I was reminded yesterday, by my husband as we walked hand in hand along the beach, that I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 23 years old. Two years later than most. We already had our firstborn, Deflector, who was probably 6 months old when I finally decided to get my Probationary License.
“That was quite a bone of contention wasn’t it!?” he declared, laughing at the memory.
“Was it?” I never realized it was a concern for anyone.
It wasn’t a concern for me.
“Oh yeah” he says “My Mum was worried you were going to be housebound for your whole life and be a burden on me. End up like your Mother”
Well that’s news to me.
My Mum has never driven a car. Never had a driver’s license. When I was a teenager I asked her about it. she just shrugged and said ‘I never wanted to drive. Never really felt the need.’ Cant argue with that I suppose.
I am reminded of the time, years ago, that Mum told me someone had accused her of ‘staying married’ to Dad for the convenience of his driver’s license. We both laughed at how ridiculous that statement was. Mum married to Dad because he could drive her places?
If you know my parents, you know how absurd that judgement is. They’ve been married for 38 years and they are still hopelessly in love. To the point of embarrassment. (They wear matching jumpers a` la Kim and Kel – and she might now kill me for making that public)
I never found out who made such a comment. She would never tell me who it was.
We blew it off. Someone made a stupid comment; So what? It didn’t really matter to me then. I knew it was bullshit anyway. But now, faced with a similar cursory judgement, this new information that I might ‘end up like my mother’ made me wonder….what would be so wrong with that?
I have to give you some back story. It’s relevant, I promise.
My Mother is strong, and independent and loyal. She is NOT housebound, or lazy, or a burden on anyone, least of all my Dad.
She was a military wife for twenty years. She is no sap. Let me assure you, military life is brutal.
When they first married, Mum made a commitment to Dad that she would be by his side no matter where his job took him. And take him it most definitely did.
She quit her job, a promising career actually, and laid it to rest to stand by him.
I was born, 3 months premature, spent months in ICU and then suddenly our new little family was whisked a thousand kilometers away to live in a new state. Mum made us a home in a place where she did not know a single soul. She, as a brand new wife and mother of a microprem, was taken from her only support network to a place where she knew nothing. Didn’t know a single person, didn’t know where the hospital was, didn’t know where the local supermarket was.
But she managed.
Of course she did.
She found her way in a time when there was no Internet. No Google maps. No GPS. No Siri. Even without the ability to drive she got me to all of my appointments. She managed the transition into motherhood while her own mother might as well have been a world away. She created a life, and a home and doted on her husband and baby.
My sister was born shortly before we were moved again. From one state to another Mum packed up her house, her newly growing brood and made a new start.
Again, in a town where we knew no-one, she had no support network. No-one to call to babysit. No-one to give her 30 minutes for herself.
Again, while Dad was at work, she managed to get my sister to all her Maternal Child Health Care appointments . She took me to Kinda, She did the shopping and ran errands like most wives and mothers. She never allowed herself to be limited by her inability to drive a car.
We moved interstate 5 times in the following 10 years. Every two years we left one life behind and had to start a new. New town, new house, new people. Again, leave any prospect of a growing support network and start from scratch. Say goodbye, knowing we’d never see these people again and go into our new life knowing we’d be creating short-term relationships that we would again be waving goodbye in another 2 years.
Then live out of a suitcase in a hotel for 3 months while we try to find a house, a school, a life.
She is a pillar.
She carved out a life for us in every single new state that we lived in. She volunteered in our school canteens and our P&F commitees. She found play groups and calisthenics classes and Little Athletics. She made costumes and christmas decorations for the schools. She sewed uniforms for the underprivileged and knitted and crafted and gave to people who were our ‘temporary friends’. She ran a family day care from our lounge room and looked after dozens of other people’s kids alongside her own. She walked us to school and caught buses to appointments. There was the occasional taxi. My brother was born in amongst all these moves. He never missed an appointment either. She walked him to kinda. She volunteered at his school. She again, looked after kids for other busy working Mums and never failed to provide a steady supply of biscuits fresh from the oven.
