Wild Bear

When she was born I became a wild bear. She was my cub and I’d do anything to protect her. I guarded her day and night in the dark woods.

It was then that it suddenly made sense. That my mother was a wild bear once too. Though her dark woods were so bleak and scary that I struggle to imagine how she did it.

My mother raised her cubs in Indonesia. Three daughters. White girls. It was a charming, real, and full life, but one marked by unpredictability. Danger skulked about us every day. The list of near misses is long. Sometimes I wonder how we made it out alive. These days my sisters and I joke about it… Remember that time when…. Can you believe that we survived that….

When I was 9 we caught a boat from mainland Sulawesi to an island off the coast. An overnight passage on a small creaky old ferry. I’d heard many stories of boats not making the crossing. Men clinging to rocks in the dead of night, sharks swarming around them. These thoughts crammed into my tiny head.

The seas was rough that night. Down in our bunk room my sisters and I drifted off into an uneasy sleep. The waves splashed harder against the hull. I swayed and slammed into the heaviness of my dreams.

I awoke half way through the night. Queasy and frightened. I crept up to the crowded deck where women and children were trying to sleep, squashed in amongst the sweet potatoes, bananas and packets of tea. One crying baby was tucked under her mother’s shirt, taking shelter from the wind.

I found my mother at the front deck, looking out to the sea. I snuggled into her arms, just like that baby. Safe and warm. We watched the waves together until eventually the sea calmed.

It was then that we noticed lights around us. Not on the boat, but in the dark sea. Luminescent blue creatures were glowing. They lit up the ocean for miles. We watched in awe. She said the lights would guide us to land safely. I had no reason to doubt her. I was her cub.

I called up my mum the other day to ask her about this story. Did she remember those lights? My goodness, the luminous blue! What was that?

She remembered it all. Half-jokingly I blurted out: Wasn’t that boat dangerous? Do you ever wonder about all the danger we were exposed to?

I regretted my words. They weren’t blame. But she swept in before I could grab them back. She was sorry. It had been weighing on her mind. All that danger.

She didn’t need to apologise. I’d forgiven her years ago. When my own daughter was born I understood that a fierce love does not necessarily translate to perfect decision making. That you do what you think is best at the time.

All that danger? She was probably scared too. I would have been a gutless mother who ran away from it. But she held strong in the face of it.  Her strength was to create a sanctuary in her heart where we took shelter. In our unsafe world we had a safe harbour.

No wild bear loved her cubs as much as my mum did. She would have done anything for us. And she did. She brought us home alive. And loved.


  1. Joy Buttron says

    I love this story Deb! And I LOVE the picture of all of you on the becak! You have such a great memory! I feel like I have such limited memories – perhaps I have repressed all of those “near misses”! 😀 That is wonderful to be blogging the stories AND the emotions that go along with it. You and your mum are beautiful!

    • Deb says

      Thank you, Joy. I love that becak photo too! I suspect you have so many stories to tell too… and a huge list of near misses! It’s so good to know that someone in this world – other than my sisters – was there in Indo with me AND is now reading this blog! x

  2. says

    I am in tears Deb. What a beautiful beautiful tribute. “Her strength was to create a sanctuary in her heart where we took shelter”: so perfectly written. That truly is a mother’s job: create a safe haven where kids can shelter during all of life’s adversities.

    Thank you again for sharing your life’s stories and for sharing some magic words with us :)
    Sara recently posted..Pregnant daze – A preamble to my kids’ birth storiesMy Profile

    • Deb says

      Absolutely, Sharon. My mum inspires me in this way.

      By the way, I just read your rice farmer’s post – an interesting interview and loved the pic of the boys in the rice field! But I didn’t particularly need to enter the comp (due to our family being on all sorts of wheat/grain/sugar restricted diets!) – but hope the comp goes well! x

  3. says

    This story reminded me of my Nanna, a strong woman, she rarely shows fear, though she must be fearful from time to time, right?!. I was thinking about her strength the other day, trying to remind myself that it is inside me too. There have been times when my sons have been witness to me feeling fearful…..and a little desperate within that fear. I want to show them strength within fear too. I don’t believe in hiding emotions and I can’t even begin to imagine your childhood within this environment but what a life you have led as a result of it. Motherhood is so different to what I thought it was when I was a child…I had a watered down version of it. Love the Wild Bear analogy. Wonderful story, Deb x
    Ink Paper Pen recently posted..Working. And getting paid for it…My Profile

    • Deb says

      Thanks Gill. I definitely have that strength mixed with fear thing (in fact that was a line I *almost* included in this post). What I probably omitted in this post was also that even though my mum was strong, she was also real. I didn’t think it was an act. I think kids can see through parents. They are good authenticity detectors. I’m sure my mum had fears, but I was probably so preoccupied with my own that I was oblivious to hers. When I became an adult she showed me her vulnerability more. Perhaps she felt safe to do that finally. Anyway, it’s so hard to capture everything in one post, isn’t it? Loved your comment, as always Gill. I agree, motherhood IS different to how I imagined it as a child! x

  4. says

    I think our mothers would have enjoyed a cuppa and a chat with some fruitcake and fruity tales about their early mothering years. My Mum raised us in Papua New Guinea. Four kids in a crazy world. Like yours, my Mum made me feel secure, her presence meant everything was going to be alright. Maybe that’s why nothing seems alright anymore, she’s gone. Loved reading this post Deb. Your words are so beautiful. I remember seeing phosphorescent jelly fish. So breathtaking. Thanks for writing!
    Rach recently posted..Sweet HomeMy Profile

    • Deb says

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your mum, Rach. She sounds wonderful. I’m sure our mothers would have had a lot to talk about. How amazing that you were raised in PNG! I’m sure we have a lot in common. xxx


  1. […] because I’ve seen those choppy seas. I wrote about a boat journey and those luminous fish in this story. Growing up in Indonesia was a series of survival stories. The sheer insanity of the danger is […]

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