on a day to celebrate Mothers

Today is the 29th year I have been a Mother on Mothers Day, and the 30th year I have not had a Mum myself to spoil on the day. Becoming a Mum within six months of losing a Mum was a difficult thing to deal with.  A first baby is as terrifying as it is amazing and to not have the one person who has shown you what a Mum can be beside you is a challenge.  Those first months of the ‘happy/sad’ moments, anniversaries without Mum, and firsts with darling son, all are jumbled and mixed in my memory. I got through it, made up as much of the Mothering I could, and eventually managed to raise four wonderful children into functioning and thoughtful adults.  This alone amazes me.  Today, on Mothers day I will see them all.  Some will have gifts and cards, others will come with bear hugs and love, it is all good,   

My daughters card to me this Mothering Sunday reads, ‘sometimes I need a Mum and sometimes I need a friend, thanks for always knowing which one I need you to be!’ This has made me think about the value of a Mum who can also be a friend, and how this can be so.

When I became a Mum I was always clear that I did not want to own my children, that I did not want to control them, beyond the necessary controls to keep them safe and well.  I was influenced by The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, who says, ‘your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself, they come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you,.. you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

This has always made sense to me, the thought that I can influence and inform, can care and comfort but the belief that I must let them be their own person.  This has proved challenging over the years.  Maybe I should have been firmer, I could, perhaps, have stopped them making some mistakes, but then they would also have missed the learning that surely follows each wrong choice.  I have been there to mop up tears, to celebrate success and in truth I wouldn’t change a thing.

My Mum’s mothering was very different to mine, and I understand totally her need to keeping us safe and instructing us in the ways of the world.  She did a great job.  Every time I am faced with a difficulty, which has been often over the years, I can hear Mum’s voice telling me to keep trying and to never give up.  When I have been challenged beyond my imagination, I have felt her beside me, calmly and patiently helping me through.  Memories of childhood are all about Mum and Nina, Mum’s mum who lived with us.  They had a tempestuous relationship, but between them they ensured that my sister and I had a real sense of how woman can achieve and how we can be the people we want to be in the world. For this I thank you Mum, you gave me a great gift.

So today will mostly be spent on sorting the house in preparation for moving, in driving with junk to the recycling centre and to sorting years and years of family memorabilia.  I know there is a box containing relics of nursery school where I will find a dozen Mothers Day cards and cardboard daffodils from each of my babies.  There is another case of photographs, from little scraps in too big babygros to first day at school, the history of being a mother is all there.  These treasures will be packed carefully and moved once again, to sit in a cupboard in our new home, waiting for the day when they are shown to the next generation to come along.  I look forward to sharing Daddy’s first day at school, with my future grandchildren, there are even some school reports in there which will make for interesting reading! 

So this is being a Mother.  Sometimes you are a Mum, and sometimes you are a friend, Always you will be the one who loves unconditionally, who forgives and forgets, who supports and celebrates success.  You are also the one who spends hours thinking about your children, who pointlessly worries about each of them, for in thirty years I have learned that me worrying does not alter anything at all.

You are also the one who can stand in your kitchen surrounded by adults, all taller than you, and listen to the discussions, the laughter the friendship between those people who are your children, and you can feel the love in the room.  

Happy Mothers Day to all the amazing Mothers out there.  It is a tough gig, being a Mum, but one that pays more than all the treasure in the world.



on the children who are not actually your children

Throughout my life as a Mum and a youth worker I have been so lucky to have been surrounded at home and work with lots of wonderful children and young people.  My family of four, now extended to seven with girlfriends and boyfriends in tow, and a new grandchild due in the summer means that the next generation is on the way.  

In my extended family I have nieces and nephews who I feel a great connection with. Throughout our lives we have been in touch, sometimes very infrequently, but I hope they all know that I would move the world for each and every one of them.  Family is my religion, I believe in it totally, I believe the job of supporting our family and particularly the children and older people in the family is the most important thing you can do.  

I have an amazing relationship with my nieces.  One is grown with family of her own, but has a special place in my heart as she was my very first little girl.  Aged just two when I met her Uncle, who late became my husband she was my ally and friend throughout her childhood and teenage years.  I am proud of who she is now.  Another niece is studying, she is learning how to treat illness, and using her science knowledge, hard work and dedication to make things better for everyone. Another special niece has moved from a brief spell living in our house and is as I write this living the dream on the other side of the world, where her talents and enthusiasm for life will bring her all she wants and deserves. She just needs to trust in herself and let the universe look after her and those she loves and holds dear.  My nephews are also fabulous teens and young men, each taking the world by storm and making their mark.

