No, I am motherless because my mother died 18 months ago, and Kennedy is motherless because he was snatched from his mother at a tender age. He tried to find a mother substitute in Thula, our dominatrix German Shepherd. But she spends her days holding him down with one paw while stealing his toys, which is more sadistic-big-sisterly than motherly.
I, at least, have the privilege of being a mother, which Kennedy will never have. He doesn’t even have the necessary equipment to be a father (this was summarily removed when we realised that an ‘intact’ male Chihuahua was more dog than anyone could deal with).
Mother’s day never featured much in my childhood. My own mother was acerbically intolerant of any display of mawkish sentimentality, and harboured a particular aversion to Mother’s day cards featuring the verses of Patience Strong. I am made of softer stuff, and when my own children came home with sticky pink cards featuring doilies and lentil and pasta hearts, I succumbed without reserve. I faithfully kept these offerings until I discovered when clearing out a cupboard one day that they’d hatched a whole colony of small mysterious insects – whose own mothers had recklessly abandoned them as eggs in the lentils.
But even if she didn’t have much truck with Mother’s Day, my mother was an extraordinary mother – as well as an inspired teacher and a remarkably forward-thinking school principal. One of her first initiatives in 1975 was to introduce Zulu as a subject to the school and to (illicitly) admit black school pupils. I remember her telling me how, when the government authorities visited the school, she would pretend that the lavatory next to her office was exclusively for the use of the only black teacher on the staff, as this was one of bizarre legal requirements of that era.
She was a staunch defender of the underdog, and was always alarming my father by hiding any black person in our neighbourhood fleeing police pursuit. She roundly refuted any suggestion on his part that some of these people may actually be criminals, rather than innocents being harassed for the colour of their skin. In between all this she found time to mother five children, and to read me the whole of What Katy Did on the night after my tonsils were removed.
She loved words, she loved poetry and literary prose, and had a quote for every occasion, making even the simplest lines sound like the incantations from some magical arcane brotherhood, which we lesser mortals could barely hope to comprehend. It was these quotes of hers that put me on the prickly and troublesome path of lesser authorhood, and doomed me to a life time of despair because I would never, ever devise a line as expressive as T S Eliot’s ‘I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,’ not to mention a hundred others. Way to go, mom.
But really, I am deeply grateful, and it was to express this that I wrote the following poem for her when she turned 80:
Mothers hand out many things
Marmite soldiers, baby swings
Fairy wands and painted wings
But my mother gave us words.
She brought them in, those travelling bards
Those alchemists of eloquence
To nightly pace our parquet flooring
Leaving stardust trails of words
That drifted through our sleep-tossed turning
Their drowsy syllables enthralling
With visions of some half glimpsed world
Far beyond our heart-stitched yearning
She denounced those words that blight,
Words that hang their heads in shame
Like prejudice, exploit, abuse
And cast out their shadow with the light
of words that glow with steady flame -
Respect, compassion, fortitude
My mother gave us words to fly
Our wings to spread, our fears to quell
To send us soaring through the sky -
And words to catch us, when we fell
Flamboyant words that never slept
But danced all night on moonlit streets
Giddy as a young girl’s heart
Small humble words that softly crept
And curled themselves beneath tired feet
With some quiet wisdom to impart
And silly words to make us smile
Sassy words to give us style
Sombre words to enfold our sorrow
Words of hope to raise tomorrow
Words to play with, words to plunder
Words to fill our minds with wonder
Words to free our headstrong dreams
Words to trail in mountain streams
Mothers give us many things
Healing balms to doctor stings
Lullabies and magic rings -
But my mother gave us