I have been thinking a lot about motherhood lately. This is partly because of the themes in The hand that first held mine, which I reviewed last week, and partly because it was discussed at our writer's group last week (when I read a chapter of my book connected with my own mother's death).
This week I visited my friend's mother. I have known my friend since primary school, presumably since I was two when we moved to the village. On and off we have been friends throughout the last 40 years. His mother and mine were friends. We went to the same church. Our sisters were similar ages too, so there was a lot of time spent playing together as we grew up.
His mother was there for me when my own mother died of breast cancer. She told me: "You will always be someone whose mother died when she was sixteen." She was right: it is like a weight that I carry everywhere with me, invisible to most, unknown to many, but something that makes every day a little more difficult than I would like.
But she was more practical help than that. We often went round for tea (spinach and cheese pancakes - that's what I'll remember!) and their family home was a release valve for the stresses that being a teenager without a mother inevitably brought. She told me about different types of contraceptives, for example - a conversation that I cannot begin to imagine having with my father even now!
I went to visit her because she has only days to live.
She has breast cancer.
Oh, the irony of that. The lady who became so much of a mother to me when my own mum died of breast cancer is going the same way - admittedly 20 years later and at an older age, but even so.
But what has struck me is how important she is to me not just because of the time immediately surrounding my own mother's death, but also because of all those primary school years when we were in and out of each other's houses. It wasn't just her: there were other friends whose homes I played in. All those after-school adventures and games, overseen by 'shadow mothers': mothers who loved me as their child's friend, who loved me almost as a daughter of their own.
They had a hugely important part in my upbringing, in making me who I am today. They permitted different excesses, had different skills to teach (one could make bread; another could sew; another had piles of lego or mechano or monopoly), had different family relationships that stretched my understanding of 'normal' and broadened my horizons.
And now my children are running in and out of their friends houses I see history repeating itself. My friends - their friends' mums - are a part of their upbringing, of knowing right from wrong, of learning skill sets and of celebrating achievements. And so - in 30, 40, 50 years' time - they may mourn the passing of their 'shadow mothers' with a similar grief to mine.
Childhood days are never forgotten and I am so grateful that I have had such wonderful shadow mothers. I have been blessed by them throughout my life. I also know that I have wonderful friends now to whom I entrust my children on a weekly basis. Perhaps one day the children will appreciate them as I appreciate my mother's friends.