Sixty-five years ago today, a young girl went to bed looking forward to waking up to her 7th birthday, against a backdrop of rationing, scattered families and the sounds of the Battle of Britain in the skies over south-east England. The next morning would bring news of the D-Day landings on the northern coast of France and start of the Allies' attempt to liberate Europe.
She celebrated that birthday without her Daddy, who was away at war (she sometimes struggled to remember what he looked like), but her Mummy tried to keep things "normal" for her young daughter.
Tomorrow, that same girl celebrates another birthday - and with it the trials and triumphs of a life well-lived and well-loved. I should know: the Birthday Girl is my mother.
Until I was about ten, I thought her the most beautiful and accomplished woman on the face of the earth. I didn’t want to be an air hostess or a ballerina when I grew up. I wanted to be ‘just like Mum’ (so long I could still climb trees and I didn’t have to do the ironing).
Then puberty struck, and a snarling monster was unleashed.
Poor old Mum, almost overnight she saw me mutate from her smiley golden-locked little girl who hero-worshipped her, to a mean-spirited cynical Creature from The Black Lagoon demanding a drastic haircut. And yet she never stopped loving that teenage monster who hated to hear “You’re just like your Mother”.
By the time I hit my 20s, I’d forgiven her for giving birth to me and grudgingly admitted that I liked her. Quite a lot, actually. I even acknowledged that, throughout my Black Lagoon years, she was always there - the convenient butt of our jokes and a reliable source of practical advice, cups of tea, sisterly guidance and unconditional love.
My view of my Mum broadened and matured as I did. To my amazement, I realised she was someone in her own right - someone smart, charming, inventive, broad-minded, strong, creative and even funny at times. She was much more than just a mum!
She taught me I could do anything I set my mind to and that no-one should tell me otherwise. She showed me that most things have solution – even if we don’t always like that solution. And she taught me the value of true friendship.
It’s only the past couple of years that have really revealed how amazing she really is - a tough cookie who is 100% in touch with her emotions; a respectable pillar of the community with a wicked sense of mischief; a fount of practical wisdom who is prepared to open her mind to the possibility of another way of doing things.
She’s one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. She still misses my dad (who died in 2006) terribly, but sitting at home feeling sorry for herself is simply not her style. Even after major knee surgery last year, her determination to make a quick recovery and get back to her busy life left doctors and physiotherapists agape with admiration.
So, I could certainly do worse than be “just like Mum”. Looks like I've come full circle, after all.
Happy Birthday, Mum!