In honour of Mother’s Day on Sunday, this first Mother’s Day I’ll spend without one, I thought I’d share a few anecdotes about my own mother.
She wasn’t well educated, and – like many New Zealanders of her era – left school at around 15-16 years. I think she thought she wasn’t very bright, perhaps not achieving academically as highly as her sisters. But she spent much of her life teaching herself new skills, in our little farmhouse in rural New Zealand.
For years she and my father hoped to build a new house on the family farm, but for various reasons they had to wait. She pored over books filled with plans and took a course to learn architectural draughting. When the house was finally built the year, it was to her design and technical drawings.
In her retirement, she bought a typewriter, and taught herself to type in the dying ages of that technology, then – after being gifted an old computer from my cousin – she took herself off to SeniorNet and learned word processing, and briefly, we taught her email, before her brain stopped being capable of learning anything new. I watched this with real pride. Even though she had never been surrounded by technology, she wasn’t afraid of it and, in fact, was keen to embrace it.
Back to the late 60s and 70s, she taught me piano for the first three to four years, taking me through the first three of the Royal Schools examinations. Later, when I was studying piano with the nuns, sitting both practical and theory exams, she taught herself the theory first, then helped teach me.
Likewise, when my sister and I became involved in athletics, my mother bought a book outlining the particular skills of many of the events. There were no athletics coaches in our small town, and we would read the book, together learning how to throw a javelin, the shot put or discus, and the best techniques for long jump, high jump and hurdles.
Frustrated that it had taken so many years to get the new house, she decided it was no longer worth keeping the garden up to its usual standard, and dug up the rose garden in front of the house, to use as a long jump. I would stand at the gate to the house, run around a large shrub, past the swing, down a small slope, around the house and take off almost before I saw the rose garden/long jump pit, hoping that none of the rose thorns were still in the dirt.
She also devised a high jump mat, by taking empty wool bales, sewing them together, and then stuffing them with hay. Plumped up and piled together, they were a marginally acceptable padding that we used when teaching ourselves how to high jump, and land on our backs. If we got lazy or forgot to shake up the hay in the bags, or check there were two layers of the bags, then we had a rather hard landing.
I realise that my own desire to learn new things might have come from my mother. I teach myself languages to use when we travel – to date I’ve been able to communicate in self-taught Italian, Spanish, and German, and have brushed up other languages. I’ve taught myself various computer skills, though I haven’t yet got to coding, though it is something I’d quite like to try. I love learning new things.
And I hope to continue to learn, until – like my mother – my brain can’t learn anymore.
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