The Two of Us: Mother and Daughter
Fiona has lived experience as a sex worker, a person who uses drugs and a loving mother to five girls. Her now adult daughter Victoria has grown up knowing what her mother does. In this version of "The Two of Us", they talk about what makes their relationship special.
Victoria, aged 27:
My mum had me when she was 18. You don’t realise these things until you can put them together when you’re a bit older, but I liked that my mother was always the youngest of my friends’ mums.
My earliest memories of mum are thinking that she was literally the coolest person in the world. I was living with my Nan and Grandad, and she used to come home to visit me and bring me clothes and presents. I moved up to Sydney to live with her and her partner when I was six. I remember that clearly, because it was just the hugest thing, to move from this quiet little town in Tasmania to Alexandria, in the middle of Sydney. On my first night there I was so stressed, I vomited up all the spaghetti I had eaten for dinner.
I remember my childhood years as being difficult. The first time my mum got pregnant, I cried. I think I wanted to have her to myself for a bit longer. I have four sisters now, and I always felt like I was separate from the rest of the family. And school was just shit. I actually hate trying to remember it. None of us knew it at the time, but I had a chronic illness and I was always in quite a lot of pain.
Mum and I started going out together when I was 17. She had just gotten a divorce and her life was changing a lot. I guess it was just a natural progression that we started to take drugs together a few years later. Honestly, I will say the first time we did was, hands down, one of the greatest nights of my life. The photos of that night are my favourite of us together.
I know my mum used to be worried about things like setting an example, and what people thought of her as a parent, but I find a lot of people think it’s really interesting, and aren’t as negative as you might think. And anyway, it’s so easy to judge from the outside when you don’t know someone, isn’t it? Their “how weird is that?”, is my version of “look how great this is!”.
I think parents overestimate how much their children remember. I mean, you remember a few major things that happen, but not that much else. And your life is the only life you know, so it is what it is. You never think your life is strange, because it’s your life.
I know now that the main part of my childhood was spent with a mother who was trying to be someone else, and I actually think that was much worse than when she started telling me about herself. I have loved learning that my mum is a person too. It’s hard to get out of the habit of thinking she is just a mum.
I’m proud of my mum for managing to run her family when I know how difficult it would have been. Our relationship is better for the things we have shared together…no question. And it will only get better. I wouldn’t take anything back, even if I had the chance to do it all again.
Fiona, aged 45:
I was 18 years old, and had already been a heavy drug user and sex worker for a couple of years, when I gave birth to Victoria. At that time, I’m pretty sure I genuinely believed that motherhood would somehow turn me into the person I was supposed to be. I can still remember the moment when I realised that it hadn’t, and that I was going to have to do it as me, someone completely ill-equipped for the task.
Victoria’s early years were chaotic. I shuffled her around from state to state, and into more than a few less-than-ideal situations. My parents flew us home from a women’s shelter in Adelaide, before the decision was made that she would live with them until I was “better”. It’s hard to describe the combination of relief and guilt that comes from knowing that your daughter is being cared for, but not by you.
Victoria moved to Sydney to live with me and my future husband when she was six. She struggled during her school years, despite being a high achiever; junior school captain, the lead in the musical, a finalist in all her sporting events. One of her teachers once told me that she reminded him of a swan, calm and serene on the surface, but with her legs peddling madly beneath, trying to keep up. I think we both have well-honed skills in hiding our turmoil from the world.
After my divorce, I went back to sex work and my drug consumption stepped up in a big way. It had never really been absent…it had just taken more acceptable forms. They are both tough things to explain to children. One of my daughters, at 13, asked how many men I had slept with. “Over ten?” “Yes.” “Over twenty?” “Yes.” “Over thirty?”…at which point her stunned face told me I had given her enough to think about!
The world teaches your children about the things you leave out. It had taught my daughter that more than twenty sexual partners is pretty shocking, and it was no doubt well on its way to teaching them something along the lines of “drugs = failure”. In truth, I think guilt and shame and lies have at least as much potential to damage a relationship as the things that cause them. I know for a fact that my relationship with Victoria has improved in direct proportion to how much I have allowed her to see me for who I am.
One of my greatest joys has been watching Victoria grow into a remarkable woman. Her creativity knows no bounds, and she manages her life with humour and grace, in the face of a medical condition that compromises her sense of wellbeing on a daily basis.
Victoria is 27. We message each other several times a day, usually to share something we find uniquely hilarious, and we have lunch and dinner several times a week. She colours my hair, and drags me to laser (“it will change your life!”), and I help her move house and look after her cat. We like each other’s company. We have each other’s backs. And I think we both agree that’s way better than “better”.