As a young boy in a new country with a new dad and a past I didn’t want to remember, I did my best to fit in. I worked hard at losing my Kiwi accent because I didn’t want to be different. Different did not feel safe.
In my teen years I became a bit rebellious (I know, how unusual). I got into a lot of trouble and became a ward of the court for a couple of years. It was during this period of time that I became aware that I had some issues. As it turns out, I was angry at my mother (have at it, Freud).
It was not easy to live with such deep anger AND love for my mother. It was very confusing. I even harbored some hurtful, retaliation-type thoughts toward her that would haunt me for years. Fortunately for both of us, I never followed through on any of those.
It wasn’t until 2013, during the time leading up to my first trip back to New Zealand since childhood, that I looked for a way to reframe my story and try to understand mum’s choices. I had a lot of questions. Why did she abandon us? Did she even really abandon us? Why did she separate us from our siblings and extended family and bring us halfway around the world so SHE could start over? In short, my thought loop went something like this: I was a victim. My mother hurt me. My mother abandoned me. That was my story – a painful, disempowering one – and at some point I realized that I wanted to change it.
Such a Long Way is the new narrative, one of understanding. I tried to put myself in mum’s place, to see the events of those early years from her perspective. I started piecing together the accounts of family members with whom I had been reconnecting, and seeing where they were compatible with mum’s testimonies. The song is a new story, and possibly more true to my mother’s life than the victim stories I had woven in my head as a boy.
Here are the facts as I recall them:
Mum went away for a long time.
She and my father had divorced.
She fell in love with an American sailor.
She felt it was her best option at a better life.
She sent for the 2 younger of her 4 children to live with her in the States.
She created a stable home life for my brother and I.
I am still learning about our life and family in New Zealand. There are conversations I wish I could have with my mother now, but things have changed. Almost 4 years ago, mum fell down a flight of stairs and took a severe blow to her head. She survived the event, but not entirely as the woman she used to be. I sense that she is unaware of the damage to her cognition, and I am glad for that. She turns 89 in March and seems happy with the life she has, as limited as it is. My dad, Julian Brumby, is the best caregiver anyone could ever want and is 100% dedicated to mum and her comfort.
I also feel fortunate that I arrived at my new understanding before her injury because she got to hear the song.
My mother was not perfect. She was, and I believe still is, a courageous woman.
For you, Margaret Agnes Wadsworth Grennell Brumby, with love, your grateful son.