaluca. don't know if it's spelled right but i understand there it is a small tree but here it grows wild and huge and you cannot kill it and it takes up the water.

    hope your mom and you both have a lovely day!

    smiles, bee

  2. hey michaela, she sounds a lot like you, especially her inquiring mind. happy mother's day! Rona

  3. Happy Mother's Day Michaela!!!!

    Your Mom sounds great :)

    And as far as what you just wrote about her, and want to tell her if you have a chance??? TELL HER FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.
    Say "hey Mom, it's not Mother's Day so I have to tell you...."
    You don't want to look back someday and wish you would have said those words to her...

  4. We are lucky to have spry, intelligent, independent mothers. (Mine's 80 and still lives alone.) Too many people have lost moms and regret the things not said. You can celebrate her mom-ness whether she likes it or not.


  5. Your mom sounds so cool! I want to be like her, starting now.

  6. Thanks you guys! I will try to say something to her. Even if she is a little hard to say those kind of things to. Tina I love your, "Mom, its not Mothers Day, so...". You are so clever and funny!

  7. My Mom just came over and brought something that resembled the Table Mountain thing in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. Only made out of eggplant. Apparently my Dad doesn't eat eggplant or eggs, which were its main ingredients. I stand corrected; Mom does not like cooking boring stuff. She likes to cook creatively, in the shape of that Mountain thingy. Go, Mom!

  8. Committed, opionated, my kind of woman.

  9. Love it Kay! Sooo right on the money.