I was born in 1921, in a maternity home on Commercial Road. My mother was always there for me, and a very capable woman. My mother sang all day, no matter what else she was doing. When she sang, she had an enormous repertoire of Victorian and Edwardian songs, very engaging tunes; the sort that would bring tears to your eyes. They had tough lives, and this would come out in their songs.
She sewed, she cooked; she did everything. She was very literate, she wrote wonderful letters. My mother spoke and wrote Yiddish, I can still remember the words when I read them. She was a prop for the community, too. If anyone needed any medical help, she would be there for them. My mother was very special, I only ever remember a very young mother; she always seemed very young for her age. She would play, she would skip, and do all the things a schoolgirl would do.
My mother didn’t go out to work, but I don’t remember any of the women in our area going out to work. Remember, women had to do everything; they washed by hand, with no back up gadgets like washing machines, everything took a long time. If you had mats, you shook them, brushed them, and most people kept their homes very clean. When it came to Pesach (Passover), my mother whitewashed the walls, cleaned everything. Also there were no school meals; all the children came home for lunch, so the mother would be cooking a midday meal too. Women were busy if they kept a home nicely. Anyway, I think if you’ve got small children, you should be at home with them. I know that can drive you mad, I can understand why you’d want to escape! I had three children myself; there are times when you want to get away.
There was a lot of smacking when I was a child; my father never smacked, but mother did occasionally. It was the accepted thing. I think it’s wrong, your children grow up the way you treat them; that I’m sure of. If you bring them up with cruelty, where the child is afraid of you, that’s not the way to bring up a child. You must have discipline, but there are better ways of doing it.
It depends on the child. I had one child who could be punished by withdrawing any of his toys, and he showed indifference to it all; it was very infuriating! He grew up very well in the end. Every child is different, so you can’t treat them all the same; but you can still love them and care for them equally.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by twoFaith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.