Tag Archives: family

Sisters

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Family.

15 Dec
Mabel Jane with her Great Step Grandfather

Mabel Jane with her Step Great Grandfather

 

The next little while is set to be somewhat frenetic in our household, as in many others, as we prepare for an early Christmas with my family’s little ones, and then a Christmas at the other end of life’s cycle with Mrs Chook’s ninety-year-old Mum and family.

Mrs Chook didn’t have kids and I don’t have a Mum, so we share.

There won’t be much on Sheep, except maybe some bleating about four-year-old Archie’s snoring, sleep talking and aggravated assault of his Giddy after he’s padded his way down the stairs from his bedroom to mine in the middle of the night  and in a stage whisper said “Giddy, can I get in your bed I promise I won’t pee.”

Well, he doesn’t pee, but he does thrash about and hit me in the eye.

A woman called Vicki once said to me, family is everything. I know she was talking about traditional heterosexual families. But for mine, that is a very narrow concept of family, and the fact that it’s heterosexual and traditional is no guarantee of it being any good.

It doesn’t matter how family is constituted: if there’s a group of people who love each other and share their lives, that’s a family. It’s about time this privileging of traditional heterosexual families came to an end.

My extended and blended family recently came together for the naming of our youngest babies, Mabel Jane, called after her late great-grandmother, and her cousin, Audrey Mae.

Mabel Jane & Audrey Mae on their naming day

Audrey Mae & Mabel Jane on their naming day

Mabel Jane brings the total number of grandchildren in this family to twenty. There are second marriages and ex partners and new partners and we all turn up for every wedding and naming and we all get on, regardless of our sometimes chequered histories, and we even get on when we’re pissed, so that’s some indication of how our family is everything to us.

 

Ted at his sister's naming day

Ted at his sister’s naming day

 

What astonishes me is the elasticity of the human heart, as it expands itself to make room for yet one more individual, adult or child, who through birth or commitment enters this family and becomes a member. We may not always like each other all of the time, and some of us wouldn’t want to spend our lives with some of us, but I doubt there’s any one of us who’d turn their back if someone  else was in trouble.

This is not to say some families aren’t shit. My family of origin was unspeakable, so there’s a dark side to the “family is everything” mantra: family can be everything in the worst possible way, haunting you for the rest of your life, and under those circumstances, Christmas is no fun.

If it’s awful I hope with all my heart that it passes quickly for you.

And no matter what combination constitutes your family, however big or small it may be, love one another the best you can, and put the all sharp implements in the high cupboards.

Archie at the party

Archie at the party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice to women. Not.

14 Feb

createordie-neon

 

Were I ever to give advice to women which I wouldn’t because I continue to learn that the ways in which I can be stupid are infinitely more numerous than the ways in which I can be smart and to give advice to anyone it ought to be the other way around, but if, stupidly, I disregarded that little spark of self-knowledge and went ahead anyway, I would say, a woman in a family must resist the domination of the managerial if she wants her creativity to survive.

By the “managerial” I mean that aspect of ourselves so competent, so deft, so practical, so capable it could run a global corporation with one hand tied behind its back, and blindfolded. In my life as a partner and mother, and in the lives of many women I know, this aspect became so dominant it stole the oxygen from every other. This occurred as much because it suited everyone else that I manage the family’s daily affairs as it did because I thought I was supposed to.

Virginia Woolf grappled with  the problem the managerial can present to women, describing its pernicious influence as “The Angel in the House”  with irony and humour, but with deadly seriousness as well:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself… I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her…

For me, it wasn’t entirely about reviewing male writers and depending on charm to get me by, although the spectre of disapproval, the fear of offending and as a consequence being despatched to the margins also has to be regularly fought off if I’m going to write what I truly want to write. My recent foray into erotica, for example, was a frightening experience of voluntary vulnerability, as is any self-revelation, but if we are to write about what it is to be human, that writing will always provoke anxiety in its author, and likely at times in its readers.

As unlike Woolf we had no household staff, for me the managerial was about knowing where everybody’s socks were, remembering the washing and the shopping and the cooking and the lunches and the driving and the.. look, I can’t even bear to go back there, you all know what I mean. I lost myself. I became The Manager, and worst of all, I found it almost impossible to turn her off in my head. I came to hate her. She was like the strangler fig parasitically stealing the life of the rainforest tree.

This suited everybody in the family, but it didn’t suit me.

