On Friday 22 May we hosted a special Story-share event at The Front Gallery & Cafe, themed around ‘motherhood’, in honour of Mothers’ Day. Below is a transcript of the talk shared by Tara Cheyne. You can read more of Tara’s words at In The Taratory.
What Debra gave me
I’m here today to speak about daughterhood but I first want to make one thing clear – daughterhood isn’t just about blood. The greatest things my mother’s given me have been beyond our DNA and I think this is true of any nurturing relationship.
My mother’s name is Debra. And this is what she gave me.
In the middle of a north Queensland summer in the 80s, managing the restaurant she owned with my father, at a time when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Premier, aged 33 and four months, Debra gave me life.
Debra gave me no siblings. They were wanted, but they didn’t come.
Within just a few years, Debra gave me a hero. On a night my dad was on a fishing trip, and I was soundly asleep in my big girl’s bed, Debra saved us from a home invasion: running through the house and locking and holding doors shut while a man tried to break his way through, even while she was using her other hand to call the police.
Through careful planning and cunning against a toddler who stayed up late hoping to catch a glimpse, Debra gave me a belief in the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. And when a schoolfriend dedicated a day to explaining the logic behind why none of them existed and I spent a weekend working up the courage to ask, it was Debra who gave me the confirmation that these fantasy figures were, in fact, her.
When it became apparent in school that I had poorly developed motor skills, Debra gave me her time and her patience to help me graduate more quickly out of remedial physical education classes (it was really a thing). Debra taught me to catch and throw a ball (kind of! Don’t test me), to ride a bike, and celebrated with me when I finally managed to coordinate my limbs in such a way that I was able to skip.
Debra gave me my first experience of university – as a mature age student, she took me to her lectures after I’d finished school for the day. Her uni friends drew cartoons for me and aged five I put up my hand to answer a question posted to the class. I wasn’t called on, but they did laugh.
When Debra realised I was hiding in sickbay on Friday sport afternoons because boys in the older grades were throwing basketballs at my face, Debra organised to volunteer and said something to those boys so that they never did it again. Debra gave me a fierce supporter. (And she still won’t tell me what she said.)
When she came back from work trips, Debra gave me presents, many of which I didn’t appreciate. It wasn’t enough for me to take comfort that the thought counted – I saw gifts that I had no time for or interest in as a direct reflection of how little she understood me at age 10. And it shocked me.
Debra gave me my first sex ed lesson. She borrowed ‘Where do I come from?’ from the small town library and sat across from me at the kitchen table, answering my questions matter-of-factly as I read each page with a growing sense of horror, coming to terms with the fact that babies weren’t the product of vigorous kissing. I was even more mortified that the town librarian had smiled at Debra knowingly when she checked the book out.
Debra gave me room to explore my childhood obsessions with Robin Hood, Sweet Valley High, and Xena, Xena, Xena. In fact, with Xena she was an enabler – buying me blank video cassettes from the dollar shop so I could record every single episode and recording them for me when I had sleepovers at friends’ houses. I guess strong women seem to like strong women.
From an early age and to this day, Debra gave me an example of how to have a great relationship with your mother – calling her mother at least every week despite living thousands of kilometres apart, never missing her phone calls, never being too busy. I’m ashamed I’ve never replicated this example.
When I just turned 13, Debra gave me one of the tightest hugs she’s ever given as she said goodbye to me on the steps of boarding school. For the next four years, I would see her a handful of times. After a year there, she and I went to cross a busy road together and she gave me her hand. She insisted on it. I shook it off and looked at her like she was crazy. Debra was giving me something I didn’t need anymore.
Throughout boarding school, and then university, each visit home I would pore Debra’s jewellery box and find things I loved, pieces of her I wanted to take away with me. Debra gave me her treasures and memories willingly and unwillingly – but they meant more to me than any other physical gift she gave me. When I carelessly lost an earring or a ring I felt I like I lost a part of her, like I lost part of my relationship with her.
Debra gave me someone to aspire to. Debra has always been able to type fast – on weekends when I had school friends over, they gaped at the clacketing speed at which she was typing her university assignments. I mimicked her, learning to type at 100 words a minute before I entered high school. I later learned Debra had been a stenographer – back when that was a job – so at university I learned shorthand. 15 years after Debra completed an MBA, I started mine. I’ve modelled myself after my mother. Debra literally gave me a role model.
As I grew older, Debra gave me the space I needed to make mistakes, and gave me a trampoline of support when I needed someone to have faith in me. Debra gave me answers I didn’t want to hear, and gentle reminders when I was too head strong, or being unkind.
Debra also gave me gnarled toenails, stubby fingers, grey hair which I mask with red, the frown line between my eyebrows, a love of Violet Crumbles, Women’s Weekly birthday cakes, and a sense of fight.
While trapped in my small Suzuki Swift with my parents and my partner over Easter somewhere near Cowra, Debra gave me advice on an issue when I didn’t want it, when I didn’t ask for it, when I asked her to stop – and at that point Debra gave me a sense of disbelief that despite knowing each other for three decades she still pushes my buttons this way.
On Sunday Debra gave me a phone call and I didn’t pick up; like usual, I was too busy. On Monday, as I was trying to write these very words, Debra gave me another call and I answered – irony of ironies, exasperated at the interruption. Debra has a real sense with timing! As much as it annoys me at the time, I hope she never stops persisting.
Debra gave me her.
Debra gave me me.
Debra gave me her love.
And what Debra gave me created me.
Image: Hannah McCann
Knowing how clever and strong you and your mother are.. this made me smile and reminded me of my own mother/daughter relationships