I often ponder the story you told me long ago, of when you upped and left my biological father when I was just 6 weeks old, with little more belongings than just the clothes on your back. You’ve repeatedly told me that the reason you left is because you didn’t want me to grow up in a violent household. You chose not to stick with a familiarity that you weren’t happy with. You don’t know what was beyond the cliff but you knew I couldn’t be as bad as the life you knew then, so you jumped. You knew stepped into an abyss with a fully dependent baby girl with very little security and no idea what was coming around the corner. I think about that huge act of bravery a lot, these days. You had me at a younger age that I am now, bearing more responsibility than I do now, yet you knew your situation was wrong and you changed it. That story is now the blue print for my life. You taught me that I’m in charge of my life, and if I’m unhappy with my situation, I should change it, and I shouldn’t stand for anyone taking me for a mug. Grown up me has walked out on bad boyfriends, stuck to my guns when negotiating, and stood my ground when returning things to shops. Just recently, I let a bullying boss know how I felt. I ended up poorer for it, but I became much richer in self-esteem as a result. You would have been proud.
You also taught me the value of graft. My teenage years weren’t like my peers at all, because every Saturday morning you and I would wake up at the crack of dawn to set up your market stall. We would drive all the way from north to west London, and we’d be ready to trade by 9am. You were a one woman business, and I was learning the ropes. It was hard work selling those vintage clothes and old leather goods. And we were there every single weekend, in the freezing cold, or the spring breeze. We carried heavy boxes and built the stall every weekend from scratch, from its skeleton of metal poles to its shelter of tarpaulin. Every morning we’d start with an empty plot and by the afternoon it’d be a bustling spot with eager customers ready to buy our wares. I learnt to roll out of bed no matter how I was feeling and get on with the demands of the day, because people were relying on me. Funnily enough, after all those years on the market stall, I never did turn into a sales woman extraordinaire. But I did develop great upper body strength.
Reni and her mum
All that hard graft was a result of you wanting me to have the things that you didn’t. You had to sweat for to provide for me, because we started out with very little. Through my childhood though, I dreamt big, and you never tried to box me in. When four year-old me wanted to be a ballerina you stumped up the money for classes. When 12 year- old me wanted to become an actress you used what you had to support me, buying me trade newspapers and encouraging me along to auditions. You never told me that there were some professions that weren’t for the likes of us, though you did say that I’d have to work twice as hard as my white peers at whatever I wanted to do. It was difficult for your parents when they moved here, and undoubtedly difficult for you. I thank you for the hardships that you endured in order to make things a little bit easier for me. When it came to me deciding my job prospects in sixth form, you pushed me towards law, or teaching - those safe, secure 9 to 5 jobs. I can understand why. Instead, against your judgement, I waded into the unknown, much like you did 25 and a bit years ago. Thanks to you, I will continue to embrace the riskier things in life, because it’s not that scary after all.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t envision us being friends in the way I spent time with those I considered my best mates at the time. But a decade on, I can’t imagine you not being the person I turn to with life’s most difficult questions. So on Mother’s Day I want to thank you for advising me in my unsure moments, and reminding me that it’s ok to be uncertain. And I can’t believe I am saying this – but thank you for all of those lectures I endured as a teenager. They are finally starting to make sense now.
Happy Mother’s Day dearest mum.
All my love,