All about being a mum

When we moved houses, I came across an old, blue, leather bound photo album of yours.

I saw you as a baby, an 8-year-old, a teenager, at university.

Seeing you on the back of a motorcycle, holding on only with one hand while the other stretched out from your embroidered denim jacket to wave at the camera didn't really make sense in my mind.

You prune rose bushes, build chicken coops, teach 6-year-olds to read, you don't fly around the streets in some hippy get up.

One time you told me that you couldn't believe people didn't know your maiden name was Sullivan, that you were a Fox Glacier Sullivan, and I realised I kind of didn't know that either.

I found a picture of you with my friend Nick's mum.

I know it must have been taken when I was in Year 2 because that was the year she left.

Nick's dad was a builder, and he had a little sister called Caitlin, remember?

Whenever I went to Nick's house, his mum's kitchen was really clean and she made these biscuits with icing in the middle - which you don't believe in because it means half the amount of biscuits for double the amount of work - and sometimes she would get angry if Nick had dirt on his shorts, which I guess was quite a regular occurrence for Nick.

After she left, I remember sometimes Nick would come to school the next day with dirt still on his shorts, and in his lunch box there were much less homemade icing biscuits and a lot more packets of chips.

One day I saw him writing a letter to his mum and it made me confused and a little bit angry.

Because who is a mother if she leaves her children? Does she still get to be a mother?

I guess Nick was scared because he'd never been anything other than her son, whereas Nick's mum had had a whole different life before Nick was even born.

The idea that Nick's mother, any mother, maybe even you, could be a real person was way too scary to understand.

But I suppose I caught more glimpses of it the older I got.

Last year, when your dad died, you seemed fine until we got to my grandparents' house, where my 6-year-old cousin greeted us by saying you could see John's nose sticking out of the coffin in the living room, even when you were standing in the kitchen, but only if the door was open.

After that, I think you cried for maybe three and a-half weeks.

You told me you couldn't believe you only had one parent now, that someone you had known for your whole life was just gone. I guess that's something that doesn't ever get any less scary.

But as much as you are a mystery to me, you are also familiar, like the smell of the laundry powder we always have, or your Red Door perfume; like looking at my sister and seeing both you and me.

And I feel most like you when I drink a cup of tea, when I'm feeling brave when talking to someone and look them right in the eye, when I do the right thing even if it's the hard thing.

And I'm pretty sure that you feel most like your mother when you do the same thing, like we are Russian Dolls all stacked up inside one another, the part inside that rattles and trembles when something bumps me on the outside.

And even now, when I read, I sometimes hear your voice.

And you are fierce and deep, but quietly, and it is strange to think that I could know you more than anyone else, so completely, but I kind of don't know you at all.

I think that's the thing with all mothers - they are a story that doesn't start at the beginning.

-By Julia Fauth, Year 13, St Kevin's College 

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