I am the mother of two daughters*. Today is International Women’s Day and I’ve enjoyed reading women’s tributes to the other women who’ve been important to them – role models, icons, mothers, friends. I want to celebrate what I learn from – and love in – my daughters.
My oldest daughter M is now 20, at Med School in London. She is clever, beautiful, independent, kind and balanced. Being the eldest child she has taught me how to be a mother and borne the brunt of all my mistakes. She has been patient when I’ve been distracted; generous when I’ve been sharp; loving when I’ve been distant.
The things I’ve learned from M are resilience and perseverance. M used to ride competitively. Full of pride, we bought her a lovely competition horse, who, it quickly became clear, was too much for her, at age 14. This horse used to drag her round the yard, spook and shy, wouldn’t go forward, couldn’t be stopped or dump her in front of (or sometimes across) fences, leaving her the lonely walk of shame back to the lorry. In spite of much advice, she stuck with her, picking herself up, dusting herself off and trying again and again. Then she won some really tough competitions. The most memorable occasion was her first Open Tetrathlon in 2006. The weather was dire, the course waterlogged, it was her first competition at this (big) height. Many other seasoned competitors retired or didn’t even start. M set off and I waited by the finish. The commentator gave updates on the other competitors on the course. One horse appeared with no rider. Nothing about M. I was convinced they’d fallen at the first fence and were making their slow way back. Then, over the final fence, in driving rain and howling wind, they appeared, racing for the finish. Mare and Maddy, when the pressure was on, and in the worst conditions, had stepped up and nailed it. Most of the time, the horse was a pain and continued to be unreliable. M, however, loved her, for all her faults, and stuck with her, scaling down her ambitions and doing the best with what she had.
My youngest daughter, I, is 14. She is feisty, smart, sunny, loving and brave. What I learn from her is a practical courage and conviction. Number 3 child, she has always been determined to keep up. Even as a tiny child, she’d square up to her siblings and insist they took her seriously and along with their games. She simply refused to be crushed by the older ones.
When she was six, the vet came to castrate some colt foals. She rolled her sleeves up, carried his bag, handed him his instruments, puffed the antiseptic powder into the incision – and carried the testicles around in a bucket for a week, convinced everyone else would be as fascinated by this as she was. She was utterly unfazed by the task and lives her life with this same practical, purposeful courage, from picking maggots out of flyblown sheep to nursing injured ponies.
She applies this to her relationships, sticking by friends in times of trouble, squaring up to bullies and negotiating difficult conversations with patience, courage, empathy and wisdom beyond her years. She hugs me every single day – her warmth and affection sustain me in ways she will never know.
Without doubt, my daughters live a privileged life – a thousand miles away from the experience of many girls around the world. They are healthy, comfortable, much loved. Now they are grown up and encountering a world that is both full of beauty and also rife with injustice, unfairness and inequity, I love that they are each carrying with them, in their very different ways, a sense of their responsibility to do the right things, right.
Whatever, as a mother, I am supposed to have taught them, I learn so much from them.
* I also have a lovely middle son and he is, of course, as wonderful as the girls, but, just for today, they take centre stage.