mothers and daughters

Brother, mother, six year old me, aunt*

My mother’s three names mean ‘sweet, happy song’. Probably true when she was a toddler, but try having four kids in five years and this soon changes to ‘bitter, sad death knell’. I dare any 25 year old woman to stay sweetly happy without a nanny or housekeeper and a full time job. Cue tons of shouting and bickering in our house – we were quite a handful.

Did your 16 year old aunt* teach you to call your mother “bitch” when you were three? Mine did. My mother pretended to be angry at the time, then she laughed about it. Mothers and daughters. Oh the love and hate – ample fuel for a slew of motherhood-based horror movies like Mama, Madre, et al.

A true style icon with expensive tastes, my mother wore gorgeous dresses and Bruno Magli shoes because low heels ‘hurt’ her. It was a gift from the gods that we had the same shoe size. It may have been imagined but instead of admiration she mostly gleaned jealousy and envy from other women. I’m not surprised, she looked pretty when she woke up, with not a stitch of makeup on her green eyes or fair skin AND she was married to a handsome, charming man-child who brought orchids to Mowbray maternity hospital when I was born. The same poor man I used to kick on the shins for giving me his brown eyes instead of green eyes like I wanted – but that’s another story…

I could never fit my 12 year old arms into her pink tulle 21st dress** (she was 1.74m tall and weighed about 45 kilos). Later, she dieted like crazy during her supposedly too-fat phase on the Atkins diet and injections until she weighed 50-odd kilos and started climbing into my clothes much to my twentysomething disgust. Even then my father’s sister asked her whether she had cancer instead of complimenting her.

I’m sure she could’ve been a model but not with her seventh day adventist upbringing. My mother never smoked or drank but she could dance like a demon. My father and her mesmerised people with their dancing. Everything she cooked, baked, knitted, sewed or wore, looked and tasted awesome. So that’s quite an icon to aspire to, especially if you’re frizzy-haired, lomp, big-boobed with braces and zero interest in fashion or makeup. But at least I didn’t need any pseudo icons in magazines when I had my own to look up to at home.

Sounds perfect? Far from it.

Take soup meat out of the freezer instead of lamb chops and you’d know all about it (my attention to detail came rather late in life). The Samuel L Jackson character in Pulp Fiction would cry in his boots when my mother raged. Once she burnt a huge iron mark on my father’s red lace shirt WHILE HE WAS WEARING IT. And let’s just say when I turned 13 on Friday the thirteenth it was not a good day for me when I made us late for my orthodontist’s appointment.

Thanks mother, for fixing my bok bek with braces when I was 13 and my big boobs when I was 20. Thank you for using up your whole salary on a private convent school education so that I wouldn’t be affected by earlier boycotts and riots in the ’80s and where I communed with squirrels at lunchtime and went to posh girls’ birthday parties. Thank you for teaching me how to cook by beating and shouting the crap out of me every Sunday. And thank you for giving me a backbone and the strength to give natural childbirth to a baby with a huge head who weighed 3.78 kilos.

Without any drugs.

I used to cry while hearing Sweet Mama by Richard John Smith as a nine year old (maybe because it was on a Sunday and I still hadn’t done my homework or I was slaving in the kitchen or my periods started). Whatever.

This song is for you mom, because I know you did your best…

Glossary of South Africanisms:

  1. lomp (lorm-p): clumsy
  2. bok bek (bawk beck): literal meaning – buck mouth, overbite 
my mother's 21st with my dad and her cake
My father and mother at her 21st in that dress**