So my family is full of children, albeit mostly grown, but what of those other children, with their own parents and families who, over the years, have slowly become my family too.

We have shared our home with many young people.  Friends of my children have been welcome in our house, some have even moved in, stayed a while and come back often to see us.  Boys, at that difficult time in growing up have camped on the floor in bedrooms, on sofas and generally waited to build bridges with Mum and Dad, before returning home.  We have enjoyed our Spanish friends, who each summer come for a month to learn English and infect us with sunshine and laughter.  Keeping in touch, always, I am English Mummy to a couple of gorgeous girls in Madrid.

This weekend I had a birthday cake to make. The person it was for tells everyone that I am his Mum, and I made him his first ever birthday cake. He was 17. There is another young man for whom a birthday cake each year is important. Baking is a very personal act of giving I feel. As I mix the mixture, coffee cake for one and chocolate for the other I consciously send positive thoughts and good wishes into the mixture. One boy I baked for to celebrate his return from home from a spell in prison. Everyone makes mistakes, and he did so, however, since then he had worked hard to be a good dad and is always a good friend.

So there are many ‘children’ from work, family and friends who have a place in my life. As they are growing I am also seeing the benefits of knowing them. One stopped me in the street last week to tell me he has a new van and will be moving us when we move house in a couple of weeks. Another has looked out for my daughter, giving her a job when she needed one, from which she had gone on to more work having had useful experience.

Ex youth club members who have turned into gorgeous young Mums who befriend me on Facebook, eager to show me their new families, those whose weddings and significant birthday parties I have been invited to and those off to University who will one day surely take positions in power, I have an amazing family.

on the death of Tony Benn

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This morning, as most mornings, I am pottering about the internet, considering the day ahead and eating breakfast.  I see a post on Facebook, Tony Benn RIP.  Suddenly, my brain processes the information and a sadness hits my heart.  This is a man I have met, spent time with on a Saturday afternoon, listening to him talk, a man I have heard speak countless times and who I feel connected to in many ways.

I have known about him all my life.  My Dad would talk politics endlessly, as a shop steward he understood politics from a working class viewpoint.  A child of the 1920’s, just as Tony Benn, the differences between the two men were both as obvious as the similarities.  My Dad’s family were poor beyond belief.  He remembered standing with his Dad, my grandfather, in the pen in the docks in Liverpool waiting to be picked for a days work knowing that without it they wouldn’t eat.  Dad had hope and optimism for my generation, he thought we would be better, would work together and build on the positives.

Dad talked about fairness, equality, racism and poverty at a time when no one else I knew did so.  He taught me how to celebrate difference, about unity and power.  He finished school at 13, and while he regretted his lack of education he was determined and proud to ensure he gave us, his daughters, the best he could.

My Dad admired Tony Benn, he saw him as an ally and a political friend.  So, as I have tears running down my face at the news this morning, in truth only part of those are for Tony Benn.  Mostly it is for loss, for endings and for unsaid.  It is for my generation, who from where I am standing have totally messed up the world my Dad thought we would create.  It is for those people who have no hope, for the greedy and powerful who chose not to share, to be kind and to look about them.  It is for the death of Socialism, without my Dad and Tony Benn and the people like them who is going to fight for the working man and woman?  It is for me, at the end of a career I have loved and treasured, and is for those yet to be, our children’s children and the world they will live in.

All is not bad.  The tears are serving their purpose, emotion is a good thing.  Positives will come there is hope and there is a life to be celebrated.

Today I will walk tall, I will remember my heritage and celebrate my politics. I will be thankful I had a Dad who cared enough to share his views, his history and his beliefs with me, although I lost my dear Dad almost 30 years ago, he is with me every day, and today I can feel him, standing behind me, and he is proud, I am doing alright.  Thanks Dad.  Thanks Tony. RIP both.

on war, peace and remembering the brave

As I write this blog today, all over the world armies are fighting, for freedom, for power, for money or for greed.  In the name of religion or faith people are dying, every day.  As a confirmed pacifist I have always loathed fighting, and have often argued that violent combat is never the answer.

