Mother's Day: Three Kiwi writers tell us about their mums

Nina with Aroha at his christening in 1976.

Nina with Aroha at his christening in 1976.

Remember how at school you'd write a character description about "My Mum"? In the spirit of Mother's Day we asked three grown-ups who write for a living to do the same thing.

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By Aroha Awarau

I loved plaiting my mum's jet-black hair. She would let me run my tiny fingers through it, brushing and criss-crossing her ponytail to construct the perfect plaits. This happened at our marae in Taranaki, as my mum sat on the mattresses chatting to my aunties or as she sang and played the ukulele during waiata practice.

I'm often reminded by her friends how beautiful my mother was when she was younger. They'd often talk about her flawless brown skin, her stylish fashion sense and how she was able to keep a slim figure even after giving birth to six children.

There's a picture of my mother and me taken at my christening in 1976. She's holding me, the youngest of her brood and she's wearing a timeless outfit which would still be in fashion today and looking like Naomi Campbell (but I might be a little biased). I'm too young to remember my mother in this photo. I have memories of a mother who had welcoming arms and a huggable figure that could project an enormous amount of affection whenever she embraced the people and the children she loved dearly. I may not remember my mother as the supermodel everyone says she looked like, but I do remember the strong Maori woman who had a beautiful spirit and was adored my many.

Over time, as I continued to plait my mother's hair, I noticed the grey streaks coming through. I was excited that my mother was entering a new stage in her life. It dawned on me that one day she would become a kuia, a wise and respected Maori woman who would heed the call of her iwi and her whanau.

Sadly, at only 48, my mother died a month after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

I didn't get to see her hair transform from black to grey, her face fill with wrinkles, each line representing the struggles and triumphs she experienced in life.

Dog lover, Shakespeare scholar, mother-of-three and grandmother-of-six Sally Hoare, in the 1970s.

Dog lover, Shakespeare scholar, mother-of-three and grandmother-of-six Sally Hoare, in the 1970s.

Today, many of my mother's friends have embraced themselves and their whanau and received moko kauae on their faces. I imagined my mother would have joined them and would have proudly worn the mark of her family and our history on her chin.

I'm grateful I can close my eyes, and remember the times in our wharenui, sitting on the mattresses, hearing my mother talk, hearing her sing and navigating my fingers through her hair.

Aroha Awarau is a playwright and a story producer for Native Affairs on Maori Television.

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By Rose Hoare

She has silver hair now, after years of being blonde. She's slim, slender, minuscule, really.

A shape I associate with the 60s, and all the vintage clothes I can't fit into. When I was a child, she used to tip-toe around the house, I think from being so accustomed to wearing heels. She's pale, blue-eyed, with something tremulous and proper about the way she holds herself.

Another thing I associate with the 60s: she used to pride herself on never phoning my father when he was at work, always showing the utmost respect for his professional life. She secretly bridled if a personal assistant of his used the informal Jim. She only ever calls him James.

She was a secretary, then stayed at home raising her three kids until the youngest was at primary school, then went back to doing office work, part time.

A few years later, when her eldest son started at university, she did, too. She studied Italian, comparative literature, Shakespeare. She kept studying until she had a PhD. I skim-read one of her essays once and was shocked to realise my mum had been brainy all along.

She loves wordplay, the richness and bigness of Elizabethan plays, and subtle, quietly devastating emotional shifts. Her favourite line in Othello is when Emilia, expecting to be murdered by her husband, says to him, "Perchance, Iago, I will ne'er go home."

She foresees potential danger everywhere, and is always trying to prepare for it. When I had my wisdom teeth out, she wanted them kept in case she ever needed to provide search-and rescue teams with DNA samples.

Don't drink and drive, she'd say, when we were heading out of the house as teenagers.

I know, Mum. You don't need to say that.

I just want to be able to tell the coroner I told you so.

