Acclaimed poet Hera Lindsay Bird attests to the fact that behind every great woman is a great mum.
An ode to my mother
Listening to other people talk about their mothers is like listening to someone else’s dream. A bad dream reveals too much about the dreamer. A good dream, who cares? There’s a limit to how many good things people who don’t know you really want to know about your life, and happy childhoods fall squarely into that category. Not to mention that talking about how much you love your mother feels a lot like unearned boasting, which only breeds resentment or boredom on the part of the listener. Your mother bought you the Malibu Barbie camper van for Christmas? Well, go eat shit, Amanda.
Like the cabals of aesthetically commensurate brunettes paying hyperbolic tribute to each other on Instagram, such an act of gratuitous public esteem must awaken a healthy scepticism in the viewer. After all, such performances seem geared towards soliciting the attention of those just beyond the castle walls. If I love my mother so much, why don’t I just call her and tell her? Well, I already did that, over lunch, and she told me a great many hilarious and unrepeatable stories from her day. The things that a woman can say, while calmly eating an egg sandwich. Plus, calling my mother on the phone doesn’t pay nearly as well as writing about her, although I have to admit that I still get what I can only wincingly describe as pocket money, in the guise of a birthday present, paid out in weekly instalments.
Before anyone gets het up about writers from monied families, let me say my mother is unmonied, and it’s all my fault for studying poetry instead of computer science. But happily, I can blame that on my mother, who always taught me to follow my dreams.
Mothers can be blamed for most things, which goes a long way toward explaining the current literary landscape. I blame my mother for my bad feet, and my apparently inherited inability to remember the names or faces of literally any actor who isn’t Frances McDormand. Sadly, I didn’t inherit her talent for Scrabble, or her ability to instantly befriend anyone within a 100-mile radius. But I guess some genes just skip a generation.
A therapist once told me it wasn’t healthy never to fight with your mother, but I wasn’t exactly the climbing-out-of-windows type, and it seems a little gauche to be throwing tantrums at this late stage.
I’m not saying our relationship is like Gilmore Girls. Catch me studying journalism in this day and age. But I wouldn’t be averse to a Grey Gardens-type scenario if anyone knows of a spare mansion going in the Hamptons.
Sadly, this means my material for a bestselling memoir about my complicated mother-daughter relationship is sparse. I’ve always enjoyed reading these kinds of memoirs, in the same way accountants like reading about the Wild West. Apart from Mother’s Day, the only other time anyone invites you to write nice things about your mother is in an obituary, but my mother has a rare physiological disorder which means she is medically unable to die, so luckily I don’t have to worry about that.
Anyway, I was lying earlier. I love hearing about other people’s dreams, and I love hearing about other people’s mothers, too. Mothers are the funniest people alive. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The dad joke gets the most press, sure, but even your favourite comedian has nothing on the emotional whiplash of the maternal non-sequitur. I’ve never laughed as hard in my life as the time my mother and I tried to get gas at a rural petrol station. The car’s gas tank was on the wrong side as the petrol pump, and we must have circled the pump at least four times before we were so hysterical we had to pull over and howl, while a nervous-looking teenager in an employee-regulation polo shirt came over to investigate.
A good mother is like a good dream, in that it’s impossible to relay the mood nor the logic that governs it. It’s like the air you breathe your whole life, not knowing you are breathing it. I love my mother like I love air. I think of her every time I see a thing she likes. A giraffe. A cactus. A figurine of retired McDonald’s felon The Hamburglar. I think of her running away from home at 16, of riding a horse around the South Island at 20. That little brown horse and those big old stars. I think of her folding napkins into swans in the restaurant where she waitressed when we were little. I think of her playing Miss Hannigan, the gin-drunk orphanage keeper in our local production of Annie, every bit Carol Burnett’s equal.
My mother, who ran off to art school in her 50s and formed a typewriter orchestra. My mother, who then skipped the country to move to rural China, and who introduced the local children to the horrors of Mr Bean. My mother, the sort of person that makes everyone I know ask: and how is your mother? She’s great, I always say. She’s fantastic.