I finished my University final exams on 11th June, 1992. I was no more than a child, still an inner void within me to fill, but I was already a mother to four children who went to University with me and grew up together with me.
It would not have been possible without my mother, who was always just a telephone call and a 3-hour car-drive away. My mother was always there to comfort and cosset. She never criticised, she just loved me unconditionally.
My mother-in-law was different from my mother. She was not as tolerant as my own mother. The summer the children and I had to live in her house whilst saving up for a deposit for our first home was a torture for me. I was expected to work, as opposed to being treated like a princess whenever I was at my parents’ house. Whenever I was in my parents’ house, my mother took over everything so that I could have my much-needed rest from my studies and from being a mother to a large brood.
My mother-in-law cured me of my spoilt behaviour, but it was a baptism of fire. I was lazy and incapable, and her son deserved more than the teenager who was dumb enough to fall pregnant on the first date, and who wanted grand things in life rather than knuckling down to being a mother, taking care of the family the proper way. I should have been thankful for the things I had, instead of chasing silly dreams at the expense of the family.
I used to run back to my mother, crying.
She, my mother, would tell me to learn to love my mother-in-law instead of commiserating with me.
“She’s your mother now,” my mum said, though her heart must have been bleeding at my tears.
And yes she was. My mother-in-law was my mother now. She made my maternity dresses. She was up at 3am with my colicky baby. She took the time to sit in the garden with me in her busy day. She tried to understand me.
Slowly, we began to laugh together. What started as an argument between us would end up in laughter. We began to cherish magical moments together, like sitting with a three week old baby in the rain eating soggy cheese sandwiches, because she was adamant that children need lots of fresh air (even in the rain). Slowly, the enmity turned into a deep and abiding love. It wasn’t an easy relationship, but nonetheless it was one that shaped my life.
This summer, I cut flowers from her garden to bring to her in her nursing home. I found this letter, and it brought it back to me, the love I have for my two mothers, two amazing women, whom I owe everything to. They are still my mothers, and I their daughter, though I am 47 with a string of qualifications, impressive work experience, financial independence and five grown-up children. This positive dependency was brought into sharp focus this summer: though my mother-in-law is no longer capable of looking after herself, I still run to her, as I did this summer, when I needed a home.