On her Facebook page she used to describe herself as Retired. Recently my mother changed it to Mother. I felt the need at her 80th this weekend to apologise for her having to come out of retirement for us kids! Born in the depression in Auckland to parents who ran a fish shop in the Valley Road shops, Mum went to Dominion Road School and Auckland Girls’ Grammar, leaving to do night school secretarial studies and typing while working for WG Archer Builders. She met my Dad at a church convention and they married in Christchurch in 1952. Lots of children were born from 1953 until 1959 with a gap to 1962 and finally in 1965.
She’s a quiet but very determined woman my mother. Excellent with money, super organised: there were bread orders from different dairies on different days of the week, lunches to make or organise the kids to make them, music lessons for all of us, some sports including Tennis, regular church attendance. And, washing, ironing, cooking, baking with tins of biscuits “hidden” under their bed so we didn’t eat them all at once! We were never hungry or lacking in warmth or clothing. There are times when you look back at your childhood and forget your parents – well certainly in my case – were very young when we were growing up. By the time Mum was 30 she had 5 children. Time can fool you into believing that the wisdom they now hold is precisely what they had when you were young. Maybe Mum did, but I reckon she, like most young people, learned it on the job. So the wise 80 year old I’m in Christchurch now to celebrate the birthday for, got there by trial and error. Experiential learning we call it and if we’re wise too, we recognise that growth comes from failing at times. And giving it a go.
Which is what Mum certainly did in 1970 when she enrolled into the University of Canterbury and completed a BA and Diploma in Teaching. Teaching the dysfunctional girls at Kingsley Girls’ Detention Centre was probably not a big stretch from us 7! Some of the girls achieved School Certificate pass for the first time in the history of the centre under Mum. When I was sick from school I would sleep in the back of her Triumph Herald in Hereford Street while she attended lectures. Morning Teas were at the university cafeteria – now Dux de Lux restaurant. This is all now the Arts Centre and seriously damaged from the 22 February quake. Time can do many things to your perceptions of the past – it can at times make you regret, it can rose-tint actual events and it can make you angry, if you believe something did or didn’t happen that was outside your control.
I count myself as extremely fortunate to have active reflection with my Mum and learn about her life, my life and those around us. She taught me to respect but be cautious of so-called authority and of different perceptions (see the link below – it’s exactly sums it up about draft vs breeze – but not the rest!). You really can’t ask for more than that. Or can you? At Mum’s birthday celebration yesterday I was privileged to take the role of MC and talk of Mum’s life. To be able to publicly speak of Mum – facts and figures including a family tree going back to the Vikings, being born 10 weeks after the Napier earthquake, the early life in Auckland, marriage, family, study and career. But what really made it was being able to express the personal memories and connections in front of so many family members that mattered. I never expected this to be the rich experience that it was. Such experiences leave you with a contentment that is difficult to describe.
On our leadership programmes we challenge the participants “What makes you a leader?”. Sometimes you really do find out.
Thanks Mum. You can retire again!
Like me, Mum enjoys a good laugh and Seinfeld!.