A Long Overdue Note To My Extraordinary Mother

I'd like you to meet my mother. It's her birthday next week. She says she doesn't want anything for a present, but she says this every year. (In fact, she's so frugal that some years she returns birthday cards to me – which I've given her in the past – just so I can give them BACK to her to save money!)

Anyhow, I've been thinking about what to get her. What do you get the woman who has everything? We encounter this problem every year. So I've decided I'm going to write her a letter. A thank you letter, for being a truly extraordinary mother.

I'd like you to meet her.

My parents are not like normal parents. Don't let the cute photo on the Île Saint-Louis fool you. They're what you'd call Extreme Adventurers. One journalist wrote that they like to take the Department of Foreign Affairs warnings and create travel itineraries out of them. It's not quite right, but it's not far off the mark.

In the last two decades they've travelled through two wars, a tornado and a cyclone, and narrowly missed perishing aboard a sinking ferry on freezing Lake Titicaca. (The highest lake in the world.) They've gone fishing for Anacondas up the Amazon, eaten guinea pigs with the locals in some remote village in Peru, stuck their noses over Iguazu Falls, travelled through Alaska aboard a tiny Sessna, traversed the villages of the Arctic Circle, wandered around the bottom of Patagonia, wandered a bit more around the wilds of Argentina, spent some time absorbing the culture of the Spice Islands, recovered in the Seychelles, gone trekking in Africa and criss-crossed the Outback more times than the rest of our family have had cups of tea. About the tamest trip they've done is Maine (above). Where they ate a lobster that wasn't quite cooked.

Once, I met Dick Smith's daughter at her beautiful hotel, Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island. Curious, I asked her if she'd ever been worried that her father wouldn't come home. (We'd just had dinner together and she'd been regaling me with stories of his adventures.) "Oh YES!" she said laughing. "Every time he steps out the door!" I was pleased to hear I wasn't the only one. When normal parents get bored, they go out for a meal at the local RSL. When my parents get bored, they grab a flight to Mozambique.

Now, I've had the privilege of travelling with them several times but I can tell you it's not easy. For a start, they're both former school principals, so it's a little like travelling with, well, former school principals. We travelled through the US a few years ago and I felt like I had to write an essay at the end of every day. We also travelled through France and it ended up in an almighty fight in Versailles. (I walked off in a huff, crying silent tears, and then heard my suitcase wheels breaking on the cobblestones. I had to laugh, in spite of my bad mood!)

The thing is, having parents like this – having a mother like her (and she instigates these incredible adventures, not my father) is a real privilege. It's like having two David Attenboroughs in your living room. All the time. I can ask my mother just about anything and she knows the answer. Sometimes it's frustrating. Most of the time it's incredibly helpful.

My mother and I have had a lot of fights over the years, as most mothers and daughters do. But she is always – always – the first to say sorry. And that small gesture shows just how gracious and kind – and how great – she is. {Top photo is in the back seat of my father's beloved '66 Mustang. Not sure what they were doing back there?}

Mum, I do love you. You're smart, funny, witty, kind, and still correct my grammar. Plus, you've been to more places than anyone I know. How could I not be in awe?

Have a wonderful, wonderful birthday.


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