14 Mar
The Three Graces. Raphael

The Three Graces. Raphael


I have two sisters, well, half-sisters to be accurate: we share a mother and I have a different father.

There’s a considerable age difference between us: I’m fourteen years older than one, and ten years older than the other. Which means our mother was in different stages of her life when she birthed me from when she birthed them. Which means that the three of us have different mothers, and while two of us more or less agree on some of her characteristics, one of us describes her as significantly different from the mother two of us knew.

Interestingly, it is the middle daughter who denies the mother the eldest and the youngest describe.

This is one of the more intriguing aspects of family histories: how can people grow up with the same mother and have wildly conflicting stories? And whose narrative rules?

My youngest sister (who is also a writer ) and I have lately been exchanging emails on this topic of who *owns* family information. Everyone owns her subjective experience, we decided, and if a family member doesn’t agree they are at liberty to write or speak their subjective experience, but one thing that cannot be argued with is subjective experience.

Our mother died ten years ago, but still the disagreements about her character divide us. I live my daily life without much concern for matters about which I can do nothing, but now and again our differences erupt and I’m forced to acknowledge these family sorrows are far from settled.

My initial reaction to an eruption is to lose my temper with everyone because I don’t know how to not care about my sisters and it would be so much easier if I didn’t, and that makes me feel cornered.

But I changed their nappies. I was there when one tipped the other out of her pram and the baby was nearly strangled by the straps that held her in place. I took one on my first holiday with my first boyfriend. I don’t to this day understand how that happened.

One lived with me and my husband when living with our mother got too tricky. During that period, unknown to us, she nurtured weed in many pots hidden behind our garden shed.

I came home one day, eight and a half months pregnant with my second child, and found the house had been burgled. I rang the police who during their robbery investigation found the weed. I had no idea what to do, so while they sat in my kitchen questioning me I perched unsteadily on a stool, sneaking looks at the weed they’d brought in and making chocolate chip cookies.  Standing up was hard. The baby was ten pounds. It was a lot to lug around and at that point in my life I baked things to relieve stress.

We’ll wait till your husband gets here, the detectives said, obviously of the opinion that I was recklessly endangering my unborn child by smoking weed, and I suppose unused to pregnant suspects baking cookies during questioning but obliged by my girth to be tolerant.

Both sisters were present at the birth of this child, and one crouched between my legs and took the photos that are the most powerful images I own.

One of the sisters was then in a separatist feminist phase, and commiserated with me for having brought another male into the world while congratulating me on having eschewed the patriarchal domination of childbirth by giving birth at home.

The history. The love. The distance and the difference. Our subjective experiences with a mother who never wanted to be a mother. I don’t know how much our mothers’ lives determine our own, either in sympathy with or in reaction against. I can see both forces manifesting in our three lives, and I see that whether we fulfil our mothers’ dreams or react fiercely against them, in neither case are we free.







21 Responses to “Sisters”

  1. helps2013 March 14, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

    I found this very touching – my mother had seven children of which I was (am) the youngest – she lost three in childhood. I grew up as one of four – my surviving siblings – all girls – were fourteen years, tens years, and six years my seniors respectively. While there was a bond of decent strength I grew up as an only child in many ways because we were each shaped in different eras. And Mum evolved as she aged of course – so she was a very different mother to each of us in many ways – and yet the same woman at heart. I have one surviving sister now, and while we love each other we are strangers too. I wish you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. davechaffeyhippie March 14, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I too wrestle with subjective experience. I want the Truth, but this often isn’t available. When witnesses don’t agree, what are we to do, especially with memories that continue to shape us? As much as I know that my memories are always wrong to some degree, as are everyone else’s, they remain irrationally powerful. Are we able to consciously create and modify our personal narratives based on evidence outside our brains to maximise our ability for us and those close to us to thrive? Some rose-coloured glasses people can without even thinking, some can with great difficulty and some, it appears to me just can’t do it. An extreme example would be people who are adamant that vaccines are evil. No matter how strong the objective evidence, many can’t change their subjective truth and can also harm those they influence like their children. Driving our group subjective world view towards objectivity is the answer, where this is possible. But this won’t help family dynamics until we’re all wearing video cameras and recording everything! But will we delete painful memories from our hard drives if they are more harmful to keep? Sorry, I always plan to keep my comments short!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson March 14, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

      There re facts, and then there’s subjective truth and sometimes they don’t coincide. I’m coming to the conclusion that what matters is the ability to acknowledge and honour another’s subjective truth, in and of itself. To be able to say, my experience was different from yours and they are both valid. That’s probably too much to hope for… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • davechaffeyhippie March 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

        That’s exactly what my wife and I are trying our darndest to do, despite our impairments. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • townsvilleblog March 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

        Jennifer , I am sorry large families and disjointed families like yours, for some reson or other are too painful for me to deal with, although I came from a broken family my siblings all have the same mother and father.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. LSWCHP March 15, 2016 at 12:42 am #

    My first wife had 4 children by 3 men over a period of 13 years. Two of them are my biological children, and the eldest one of them I adopted. I did this at her insistence, just before she divorced me. She did this so that I would be forced to pay child support for that child.