One of the wisest pieces of advice any woman ever gave me was to cultivate absent-mindedness. For example, when people asked me where their socks were I would gaze thoughtfully at them for much longer than necessary. I would assume a puzzled expression and tug at my lip. Oh, darling, I would say finally, I know I saw them somewhere but I can’t think where…

I had to strictly discipline myself  in order to be able to do this. My every conditioned impulse urged me to take responsibility for everything in our household’s daily life, and this conditioning had to be constantly and consistently resisted. Family members do not easily relinquish their dependencies, and tend to passively and aggressively fight changes in a wife and mother with every bone in their bodies. I think it was harder than giving up smoking, and there were no quit lines to help me.

It took quite some time, but eventually I noticed they weren’t asking me to manage their entire lives for them quite as often as they used to. Then one morning I overheard one child saying to another, I’ll ask Mum. She won’t know, replied the other, she’ll just look at you as if she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, she never knows where anything is, we’ll have to find it ourselves.

And I knew I’d done it.

This proved to me that you can’t change anybody but yourself and if you do change yourself there is a good chance that  people who really love you will eventually learn put up with it, and change as well.

There are many advantages in being thought a muppet by your family. Muppets are not renowned for their managerial abilities, and nobody expects it of them.

Sometimes, it’s the only way the creative woman survives.

Many thanks for the inspiration for this post to the lovely M, who sends me a poem to wake up to every morning. The two words “managerial mess” in this poem by Jennifer Strauss, What Women Want  summed up an entire period of my life. 

 

The cupboard under the stairs

29 Oct

A combination of illness and heart carnage has resulted in weight loss that has seen me holding myself together for the last few months with safety pins, and belts with new holes gouged in them by Mrs Chook’s screwdrivers. I knew that somewhere I had a store of thin clothes but I’ve lacked the energy and interest to look for them. I always hurl everything I don’t immediately need into a vast cupboard under the stairs that has no adequate lighting so a torch is required, or one of those reading lights that fit around the head. Having light doesn’t stop me forgetting that at some point I can no longer stand up in the cupboard, and I always crack my head on a beam. Nothing is stored in any kind of order so I have to trawl through all kinds of stuff to find the one thing I need. The whole process drives me mad, but seeing as I couldn’t stand safety pins for another day, I had to do it. I found my thin clothes, which are probably vintage by now but that’s all right, vintage is good, it’s like having a new wardrobe, and the pleasure of wearing something that actually fits me is great.

In the cupboard I found my husband and me a long time ago on Bondi Beach

Arnie and me

Arnie was a very unobservant Jew, except for Passover feasts which he loved, but I never acquired a taste for gefilte fish and matzah ball soup and fortunately, he delighted in cooking them. He loved as well getting into vigorous arguments with the man from Jews for Jesus up at Bondi Junction, and if he could, he’d bale up the Hasidic Jews who lived round the corner from us and have a robust exchange with them about the Talmud. Very occasionally he would go to the synagogue, and in his seventies he started Hebrew classes. I used to say he was conflicted about his tribe, to which he invariably responded “Ah, conflicted, schmicted,” with a rabbinical shrug. When I first met my mother-in-law in Hartford, Connecticut, she said, “For a shiksa, you’re a doll.” He always said that when we die we become energy in the universe. I don’t know in which part of the universe he has become energy, but I hope I can find him.

I discovered all kinds of things in my rummaging, including Mexican kitsch I’d forgotten all about. While living there a few years ago I became fond of the Virgin of Guadalupe, not least because she is also known as the Woman of the Apocalypse, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” I found her on a handbag in a market

Virgin bag

I found her in another market on earrings made from beer bottle tops

virgin earrings two

I found her on a postcard that I’ve put in a frame beside my bed

virgin photo

I found her on matchboxes and scarves, and in beaten tin that I’ve hung on the sitting room wall where she can watch over me while I sleep on the couch. She comforts me, and there are times in life when we must take our comfort wherever we can find it.

virgin guadalupe

Then I found my hair, cut off when I was twelve

Hair aged 12

And then I found this

In labour

The child I gave birth to that April day is now the father of these two

farm boys

And after being in that cupboard I like to fancy that we are all women of the apocalypse, clothed with the sun, and the moon under our feet, and upon our heads a crown of twelve stars, and if I can remember that when I go into the universe perhaps my husband will find me, and I won’t even have to look for him.