Her inability to drive a car was never, and I do mean not one time, a hindrance to us. Nor was it any kind of burden on my Dad. Mum always found her own way. She relied on no-one but herself.
Mum learned the bus routes in every new town. She walked and walked to find us a park to play in. She spent many a day in our newest town walking and making mental notes. There’s the medical centre,. That’s the butcher. Over there is the post office.
If anybodys life was burdened by her lack of drivers license it was her own. It probably would have made life easier for her had she been able to drive. But what I have come to learn is that my mother doesn’t do things just because its ‘easier’. She has grit.
She did not for a second consider not participating in life simply because she never learned to drive.
She continued to be a part of the community.
She continued to donate her time and her skills to others.
She continued to be an unwavering presence for her family.
She continued to hold us tight and kiss our tears when we had to say goodbye.
Goodbye to our friends and teachers and favourite bedroom. Again.
Goodbye to other military families who might have almost been a real support network.
She continued to soldier on. (pardon the pun)
Most of all she continued to stand by her husband with every single fibre of her being.
Dads job was a rollercoaster. Mum never knew what would happen next. Dad might come home one day and announce that he’d be leaving in 30 minutes and would be back in 3 months. There were times when, in a new town with my father her only ally, he would have to leave us for an undefined period of time. Mum would be left to run family life not knowing when her husband would be home. One week? One month? More?
There were times that he was sent on classified missions, not only did she not know how long he’d be gone, she also did not know where he was. Didn’t know if he was still in the country. It was classified even to the wives.
There were times when Dad was sent on missions that put his safety at risk. She couldn’t be certain that he would come home at all.
Did she suddenly lose the ability to function without Dad and his car? No, of course not. She ran the house as she always had.
With tenacity and determination. With love and patience. With a bus timetable and her own two feet.
Dads presence was such an unknown quantity that it would have been impossible for her to rely on him or his car. I’m sure that during those times, alone and missing her husband, it was more than his driver’s license that she yearned for. I’d like to bet that it was not even a consideration.
All of this, removed from the networks and interactions and web of support that most of us take for granted.
I never saw it, but surely there was a loneliness in her heart. Now as an adult I try to put myself in her shoes and I can honestly say I don’t know how she coped so stoically.
You’d think all that upheaval and restarting, the uncertainty, the lack of one single person who knows you, I mean really knows you, would get wearing after a while. If she was ever tired of it my Mother never let on. I never heard her complain.
She is a pillar.
There is only one thing that would make any sane person live that kind of life.
Love made my mother choose that life over and over again.
Dad’s drivers license had f*@k all to do with it.
My Mum deserves more than that kind of flippant ignorance. Much, much more.
So, here I am. Now fully licensed and oblivious to the fact that once upon a time there was a ‘bone of contention’ that my inability to drive might make me ‘end up like my mother’
Perhaps over the years her inability to drive has made her more organized and independent. Or perhaps she would have had those qualities anyway. Does it even matter?
What matters to me is that she has been an example of resourcefulness, resilience and determination.
She taught me how to be a patient and loving mother.
She taught me how to be a committed, loyal and genuinely supportive wife.
She taught me how to be the soft place to fall for my work weary husband, and tired cranky children.
She taught me how to be the ‘Home’ for my family. She taught me that Home is not simply where you live, it is where your heart lies. She taught me that Home is a feeling, rather than a place.
She taught me to take life in my stride and make the best of every new situation.”
She taught me how to love unconditionally.
And, she taught me that the public bus is a perfectly respectable way to travel.
I’m fairly certain that if I had never learned to drive, I would have been more than ok ending up just like my Mother.
This is in no way a sledge against my MIL. I happen to think she is a pretty awesome lady too. She is another Mum who is strong and independent and loyal. She made a snap judgement that was coloured by her own experience. She saw her son’s life through the filter of her own and acted out of concern for him. It is something we all do. Faced with my 3 boys’ girlfriends in the future I will probably have fears for them too. We are human.
To err is human. To forgive divine.
Oh and PS.
The sacrifices my Dad has made for his military career I am still learning. There are things that he still wont tell me about, even now. I hope to tell you some of his story at another time.