    She’s been diagnosed as being on the narcissistic/borderline personality disorder spectrum. My personal opinion is that she’s a psychopath. She’s violent and dangerous and abuses alcohol and other drugs. I’m nearly 2m tall and weigh 95kg but she beat the hell out of me, which still makes me cry with pain and humiliation sometimes, because I couldn’t defend myself as she punched and kicked me. I could’ve stopped her easily, but what would the cops and my friends have thought? “This bastard beats his wife…”

    And yet, despite what they saw happen to me, and the next husband, and the next
    boyfriend, and the next boyfriend, and the current boyfriend, they are quiet, well adjusted and happy people. I just spent the second weekend, as I have for so many years, with my youngest son. He’s also 2m tall at age 15, with shoulder length hair and a skanky beard. He’s so beautiful and intelligent and filled with youthful razor sharp wit and he looks like Jesus, of all things.

    People can withstand the most difficult things and still come out ok. I’m glad that you and your family have survived and prospered through such difficulties Jennifer. It gives me hope.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. doug quixote March 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    People are such complicated beings. The people we call our friends sometimes cannot stand each other. It can be a delicate manoeuvre to assemble them for an ‘occasion’!

    My father had a short sharp temper and my brother never learned to avoid him for the few minutes he required to calm down. The result was sometimes violent clashes. Ten years on, I had the same sort of arguments with him, but the results were a lot more peaceful. They say that the most dangerous time for a prisoner of war is the first 30 seconds after capture, and this holds true for civilian fights, it seems.

    Liked by 3 people

    • doug quixote March 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      My mother was always the peacemaker, but on rare occasions she was collateral damage in trying to get between my father and my brother. In hindsight she was brave and fearless. I always thought her truly wonderful, a woman to be proud of and possessed of endless compassion and patience. (better stop before I tear up.)

      DQ sighs.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. paul walter March 15, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

    Just watching Sally Sara doing a story on Rose Batty, now a few years down the long term grief process that everyone undergoes somewhere, sometime, in life. I thought there is a bit a parallel between Rose and Jennifer as to the weed story, to do with John Lennon’s comment that “Life is what happens to you when you are planning other things”.

    Basically, Rose Batty was talking about how people can screw up in an instant and retreat from the consequences of a mistake through fear and shame, rather than confess an error, put themselves at the mercy of the offended person and correct things and it had me in recall of Jennifer’s mention in the past of her counselling work.

    “Ownership” of family information is of course the great blight of bereavement. My brother and I have not talked to each other since Mum’s death in 2007. Nothing remains, only mulishness.


    Many here are old enough to have watched the Marijuana phenomena’s progress from the sixties and seventies when dropping trips or smoking was a rebellious and transgressive counter cultural thing to do with improving your consciousness through daring to do something different and unexplored and gaining and understanding insights from the activities.

    Yet it seems a phenomena incorporated within the very culture it was trying to question, now a part, actually, a part of reification and commodification. People who do stuff are no longer trail blazers, but unfortunates trapped out in the subs, using the stuff like booze to blot out a sense of powerless, which must help those who want to control the system very pleased.

    But it is such a seductive experience (my friends tell me) that many struggle to break free of Mary Jane’s charms. She can be a bad bitch, like Carmen- my friends would tell a prospective smoker to expect grief as well as pleasure as part of an overall life experience- but she is like chocolates or booze, or a bad women or men, some find her irresistible and there can be hell to pay later for any weakening when a reckoning comes..

    Liked by 1 person

    • doug quixote March 16, 2016 at 12:24 am #

      Michaelia Cash said “Rosie Batter” the other day as she ranted on. The correction to “Batty” was a second too late . . .

      . . . probably a Liberal Party in-joke that got loose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter March 16, 2016 at 1:38 am #

        The Things that Batter are very important to Tories- do you remember Alexander Downer in the nineties?

        If Rose does take up politics, I hope it won’t be with crass Tories like Cash, who are much of the reason for poor social conditions today- it would only demonstrate she has failed to make the enormous psychological adjustment yet, with her personal tragedy.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 17, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

      I’d like to be able to take the moral element out of all these foibles.

      Liked by 1 person

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