What a woman wants, what a woman needs…

28 Feb

Yesterday I visited a place on the NSW south coast that once served as a sanctuary, a place to which I fled after an almost terminal encounter with cancer left my whole being drastically weakened, terrified to live and equally terrified to die. Daily life had become impossible, I no longer knew how to fulfil its expectations. I needed solitude, away from city life, I needed to escape the claims and demands of human interaction, even with those I loved and who loved me, and I needed this so desperately I think I might have physically attacked anyone who tried to hold me in place. Fortunately, nobody did, I was reluctantly let go when I promised to allow visits, as long as nobody stayed too long, and how long was ‘too long’ was to be determined by me.

DSCN0892

It was also fortunate that we owned a caravan behind the sand dunes on a largely deserted beach. You can’t live in a caravan, they said. You can’t live there all by yourself, you’ve been so sick, look at you, you have no hair and all your bones are showing. Fuck off, of course I can, I told them, unkindly. Any attempt at what I perceived as thwarting me made me frantically distressed, as if I was being pinned down by a body stronger and more powerful than mine that I had to fight off, or suffocate.

The caravan was in one of those old-fashioned parks where families spent their holidays year after year for as long as anyone could remember. When I arrived, exhausted from the four-hour drive and the emotion of goodbyes, the place was largely empty, being out of holiday season and in the middle of autumn. It was cold. The south coast climate is at best fickle, I have known us wrapped in sweaters and blankets on Christmas Day. The caravan, unoccupied for months during my illness and initial recovery, was musty and damp, a habitat for spiders and insects. The day was overcast, adding to the gloom, and while our spot beside the creek in a grove of melaleucas was idyllic, it allowed for little light under such a low grey sky. I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stay in the spider-infested gloom. I couldn’t go back to our light-filled Bondi Beach home where I suffered anxiety attacks every time I went out the front door into the neighbourhood I had, prior to my illness, loved to inhabit, with its cafes where I met my friends, ate weekend breakfasts with my husband and whoever else happened by, where we swam or walked the winter beach hand in hand talking as we always did with such energy and delight, even at the times we disagreed with practically everything the other said.

DSCN0889

After the cancer, I couldn’t talk about anything anymore. The ongoing blows inflicted by the illness, so unexpected, so unpredictable, they seemed unending in their variety and persistence. After cancer is a time largely underestimated in its power to disrupt. Generally, people think you ought to be relieved, happy you got away with it this time, determined to embark on a recovery regime that will get you back in the swim of things just like you were before. In reality, at least for me, it’s when the horror of the experience actually hits home, something that is impossible when you’re going through the treatments and your world has become medicalised to the extent that it overwhelms all other realities. Post cancer, every little twinge in your body is noted with alarm: is it coming back? For months I woke in the night drenched in sweat, from nightmares the details of which I could never remember, and a debilitating weariness dogged my days. There was nothing that did not leave me exhausted, and tearful. I couldn’t manage all this, and human beings as well.

I walked along this same beach yesterday, under a similar low, soft grey sky, the familiar smell of kelp, the haunting cries of seagulls, the gritty south coast sand between my toes. At the end of my beach there’s a broken wooden jetty where I used to lie on my stomach, peering intently at the stingrays gliding through the clear water beneath me. The rhythm of those days and weeks and months of solitude came back to me. In the mornings waking up sweat-soaked and panicked, climbing out of my single bunk bed to make tea on the gas stove, cold, even if the day was warm, because what I remember from those months is how I could never warm myself, even under piles of blankets, even in the hottest sun, it was as if I had a frigid core that nothing could reach, it was as if I had entirely lost my previously automatic ability to regulate even my body temperature. The trembling of my body, most especially my thighs, and the cold sweat drying on my skin. The fear of moving. The terror of putting one foot in front of the other. The utter loss of everything ordinary.

My husband and my adolescent children would visit and though I loved to see them, the relief I felt at their departure, at the resumption of my solitude, made me ashamed. I remembered yesterday the feeling of my starved gulping, my greedy devouring of nourishment not from my loved ones whom I invariably felt I had to reassure, but from the solitude of the natural world in which I was immersed. That was my healing. My guilt at abandoning them was great. But my need to be alone in this wild landscape overwhelmed it. I wanted nothing except what I needed to stay alive, some books, some music. The hurt I caused them did not become fully apparent till some years later when my eldest son, beside himself with unexpressed distress from that whole period of our lives, shouted at me, You didn’t need any of us! You just left us! You didn’t let us help you, you are such a fucking loner, Mum, you don’t fucking need anybody!

