“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Jane Rusbridge, interviewed by daughter Natalie Miller (age 22).
After attempting to move out of the family home twice, I am now back again, trying to find my feet. In 1978, when you were 22, where did you live?
I’d just finished teacher training and had been married for a year. We bought a house on the outskirts of Croydon (England)—tiny, semi-detached, with a long, thin garden and an apple tree. It was on the edge of a big housing estate where people said you couldn’t go to hang your washing out without a burglar nipping in through your open door, but the rumours were exaggerated. We never had any problems and it was much better than the only other place we could afford, which was under the flyover in the middle of Croydon.
Due to my dream career being a little hard to reach at the moment, I currently work part-time as a cleaner. I finish at 2 p.m., so I have the rest of the day to be creative, useful, and useless. What was a typical day like for you, and where did you work?
I was in my first year of teaching at a primary school in what was then described as a “social priority area.” I was inexperienced and found the children extremely challenging at times, but I loved the work and grew very fond of “my” class of eight and nine year olds.
I left home at about 7:30 to be in school by 8 to set the class room up for the day and probably got back around 6:30 p.m. I stayed late putting up displays or rearranging the classroom. Each day flew past because when you’re teaching you think on your feet the whole time—even more so then, because the teacher was the only adult all day with 30-plus children. No preparation time out of the class and no classroom assistants.
Not having to pay rent and bills means I have few money worries, so at the moment I worry about when I will be paying those bills and when I will finally have a stable income and a house of my own. What were your main concerns at 22?
I worried about individual children in my class, especially those with problematic or complicated home lives. As a couple, your dad and I worried most about money and how to pay the mortgage. I don’t remember minding being “careful,” it was just the way we had to live because we had a house—and I loved having my own home. We rarely went out to the cinema or anywhere for which we had to pay, and we certainly never ate out or had take-away or even tea or coffee in a cafe, just ate as cheaply as we could at home. I did a lot of home baking; we made our own bread. Your dad cycled to school and I walked so we didn’t have a car. We had one black-and-white portable TV, played music on a second-hand record-player I was given when I was twelve, and had lots of fun doing up our house and garden ourselves.
I am 100% a family person, so I hope the future holds children for me! But fingers crossed the future also holds success with my work and a sense of comfort and freedom. What did you think the future held for you?
I looked forward to having children. For some reason I thought I’d have 3 boys but, no, it was 3 daughters! I grew up by the sea and wanted to move back to the coast, away from London and big towns. I wanted you all to spend long days on the beach every summer, as I did.
I can’t imagine having children in their 20’s, and being as old as you …! How do you look back on when you were my age?
Now that you are all in your twenties (22, 26 and 28), I can see how different my life was to yours. Your sisters were 24 and 27 before they left home, and when they began teaching (I think somehow teaching is in the blood!), they were at home with someone to cook for them and provide various kinds of support during those extremely demanding first years. I had my first baby at 24. But I certainly didn’t think of my life as “hard” when I was 22! I was passionate about teaching, enjoyed running my own house and living with the man I loved.
It’s strange to think you were married, in full-time work and paying a mortgage when at my age. I am the youngest daughter and didn’t even exist, not for another 9 year I am currently in a long term relationship where we talk about marriage and house we’ll live in. … Compared to both my parents, we’re quite behind!
Not really “behind.” I didn’t start writing until my late thirties, so I’m delighted and proud that you have already begun to realise your creative ambitions and had so much success with your photography.
We are very similar, both creative, both short and like cuddles; we steal each other’s clothes and share the same taste in pretty much everything—except you like almonds, Silent Witness, and Bob Dylan, yuck.
Though we both love Leonard Cohen and Lissy, cups of tea and the walks in the countryside! And we have the same favourite colours and we like reading the same books.
I also have similar hopes for my future: I want my kids to grow up in the area I did—here in Sussex by the sea. I don’t want to have 3 boys; however, they’ll all be supporting Liverpool FC and I’ll have no one to buy pretty things for! All in all, I suppose I’ve done some scary things leading up to being 22 years young—like going travelling on my own when I was 19, and moving to Norway to try and start a life there—but I can’t imagine going through and accomplishing the things that my mum has. I suppose my view on life now is get job, get money, buy house, be good, grow old. But there’s plenty of other unexpected lumps and bumps amongst life’s to-do-list that I don’t know how I’d deal with unless I had parents like mine, to look up to and rely on whenever I need.
The relationship with our parents is probably the biggest difference between Natalie and me, because my mother died when I was twelve and my father was quite an “old” father. When I was 22, he was 80, and he died before I was 30. I wish my parents had lived long enough to be grandparents to my three girls and see me have my first novel published at 50!