When you’re growing up, all you want to do is make your parents proud. You take the classes they want you to take, you do the chores to earn your keep, you go to university and get the job they’ve always wanted for you. That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But what about when you don’t do the things the way they were planned for you, how do you measure the pride then?
As a kid, I played the team sports as requested even though I sucked at them. I took the classes they wanted, and worked hard at school. I helped out and earned my keep too; at home and in the real world – part time on the minimum wage so I could buy my own dolls and books and… whatever teenagers bought back then (probably not dolls or books, if I’m honest). As hard as I worked at school, eventually, it wasn’t for me anymore. I was doing it for someone else, and I was resentful of that. I didn’t want to be wasting my time studying towards a life that I realised I hadn’t chosen anymore; all I really wanted to do was work and earn the money I needed to do the one thing I really wanted to do… see the world.
I left home at 21. Not just, like, down the road – I moved out out. From medium-sized-town Australia to teeny-tiny-town New Zealand, into a en suite room in my cousin’s flat just outside Wellington. I literally finished work on the Friday in Adelaide, and started up again on the Monday in Lower Hutt. I wasn’t even scared about the move, I was too excited. What I remember most about leaving Adelaide though, is seeing my Mum cry. Before that day, I’d only ever seen her cry once before – when she’d accidentally left the grill on all day and blew up our kitchen. That day in the ashy remains of our beloved kitchen, and then the day at the airport, were the only times I ever remember seeing her cry.
Back then, I interpreted those tears as disappointment; I thought I’d failed her.
Now that I live on the other side of the world, I talk to my mum more than ever. We have a regular-as-clockwork Sunday-morning Viber date. I update my blog with the most inane of things, just so she knows that I’m eating and bathing and earning all of the money (note: I don’t earn all of the money). We email. We text. We communicate more now than when I lived under the same roof as her. Although the physical distance is further now, it’s brought us closer together emotionally. And you know what else? I’ve given her a reason to travel more. In the three years I’ve lived in London, she’s currently packing for her second three-month-long stay with me. For a woman of a certain age, on a working class income, in a job that owes her a hundred years of long-service leave, she’s certainly now milking the fact I live abroad… and I’m told it provides her plenty of the “my child is better than your child” fodder that we all know goes on when our parents have too much wine-of-the-boxed-variety (goon: Google it).
So, maybe I don’t have the degree, or white picket fence, or 3.4 children and power husband to boot. I also don’t have barrels of debt or an irregular sleeping pattern, which I’m pretty pleased about, just quietly. Instead, what I do have is a chance to offer my Mum something she’d only ever dreamed of having before; unlimited access to the world*.
She’s English by birth, you see. Emigrated to New Zealand at four. Married my Dad and moved to Australia in her twenties. After that, it was backyard breaks and family holidays to New Zealand for her until her mid-life-crisis took us to The Disney Lands during my late teens. In all that time, she’d not once considered visiting the Motherland before I made the epic journey myself (this may or may not have something to do with the free accommodation I now provide her with) – but in the last two years has seen more of the UK that most of the UK ever have.
Why? She’s been bitten by the bug that bit me all those years ago; she’s finally got a case of…
And recently, after one of our bog standard weekly chats, I had an email from her drop into my inbox that changed my world; in it, amongst a recipe for tuna mornay, some grainy pictures of nieces I’ve never met, and an update on my Dad’s 65th birthday platters (he wanted KFC, she convinced him to go with antipasti), were those four little words I had been angling for since I first boarded that plane as a 21 year old ‘runaway’. It was in that email that I knew I had underestimated her tears at the airport all those years ago. Now, nigh on ten years, thirteen flats, and three countries later, I know I was wrong about my Mum; she was never disappointed in me. She was proud of me.
Well, you know what?
I’m proud of you too, Mum.
*unlimited access to world is for a limited time only.