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Dear Mum

10 May 2017 Suvi Mahonen

Dear Mum

I’m sorry I made you cry.

I can still see you standing under the streetlight at the end of Carols by Candlelight, wiping your eyes, while the crowds streamed around you as they walked away from the beach.

I’d just told you I never wanted to see you again. I was scared, and I needed your help. Rather than asking you nicely, though, I demanded it. And when you hesitated, just for a second, I panicked. And before we knew it, we were yelling at each other again and we haven’t spoken since Christmas.

As you know, my life has been a series of disasters – from my stupid and impulsive teenage marriage to a string of courses and jobs that I didn’t have the willpower to persevere with. But when I try to justify this history to myself, I find it much easier to blame it all on you and Dad moving away when I was 19.

Did I want you to remain in Victoria rather than move to Queensland? I have argued yes many times. But the truth is, I was happy to see you go. I was a 19-year-old, recently separated student who was excited about the future and drunk on freedom and I didn’t need my mother hanging around.

“Come with us,” you said, after Dad accepted his new job. “See it as an adventure. We’ll have fun.” I looked away.

But when I began to find things hard on my own, I started to blame my inability to cope on you. Money problems? If I still lived at home, I wouldn’t have to pay rent. Failing my course? How could I study enough when I had to work as well? Binge eating? I was lonely, and missing my family.

The biggest thing I blamed you for, though, was the fear I felt when I was pregnant and I discovered my baby was going to be a girl. I mean, how could I be expected to form a close relationship with my own daughter, when the one with my mother was in tatters?

What really killed me, in those lonely moments when I was buying baby clothes by myself, is that you really wanted a daughter. When you first saw my raw, red, scrawny body you told me your voice caught. 

“It’s a girl, isn’t it?”

The doctor looked up, and said yes.

You started crying. You had everything prepared for me at home. Lace trim on the cradle. A slew of pink teddy bears. You so longed for your little princess. But you got me instead.

I wasn’t interested in having tea parties or playing dress-ups. I was an anxious little girl immersed in her own little world and you didn’t quite know how to reach me. And it only got worse as I got older. The harder you tried to establish a relationship, the more I pushed you away. That is, of course, until my own daughter came along.

I had no idea that becoming a mother is so hard. I couldn’t comprehend how much courage is required or that there would be moments when the urge to run away from it all would seize me.

And it was during some of my darkest days that you came to help me. I am so grateful for all those times you changed Amity, fed Amity and took Amity out for walks. For giving me those moments to breathe when it felt like I was suffocating under it all. The fact that Amity has grown into a happy, healthy three-year-old is something for which I have you, in no small part, to thank.

The other day, Amity and I were scrolling through photos on my phone, when we came across one of you. She touched the screen, looked at me and said, “I want to see Gramma.” What could I say? I’m sorry. I fought with your grandmother and, being the pig-headed idiot that I am, haven’t spoken to her in months. I’ve ignored her calls and I haven’t responded to her emails. I didn’t open the letter she sent me.

One of my friends once said to me, “Having kids is like a drug. They heighten your experience of living, but destroy you in the process.” I laughed. But looking back, I realise now that there were times I destroyed parts of you.

It’s been more than 20 years since you moved to Queensland and we’ve never spent a Mother’s Day together since.

Amity is asleep at the moment. It’s 10pm, and the nights are getting colder. I just went in to tuck an extra blanket around her and I found her lying with her arm around that pink bunny you gave her for Christmas.

I’m sorry, Mum, that I broke you sometimes. I’m sorry I never tried as hard as you did. I’m sorry I wasted so many chances with you. If you’ll give me one more, Amity and I would love to come and see you on Mother’s Day. 

» Suvi Mahonen is a Surfers Paradise-based writer. Her work has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Australian and The Huffington Post. See more at redbubble.com/people/suvimahonen.

This article first appeared in Ed#536 of The Big Issue. In this edition, two writers share stories about the relationships between mothers and daughters.