What does Mother’s Day mean to you? Breakfast in bed, a drawing made out of rice and macaroni, the obligatory visit to your mum?
Today we celebrate Mother’s Day in the Netherlands. This year instead of giving my mum flowers, a book or anything else she might actually enjoy, I wanted to dedicate a blog post to her and show the world what an extraordinary woman raised me. Sorry mum, I know you’d prefer a book! 🙂
My mum was born in the fifties in Surinam, a former Dutch colony in South America. Her father was a bus driver and her mum a housewife who looked after their five daughters (of which my mum is the youngest) and farm animals. My mum has very fond memories of her childhood. My grandparents weren’t particularly wealthy, but for Surinam standards they had a big house with lots of land.
My mum loved going to school, despite the long walk of a few kilometres there. After school hours she and her sisters would help in the household, but sometimes they would go out for some innocent mischief, including stealing mangos from their neighbours’ trees. One day while my mum was up in the trees, one of the neighbours’ curious cows came over to see what was going on and licked the sole of her foot. This made her jump so much that she fell out of the tree. Luckily she landed in a pond. Unluckily she hit her head on the edge and broke her nose.
Although she was a bright and eager pupil she had to give up further education after finishing primary school. Her life completely changed when she got married to a man she didn’t know at all (arranged marriages were very common) and had her first child at age 17. I won’t go into any personal and painful details, but it would be an understatement to say that married life was tough.
Before Surinam gained its independence in 1975, the people had the option to emigrate to the Netherlands. She and her family arrived in June, supposedly summer, but it just didn’t stop raining for days. She was freezing cold and wanted to jump back on the plane to tropical Surinam again after two weeks! Her home in Amsterdam was far from glamorous and such a world apart from her childhood home. Thankfully she stayed and after a few years I was born. Apparently I was the only baby girl in the hospital at the time and when I started to cry, all the boys would join in. The nurses stuck a sign on the door saying ‘Zangkoor whèèèèèèèèh’ (Choir whèèèèèèèèh). I already knew from a young age how to make a boy cry 😉
My dad obviously didn’t appreciate my vocal qualities and left almost immediately after I was born. Luckily my big brother absolutely adored his nine year younger sister and has been looking after me all my life. But this post is about my mum, so enough about him now!
As for my mum, she now had the responsibility over two kids while she was only 26 years old herself with hardly any money. My mum is intelligent, but sadly hadn’t been given the opportunity to study and didn’t have any school diplomas. She decided to take a course in childcare and work in that field, but times were different then and it was difficult for a person of colour to find work, no matter how motivated she was.
I thought the world of my mum and would often stretch out my arms to her and say ‘mama, Hulk’ so my superhero mum could pick me up. Obviously I must have been really tiny then as my mum is only 1m53 tall! It’s funny to think that she was then younger than I am now.
Though I had a happy childhood, the only issue I’m still trying to come to terms with is that I never had an authentic Barbie doll. Since my mum never managed to find a job, we lived on welfare and I can only imagine how difficult that must’ve been for a single mum with two kids! Barbies aside, I had everything my heart wished for, but the most important thing was having my caring mum waiting for us at home after school. And school was very important! My mum was very strict about this, no dating or other distractions for me! She always stimulated both my brother and me to excel at school, but especially told me to get my school diplomas so I could find a good job when I was older and never had to be dependent on a man.
My brother’s friends would always come over to our place, probably because they liked being around my fun mum. I suppose she was much younger than all other mums and had a great sense of humour, loved films (especially horror and Sci-Fi) and popular music; she loves classical music, is a big fan of Tina Turner and Faithless, and listens to heavy metal whilst cleaning. She even went to see industrial metal band Fear Factory live with me about five years ago and the melodic death metal band Amon Amarth with my nephew a couple of years ago. The more grunting, the more she loves it!
After being a single mum for so many years, she started dating and when I was 10 years old we went to live with her new fiancée. Suddenly I had a new father figure and piles of presents for Sinterklaas and Christmas (still no Barbies though) and we even went on holiday abroad! My parents have been married for 25 years now and are still very happy together after both having had less happy relationships. Sadly, they are not able to fully enjoy life as they deserve to as my dad got very ill twenty years ago, diagnosed with acute and severe arthritis. It was terrible to see my big strong dad being in pain like this. He couldn’t drive the car anymore, but instead of giving in, my mum decided to take driving lessons whilst in her forties.
Despite my dad’s illness, my parents remain such positive people. I am very proud of how they deal with the situation. My mum even decided to take up various courses: Philosophy, Cultural Studies, computer classes, English and First Aid. Nowadays she doesn’t only take care of my dad, but also works as a volunteer First Aider at events and is a volunteer for the organisations Zonnebloem (who organise events for disabled people) and Modus (who facilitate the elderly and sick to live in their own homes as long as possible by providing caretakers).
My mum is my role model for life. She’s had a very tough life, but manages to remain optimistic. She’s always there for other people, even strangers, and helps where she can. Everybody in town knows her and like her. She always chats to people, to my embarrassment at times even to strangers. Although it was very convenient when she came to visit me in London and the owner of the Fish & Chips shop liked her so much that he gave us extra portions.
I will be forever thankful to her that she pushed me to do well at school to ensure I would have a better future and life than she had. She has always supported me: when I decided to take a second Master’s at university, when I decided to leave home at age 19, when I received a scholarship to study in Australia for a semester and also when I moved to London a few years ago.
I hope I make her as proud as she does me. I’m happy she can see how well I’m doing and can even see me in the newspapers because of my blog! My aim in life is to be happy, be good to others and excel in everything that I do. Not only for myself, but mostly for my mum, the most important woman in my life.
Fijne Moederdag mama! xx