I watch the news on the internet and see over and over again communities torn apart and families grieving and I wonder how much is a ‘necessary combat’ and what would happen if we all, tomorrow, just chose to live in peace.  I guess it is a question, as most things are, about who wants to be in charge.  For whatever reason, power is the key to both war and peace.  We can step away, we can chose to love not fight, but, sadly, we don’t.

When I see the headlines, pitching one group of humans against another, when I hear of a freedom fighter/terrorist blowing themselves and others to pieces, it is fair to say that I can despair of humankind.  When I see a Help for Heroes collector in the shops I want to say, no, this is not heroic, it is choosing to make war a career.  Donovan, when he sang about the Universal Soldier way back when,  had it just about right.  Without the army a leader cannot fight.  Without the ordinary soldier, war cannot happen.  Maybe, on a good day, I think maybe, that is the answer.   However I am a realist and I do understand that there are some things so wicked, we have to take a stand, and there is the problem.  For me is there ever a just war?

Up until this past week I have always refused to get involved in this issue.  I have huge respect for those men and women who were conscripted and fought in the Great War, the war that was supposed to end all wars, and then the Second World War that followed.  Huge bravery and human stories, none more so than the mothers left behind to hope and pray their children and their husbands would return safely.  I simply cannot imagine how it must have been.  In those wars, people had no choice, they didn’t want to be soldiers they were told this was the way it was.  Some stood by their belief and refused to fight, they were deemed cowards. I have always thought it took huge bravery to stand by your principles at such a time.  Some worked in non combat, supporting medics and carrying those injured to safety.  They were not cowards.  They were not heroes either.

With all this in mind, it was a challenge and a shock when this week I was asked by an old friend to support her in her attempt to have a family member honoured for bravery due to his actions in the Falklands War.  The Falklands War was the first war I was aware of living through as an adult.  It began two weeks before I was due to get married and I was filled with horror at the idea that if it escalated my lovely new husband might be asked to fight. I clearly remember watching the TV news as huge ships full of young men began the journey to the other end of the world to defend a territory I had never heard of.  I saw newspaper headlines full of jingoism and patriotism, for the first time I saw what it was like to have an enemy that had a name.  I remember the horror of Bluff Cove and the news reel from the aircraft carrier, the reporter, each evening, counting them all out and counting them all back.  I have no idea if this was a just war, I don’t even know what was achieved, apart from glorifying the most evil Prime Minister ever and guaranteeing her a second term in office.  Every step of the way I kept thinking of the mothers, British and Argentinian who were left at home worrying about their children.

So I considered my friends request.  From all accounts her relative did a brave act, which cost him his life, and there is good evidence that his actions saved others from the same fate.  I guess that is worth honouring.  Whether I believe he should be there at all doesn’t matter.  He was, and he is dead.  Others are alive because of this, they came home.  In the 30 years since many will have had a life.  Maybe they have married, had children, grandchildren even.  They will be doing jobs and making friends, getting drunk and dancing.  On cold April mornings they will pause and think of the days, as young men, when they were sent to defend their countrymen and how some of their friends didn’t come home.

I am thinking of the words from the poem For the Fallen, by Robert Laurence Binyon, it  always sends a shiver down my spine

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

So, I guess, dear reader, it matters little what my personal view of war, soldiers, fighting and terror is.  What matters is the personal. The sons and daughters who didn’t come home. Together with those who did, and who have been forever changed, in body, mind and spirit.  If publicly honouring such a soldier brings peace to those left behind, who am I to disagree?

In my ideal world, we would share resources, work together, help each other and remember that we are all human.  We would learn to love each other and our wonderful earth.  Part of that belief includes supporting friends, and I am including a link to my friends e petition on this matter.  If you feel you want to support her and her family please do so.


I will carry on being a pacifist and will stick to my belief that war is never the answer.  I hope that all our young people choosing the Army as a career, through lack of hope for any other job, are kept as safe as they can be in a world where they are trained to fight and kill.  I will never feel comfortable with the headlines of heroes, fallen and otherwise.  I just hope that one day we will see through the smoke and mirrors of political games playing and religion, recognise our strength and find a way to live in peace.

Take it away Donovan.