Today is International Women’s Day and lots of people in my Twitter stream are sharing the names of women they find inspirational. There are lots and lots of women who have inspired me professionally (and become friends) but today there is only one inspiring woman on my mind and that is my mum.
As time goes on I realise just how many ways my mum has inspired me and encouraged me, just how much I aspire to achieve as much as she has.
My mum could be described as a polymath; a girl geek before any such label existed. All the things she did seemed completely normal to me when I was growing up but again, over time, I’ve realised just how little she was like other people’s mums.
She’s academic, incredibly clever in that way which means sometimes she doesn’t quite emotionally connect with people. I’m not sure even now I’ve grasped exactly how clever my mum is.
She’s from a working class background but won a scholarship to a Grammer school and from there pushed at the boundaries (from a traditionally-minded father, from society), went off to university and became an Industrial Chemist. This was in the early ’60s. It wasn’t really the usual way of things for women. So, my mum worked in labs throughout the swinging sixties and she looked *stunning* with it.
I’m not sure where or when my parents met. But they married in the early ’70s, the wedding bought forward at the last minute because my dad got a posting to the Far East. After a honeymoon on which the Spanish authorities tried to arrest them (and they wonder where my calamitous comedy streak comes from?) they spent the first eight months of their marriage living on opposite sides of the planet. It amazes me. There was no Internet, no email, there wasn’t even phone calls as my dad was in the jungle. They had letters…which sometimes could speed across the continents in a week or so if there was a plane headed in the right direction.
But that Christmas my dad got a telegram. It told him which flight he should expect his Christmas present on. Assuming it was a box of random bits from family at home he didn’t go to meet the plane. My mum arrived at an airfield in Singapore with no husband to meet her. The romance of this still stuns me now. My mum inspiring me again – the gesture grander than just wanting to be with her husband and surprising him in the process. This is a woman who gave up everything she knew and flew into the unknown to make a new life.
And they did. They explored while they were out there and there are many photos (on slides, no less) of my mum in the jungles of Borneo, the streets of Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s still a crazy exotic story to me…my childhood home, their house now still full of souvenirs from the tribes people. Amazing.
When they returned to dear old Blightly they shuffled from MoD base to base with my mum picking up a life wherever they stayed. And then as the ’70s draw to a close I enter the story.
At the time of my birth my mum was training to be a librarian and while she was a stay at home mum for quite a few years it was as a librarian she returned to work when I went to school. We didn’t stop moving though and my mum quietly helped me adjust as we left the hometown and our family to go and live in on the moors in Yorkshire (we did live in a house, we weren’t that wild).
My dad worked away a lot during this time trying to support us. My mum worked in school libraries mostly, a few times as a classroom assistant in chemistry lessons. She dug our house out of a snow drift on more than one occasion.
And eventually we returned to the Midlands and after a few months of nomadic existance sharing a bed in my grandparents spare room we settled in South Derbyshire. I did not like this, not at all. My mum had to put up with a hell of a bad attitude from me. The mood lasted around 8 years and came with progressively more rebelious behaviour.
But while I was tearing it up at home my mum was forging ahead with her career as well. First as a librarian and archivist and then curator at the Bass Museum. I am still sometimes confused by hearing her voice in the room only to realise it’s some old repeat of Cash in the Attic or whatever and my mum is their expert on Toby Jugs.
I spent a lot of time at that museum in my teenage years. My mum *was* that museum. The brass plaque from her office door still hangs above her desk at home (a retirement present, not stolen, honest). She designed galleries, put in interactive technology, dealt with Shire Horse problems and steam vehicles, she wrote books and inspired a number of other folk still working in musuem’s across the land.
Then as the brewing industry collapsed in on itself my mum made the decision to leave work. Not before gaining a Masters in Accesible Design.I was incredibly proud to watch her graduate and for us to share ideas and enthusiasm for accessibility, online and off.
I’m grateful to my mum for never telling me my ideas were stupid (even the time I sat her and dad down on a holiday to tell them I was going to marry someone from Take That and the fact I’d never met him was just a minor detail). I know a lot of the time mum didn’t understand the person I wanted to be, or even the person I am now. We’ve disagreed over a great many things and there are things she wouldn’t choose for me (from piercings to the cruddy flat me and my now husband first lived in). She always believed I could achieve whatever I wanted, if anything she pushed me because she didn’t think I dreamed big enough. I’ve never felt I couldn’t do something just because it had never been done before or I was being told no. (I suspect there are a few people who would curse my mum to know she (and dad) instilled this in me 😉 )
Anyway, Mum retired just in time to become a grandma for the first time. Although apparently remembering nothing about me being a baby she helped me incredibly through the first few months of being a first time mum.
My parent’s have lived 200 miles away for nearly four years now and I really notice that distance. My mum would travel back every other week to spend some time with her grandson while I went to work. And we went up there for adventures round the lakes and woods in my parent’s back garden.
So for all these are just some of the reasons I think of my mum on International Women’s Day. A lady who never let established rules stop her from doing what she knew in her head and heart was right for her. A woman who never let there only being 24 hours in a day stop her from getting on. A woman who is far greater than I can really hope to be.
There is one more reason though. Today my mum faces yet another step in the epic battle she’s been in for the last 11 months. In April last year she was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour and underwent brain surgery a week later. Last year was an endless round of chemo and radiotherapy, and steroids and bravery and sadness and hope. It was, to be honest, hell.
As the tumour and treatment have taken mum’s speech (mostly) I’ve missed her terribly. More than I can explain to people who have always thought we were quite emotionally and geographically distant from each other. But I miss her and it was a bittersweet moment to introduce her to her second grandson just before Christmas.
So today’s challenge for my mum – well, right about now a consultant oncologist will be telling my mum what the prognosis is. We have a broad picture of what lies ahead but today will crystallize the view. I’m scared and can’t begin to imagine how my mum (or my dad) are feeling. I simultaneously wish I could be there with her, to hold her hand as she did mine when I faced my own illness, and glad that I’m miles away so I can cry without upsetting her.
Whatever happens now I don’t think any one woman could be as inspirational to me as my mum has been, not just in her role as my mother but as a woman JFDI across a number of specialisms, without much of the support I am so thankful for today. I hope I make my mum proud (I think I mostly do these days) because I am definitely proud to be her daughter.