Last month I returned home to New Zealand for a visit, my first in 18 months. November, it turns out, was a great time to go – summer had started early so I enjoyed beautiful weather and high temperatures, but as it was before peak travel season, tickets were markedly lower than the legit summer months of December through January. Score.
None of this factored in my decision to go home when I did though. There was one reason for my visit that made dates non-negotiable: my mum’s 70th birthday. (Wee side note... we learnt that 70°F is only 21°C, so if you ever know someone marking this milestone and in denial about it, just tell them it’s like they’re turning 21.) This is the lovely lady on her big day.
Now I don’t want to get overly cheesy, partly because Mum’s not the sort who’s into all that nonsense (not sure where I got it from) but also because just the possibility of writing some of the cheesy things I otherwise might bring echoes of my sister’s deprecating scoffs and eye rolls to my mind, so I’m going to save myself the grief.
One thing I will permit myself however is something I think most all of us would say of our mums: that the older I get, the more appreciation I have for her, and the more she becomes cemented as one of my favourite people in the world.
Of course we are all shaped to a large extent by the person or persons who raise us, so it is only to be expected that often we end up having a lot in common, and a similar way of approaching situations and seeing the world. But the more I grow up and have my own experiences and the more I discuss life with mum over our various coffee/wine/Skype dates, the more I find this to be acutely true.
Everyone has different notions of success. For many it comes in the shape of a certain career, of having money in the bank, for others it may be achieved by owning properties and businesses. For some it comes from having a family, for others it comes through helping people around them. What mum would say her idea of success is, I don’t know (though I can guess at her answer) but looking at her as she celebrated her 70th birthday in wonderful style, I see a raging success, and an example to live by.
Alright, OK... it seems I’ve wound up in full cheese territory (big surprises there) despite aforementioned plans to avoid it. But I’m there now, so I’m just going to roll with it – Lauren’s eye rolls be damned.
Mum’s success, in my eyes, comes from her living for the moment. She has always made decisions based on what makes her happy; what will give her the experiences she most desires and, when finding herself in situations which would not have been of her choosing, making the best of it. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She laughs often. She indulges in the things that bring joy into her everyday: socialising, having a natter with girlfriends, travelling, making time for a good book, relaxing, going for walks.
When she was in her 20s, she headed off overseas much as I have, with the simple yet admirable objective of having fun. If you’re wondering if she succeeded, I can put your mind at ease. Initially departing New Zealand for an indeterminate period of time, she ended up being away from home seven years in which time she called three countries home. She made lifelong friends; she ate all the glorious food and drank all the glorious wine; she had beautiful experiences, made beautiful memories and saw beautiful sights. She became rich in the only kind of wealth I think is worth having.
It’s why she supports my sister's and my doing the same thing. Similarly, I know she would support us doing anything else, if it was fulfilling our own desires, and making us achieve the kind of success we were after in life. For me, enjoying every day as much as I can, being as happy as I can be and living in the moment is what I want for my life, and I’ve learnt from the best.
When I was home last month, I got looking through some old photos, and mum’s stories were flowing as she looked through them with me... I was in hysterics throughout. I already thought of myself as like her in so many ways, but as I pored over these images of mum at my age, I can’t say how nice it was to look at them and feel certain that if we met as contemporaries, we’d be mates, she and I.
Here she is, much as her daughters are now, living life with a glass of red wine in hand, and friends at her side. Goofing around, seeing new places, loving life. Happy birthday again, Mum, and thank you for setting such a great example for me and Lauren to live by. I hope I’m as much of a gem at 70... Though after seeing this picture of you in your red Fiat 500 in 1970s Italy with a matching shirt, I’m not sure I’ll ever be as cool.