Time to celebrate mothers: Kathy Lette’s love letter to her mum

Author Kathy Lette gives a heartfelt thank you to her magnificent mum, Val – a baker of fairy cakes with the patience of a saint.

Mum gave me the greatest gift – three sensational sisters. When together, we cackle like kookaburras. There’s a lot of teasing too, mainly about which of us is top of Mum’s speed dial. Because we cherish our mum above all else.

Every moment with Mum, now aged 92, is precious. She’s the only one left of her four siblings and the last of her friends still standing. Mum treats this reality with wry, dry wit. (Her humour is drier than an AA clinic.) Educated at a selective girls’ school, she’s also a walking encyclopaedia. During Scrabble games, her word is law. The whole family refers to her as “The Oracle”.

Mum’s authority also stems from the fact that teaching was her absolute vocation, just like her mother before her. A principal of many infants and primary schools, Mum is still adored by kids and parents alike.

My childhood memories of Mum are fairy cakes, fairy stories and endless fun. It was a happy and hedonistic Aussie childhood; the most dangerous thing for a 10-mile radius was a bad oyster. (The lack of misery and hardship does not make a great childhood for a writer, though. I’ve long contemplated suing Mum for loss of book royalties.)

Kathy with her Mum and sisters. (Photo: Supplied)

Obviously, my bibliophile mum was devastated when I dropped out of school at 16. I always joke that the only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test, but in actual fact, I was a straight-A student. (Well, apart from maths. I’m convinced that the reason some Aussie women are so bad at maths is because men are always telling us that six inches equals 10!)

Consequently, when I received an honorary doctorate from the University of Wollongong a few years back, Mum was even more thrilled than me. When the university rang seeking my head size for the doctoral cap, she replied, “Well it was much smaller before you asked her that question!” I now have three honorary doctorates which has gone some way towards making it up to my dear mum for my rebellious years as Attila the Teenager.

Teenagers are clearly God’s punishment for having sex. Aged 13, I was taken hostage by my hormones. I became adept at Olympic level eye-rolling and an expert in first-degree sarcasm. I started dating surfie guys called Spider, Chook and Fang – Mum must have thought I’d found them in a petting zoo. Worse were the punk musicians – the sort of blokes who spent more on nostril piercing than armpit hygiene.

So, did my poor, beleaguered mother start looking for a loophole in my birth certificate? Did she put me up for adoption? Did she embrace the guppy approach to parenting (i.e. eating your young)? No, she just kept right on loving me.

It’s not really until you have your own children that you fully understand the sacrifices your mum made. Actually, Mum has only recently confided in me about how much flak she endured when Puberty Blues was published. There were endless anonymous phone calls and hate mail, berating her for having raised such a scandalous daughter. Mum kindly kept that ordeal to herself, a lesson in stoicism.

Kathy Lette at home with Mum. (Photo: Supplied)

Grace under fire is just one of the many lessons my mother’s inspirational generation can teach us, along with stamina, wit, wisdom, kindness, compassion, a strong moral compass, generosity of spirit and above all, resilience.

After a particularly harrowing event, I rang my mum from London, weeping. “Kath, darling, just remember you’re of pioneering stock.” Her words steeled my nerve. “I bloody am,” I said, drying my eyes.

I also wouldn’t have got through the bleak days of my son’s autism diagnosis without the love and support of my darling mum. Mothering a child on the autism spectrum, well, it’s like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the lid.

At the time, autism was a diagnosis which dragged you down into the dark. My darling boy had become a plant in a gloomy room and it was Mum who helped bring him back into the light. A label, she explained to me, is nothing more than something on the side of a jam jar. And “normal” – a setting on a washing machine.

A feminist, Mum also incentivised her daughters to stand on our own two stilettos and not wait to be rescued by some knight in shining Armani.

Looking back, I don’t know how my mother juggled everything – a full-time job, four kids and no help around the house. She juggled so much she could have joined the Moscow State Circus.

When the snooze alarm went off on my own biological clock, I thought I’d breeze through motherhood as effortlessly as Mum, but I definitely had days when I wanted to put my kids back into the condom vending machine for the refund!

One particularly exhausting weekend, I rang my mother to find out how she’d raised four daughters while holding down a full-time job without giving herself a DIY lobotomy.

“Love … ” she replied simply. “And blatant bribery, otherwise known as ‘rewards’. Hey, we mums may drive our teenagers crazy, but we also drive them everywhere … Or not, if homework’s not completed!” she laughingly added.

So, this Mother’s Day, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mum, make sure you spoil her rotten and thank her for that unconditional love.

Although to my own children I would say, there are a few conditions. Book your own driving lessons – no mother should have to go through menopause and teach her kid to drive in the same year!

And, if you ever lock me up in a maximum security nursing home, there’s not a ghost of a chance that I won’t come back to haunt you!

Kathy Lette’s new novel, The Revenge Club, Bloomsbury, is on sale now.

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