As a mother myself, it’s only now that I have a real appreciation for all that my mother offered me growing up. My father was largely absent, working on ships and away for up to half the year. My mother was a nurse, a working mother in an era when many mums still didn’t have careers. She worked fulltime, but not regular office hours: day shifts started at 7am, morning shifts went to 10pm, and the dreaded night duty went all night long. And along with her changing shifts and the exhaustion that came with that, she also had to come up with resourceful ways to deal with me, her book obsessed child.
For me, books were all consuming. My mother talks about how I taught myself to read at the age of two, but I’m sure she had a hand in that. I was unruly and naughty, but hand me a book and I’d behave. I would move around the house getting ready for school, with a book in front of my nose. I would read by torchlight under my covers. I’d regularly forget to do homework and assignments because the book I was reading was more important. I’d read anything I could get my hands on, including her weighty medical textbooks, which taught me more than I needed to know about weird diseases, like elephantiasis.
She juggled her shifts with parenting me and my brother, and everything else that parenting involves. She encouraged me to read, feeding my obsession by buying me books. Or even better, taking me to the Bangalow book barn where she’d hand me some cash, despite having very little spare, and tell me that I had two hours. I’d get lost in the packed, dusty aisles of the old shed. Bliss!
Back home, nothing would get in the way of me reading my latest books. Certainly not school. Mum’s work shifts were often convenient for me. I’d read until I heard the car enter the driveway when she worked late shifts, and then if a morning shift followed, I’d sleep through the alarm, miss the school bus and walk to school by recess. Mum initially tried phoning to get me out of bed, but when that didn’t work, she’d wake me before leaving for work, tell me she’d started running a bath and if I didn’t get up to turn the taps off, the house would flood. Then she’d walk out the door and head to the hospital. Cruel, but it did get me out of bed.
Despite the extra struggles of trying to get me to function in the normal world, she always continued to encourage my love of books. I was quite young when she gifted me all her own precious childhood books: The Black Brumby and King of the Ranges by CK Thompson, that she got in 1952. The Family at Misrule, The Caravan Children and Leith and Friends were other battered favourites.
I formed my own large collection too. I was obsessed with The Secret Garden, What Katy Did and anything by Enid Blyton. Leading into my teens, Mum and I would share books and discuss the characters, as if they were family friends. I devoured William Stuart Long’s series, The Australians, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, and my favourite teenage read, The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason. The list goes on. The list is endless.
Despite probably wanting to pull her hair out, my mother always, always encouraged my reading habit. We still talk about books all the time and she is a voracious reader. And me? I now work with books and write books. I even get to stay up late reading, all in the name of work. And no one uses a running bath to get me out of bed the next day.
Jane Tara is a blissed out bookworm, Better Reading writer, and author of the YA novel, Fish out of Water