Which left me speechless. And reaching out for him and he came into my arms, grown up, so much bigger than me, and sobbed.

DSCN0891

I don’t know how it is for others, but I’ve always had a dreadful struggle between what I need for myself, and what others need from me, and what I want to give them because I love them. Sometimes I think I will die if I don’t have time absolutely alone. Sometimes I cannot bear to engage in one more conversation about, essentially, nothing, the kind of conversations that make up so much of our daily discourse, the words that serve to weave the binding threads between people, and that is their purpose. Sometimes I think if I am not able to sit in silence in the natural world for as long as I need to, I will start breaking things. It’s as if the healing never really finishes, needs to be topped up from time to time with a return to the inner self who increasingly becomes more solid, more real, than any outer persona and whose needs are so far from anything found in the everyday world with its constructed conventions, and its claims that largely require almost incessant, low-intensity interactions for their fulfilment.

For a woman to do what I did, leaving home, husband and family who cared for me through the desperate and dangerous phase of my illness, insisting on solitude rather than accepting their love was seen largely as selfish, and it was, there’s no denying that. It had a price, for all of us, but yesterday I understood that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong or frightening about paying a price for something deeply desired, these are deals we strike every day, choices made, choices rejected, and almost every one of them has some effect on someone to a greater or lesser degree. I still don’t know, after all this time in this life, how much I am allowed to take for myself, how much selfishness I am allowed, how many choices I may make that cause another hurt or discomfort, how responsible I must be for protecting another from disruption in the pursuit of my own desires and needs. With every situation this must be weighed up anew, and I have made some horrible errors. It seems that the important thing is that I continue to bother to attempt these fraught calculations, even though my sums may be dreadfully wrong. I hope that is the case, though I don’t expect I shall ever know.

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

In praise of modern families, and bickering.

27 Mar

For some years now, Mrs Chook and I have shared a house, The Dog, and a domestic life, for the most part, harmoniously. At first we were the subject of  some salacious speculation in our village, especially when my separated second husband came to visit one Christmas because he was lonely in Sydney, got sick, and thoroughly overstayed his welcome.

At the time I was unaware of the gossip because I didn’t care. It always surprises me that anybody would be interested, but unconventional domestic arrangements still frighten and confuse some people. This is why we can’t have gay marriage. Frightened and confused people are preventing it.

Our main method of dealing with domestic tensions is to bicker them out. We are perfectly comfortable with this, though a friend recently refused to travel in the car with us because she said our bickering reminded her too much of travelling with her parents.

Real bickering contains no malice. Indeed, it demands love and affection as a prerequisite. In their absence, it ceases to be bickering and becomes acrimony. I concede, though, that for some, the demarcation line can be obscure.

 

We have complaints against one another, mostly small, but they can be the most aggravating. For example. We never eat breakfast together. I eat mine at peculiar times, and usually at my desk or roaming. This morning I ate the last two caper berries before Mrs Chook got round to food. I had no idea they had her name on them, and frankly, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if I had, because I wanted them. Mrs Chook informed me she had been looking forward to those berries, and there was a brief and futile dispute, because, eaten.

This goes the other way, usually with chocolate. I only feel like chocolate sometimes, while she likes it all the time. So when I finally get around to thinking I’ll have chocolate, I go to the cupboard and it’s all gone. I keep meaning to hide some, but I always forget.

Yesterday she “accidentally” wore my blue Speedos (the same colour as hers, we bought them at the same time in the sale at the Speedo shop) even though there are two sizes difference between her and me. She swears she didn’t take them out of my swim bag and that I left them on the washing line but whatever, I got to the pool later with no cossies, and the pool is 30 minutes drive away.

The week before she got around all day in my bra, same situation, bought together cos sale, again, two sizes difference between her bra and mine, but did that stop her? She didn’t even notice. I had no other clean bras and she’d gone to work.

Some winters ago she put my favourite blue jumper in the washing machine and shrank it beyond all redemption. That still hurts.

A few days ago I completely forgot I was boiling eggs, until I heard something that sounded like gunfire, ran upstairs to see what was happening, and found four eggs exploded all over the kitchen walls and ceiling, and a saucepan that went into the tip pile. Mrs Chook did not remonstrate with me for my carelessness. She even helped me clean up, though this is not the first time I’ve done that.