She enjoys a pop culture reference. Sometimes when she asks a penetrating question, she has a way of squinting at me, and I know she is amusing herself by imitating Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

She loves dogs and is more likely to remember a dog's name than a person's.

She is from the generation that I have come to think of as The Last of the Great Phone-Talkers. In the 1980s, when a phone call meant sitting in one spot the whole time, she could easily talk to my aunty on the phone for an hour, no problem. They'd talk about mundane stuff. Nothing in particular, really. I once talked to her on the phone while cleaning my house for about 40 minutes, in the same pleasantly languid way.

When we ring each other up now, we have somehow developed a habit of greeting each other in a weirdly conspiratorial tone, with a breathy Hi that sounds like it will be followed by lots of juicy secrets.

I can think of two other friends who also do this. I guess they got it from their mothers, too.

Rose Hoare is a writer and editor who this month became a first-time mother.

Lois Dudding on her graduation day in the 1990s.

Lois Dudding on her graduation day in the 1990s.

By Adam Dudding

Last year, in a box of family junk in my garage, I found a small sheaf of lined foolscap refill, filled with Mum's right-handed, pre-stroke fountain-pen cursive.

The first two pages (dated July 1976, so she would have been in her early 40s) are study notes, presumably copied from a high-school textbook, about logarithms and fractional indices. The next six are notes towards what looks like a novel: character sketches, principal locations and themes, and fragments of dialogue and action that look suspiciously like they were collected from observations of her own family.

They're exactly the kind of jottings and sketches that lay around the house while I was growing up, a piecemeal diary of Mum's many voyages of intellectual discovery, most of them scuttled by some tedious maternal chore.

Get home from school and she'd be sitting in the patch of sun that fell on the front doorstep, reading a Penguin history of invertebrates, or practising Japanese hiragana on a piece of cardboard salvaged from a packet of Bell tea, or sketching a still-life of a fruit bowl, or frowning as she tried to memorise the "speed system" of mental arithmetic developed by Russian engineer Jakow Trachtenberg to pass the time in a Nazi concentration camp (his method for multiplying any number by 11 is surprisingly easy).

She never mastered logarithms or the full Trachtenberg method, or finished the novel, but some of Mum's smaller projects were completed. She was especially proud of the puzzles she made – a trio of domestic still-lifes, each painted onto a piece of plywood then cut into jigsaw pieces.

Once we six kids had grown up she had time to be more ambitious, first training to teach English as a foreign language, and later completing a BA (including some Japanese papers).

When she had a major stroke 12 years ago, some things changed. Her once-brisk walk became a shuffle. She can't always find the right word. Her right arm is purely decorative.

But other things didn't change. If she needs to move fast she mounts her electric scooter, and she is famous for her ability to perform three-point turns in the narrow aisles of Mairangi Bay's Take Note bookstore.

She uses her left hand to write and paint. She's discovered a taste for international travel, zipping around on her other, more portable, electric scooter in Mexico City or Melbourne; San Francisco or Paris.

She'll be 83 this year. She's a little shorter, somewhat greyer and a lot wrinklier than when I used to come home from school to find her sitting in the sun reading Edward de Bono's Course in Thinking, or Lyall Watson's Supernature. But not long ago, I popped in to see her – she's living downstairs from one of my sisters – and she was sitting at her table, alternating her one useful hand between holding a cup of tea and turning the next page of an old, fat, hardback book. When I asked her what it was, she struggled to get the title out so I checked the cover myself: A Treatise of Human Nature, by David Hume.

Really? I asked. Four-hundred and fifty pages of densely argued philosophy that's taxed the patience of scholars since it was published in 1740? This is what you choose for a bit of light afternoon reading?

"Well," said Mum, "I just thought I'd see if I could get through it."

I turned the book back to her place and checked. She was up to page 100.

Adam Dudding is a senior writer for the Sunday Star-Times and Stuff; and the author of My Father's Island (VUP), available now in all good book stores.

 - Sunday Magazine


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