Dear Mum

I didn’t feel there was anything I needed to tell you at the end and yet, I wasn’t ready. We weren’t finished. Why is that? In my teens and even into my twenties, I said you were the worst mother. I had reasons for my anger but none of them belonged with you. It was only later, in my thirties when I realised, and then my forties, a mother myself, that I could see how hard it is, what it must have cost you, how much you gave.

You let me be in a way other mothers don’t let their kids be,  to wear my brothers’ clothes instead of the hated dresses, to play football, to read comics instead of books. And while these things made it hard for me at a girls’ school – remember the dress I sewed to my lap in Home Economics? – they made it easy for me to become the person I was always meant to be. Did you know that, or were you just kind? 

I think you might have wanted to do something else with your life than mother children. I can see it the hundreds of books that surrounded you, the music you recorded on cassette tapes, carefully labelled and filed for later listening, full of drama and passion. I can see you hankered. But you never said as much. You always made me think we were everything.  

I wish now you’d had the opportunities you made sure I had. As an only girl, I could have been lost in the boys’ futures, mine mapped out as marriage and children like yours was. But there was never any question I’d go to university, have a career. It was assumed. I wonder what you would have done, what you would have written given a chance.

Before us, you worked as a journalist. You probably wrote many stories, but I only know of the one. They sent out to spend a day with a visiting US sailor. We have the pictures in our album still. You look so happy and young. You weren’t Ian’s mum, Andrew’s mum, Mary-Rose’s mum, Lachlan’s mum. You weren’t tired.

I flew to the other side of Australia before you got sick the last time to tell you the secret I’d kept for over twenty years. After I spoke, you reached your hand across a table and took mine and said, ‘Oh, Rose, I’m sorry. I should have done more.’ You were the perfect mother for me.

For a long time, I’d go to call you and then remember I can’t do that. Because you’re gone.  I have a book coming out this month. I’m telling the world my secrets now and I wish you were here to reach that hand across the table again. I could use it, Mum.

I miss you, that’s all. I miss you.

For a Girl by Mary-Rose MacColl, published by Allen and Unwin.