One day last year, she didn’t turn the gas off properly & when I lit it there was this explosion and all the hairs on my arms were singed. She then put up an enormous notice on the kitchen wall that read “TURN OFF THE GAS.” I added “FUCKING”, twice.

She says I don’t listen. She says I look as if I’m listening but she can tell my head is somewhere else altogether and sometimes, to test me, she asks me half an hour later what she’s said. I usually make something up. She says she has to make an appointment with me to discuss domestic matters because I’m always too engrossed in something. She says I am very difficult to live with at times, and that she gets sick of me never paying attention.

On the occasions when we go shopping together, we almost always get into a fight. I loathe shopping. My idea of shopping is to throw everything I think we might need into the trolley times two, so I don’t have to come back anytime soon. Mrs Chook, on the other hand, likes to read the labels and see where everything is coming from and what’s in it. This shits me to tears.

We have successfully bickered our way through every one of our differences, even big ones, every time they arise. There have been tears, and occasionally someone throws something, but it has always been negotiated down to bickering, if at times with tissues.

The best bickering always ends in Shut up. You shut up. No you shut up. I said it first. You fucking didn’t, I did. Well I’m saying it now. I don’t care. Shut up. You shut up. Don’t tell me to shut up…until The Dog bites somebody. There is much to be said for allowing the inner child out at such times.

Three of my dearest male friends have also successfully shared living arrangements for over two decades. Some years ago the five of us took an apartment together in Barcelona for a few weeks. Three of us were giving papers at the Universitat de Barcelona, & the others came for support and the fun.

We’d never stayed together for longer than a night or two. We had no idea how it would work out, but the apartment was just off Las Ramblas, a ten minute walk from the Universitat, cheap, and we had enough faith in our good natures to feel reasonably certain we could pull it off.

Mrs Chook and I thought we would have to curb our bickering, given we were all in close quarters for several weeks and not everybody understands our method of loving one another. For the first few days we took it outside, and bickered away happily while we gazed at Gaudi’s architectural feats, and ate tapas at various bars. Then we gradually became aware that our friends were tossing good-natured abuse at one another, going much further than we had yet dared, and we were amazed. At dinner one night, we brought the subject up. We admitted we’d been afraid they’d find our manners unseemly. They admitted they’d feared the same. They said most people didn’t understand how they talk to one another, and they had to be careful. They said they felt they’d taken a great risk, shacking up with us for all this time, and worried that at the end of it we might not like them anymore.

On the contrary, we assured them, we were learning so many new ways of bickering, and it was wonderful! By the end of our stay we were just one big happy bickering family, hell, we even learned to bicker in Spanish.

It’s such a cliché, to claim that there are many kinds of love. If one is open to the experience, it seems often to come from the most unexpected quarters, inconvenient, disturbing the settled, demanding acknowledgement and expression, dangerous and confronting, as well as offering  happiness, safety and refuge.

There as many kinds of families as there are kinds of love, in my experience. I love the family my friends have made. I love the family Mrs Chook and I have made. In neither situation has marriage or children played a part in the creation, but in both instances the original units have expanded until they contain many more sentient beings.

Next Wednesday, our family’s latest baby will be born. Mrs Chook and I will be there, as will her or his two other grandmothers. The baby’s grandfather and me, divorced now for more years than I care to consider, will drink champagne together and congratulate one another on the family we made. He will get a little drunk, and as usual hug me too hard for too long when no one is watching. He, his second wife, Mrs Chook and me, will be sharing the care of  our grandchild Archie, while his parents have a few days in peace with the new baby.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen this kind of life.

Love, actually.

Mothers who say F**ck

30 Dec

I recently engaged in a robust exchange of views with one of my sons. This particular adult child has long-held a reputation for forgetting to tell anybody things, unless we happen to be in the same room as him when something that might need to be told to us occurs.

On this most recent occasion, the stuff he forgot to tell me was totes important, and my lack of knowledge caused me untold aggravation, and the rest. So I rang him up and let him know where he currently stood with me. As he’s always thought of himself as “the good child,” this came a something of a shock.

First we had to deal with the “oh, it was just a misunderstanding” meme. No it wasn’t, I told him, I didn’t misunderstand anything how could I when you didn’t tell me anything I could misunderstand?

Then we negotiated the “Mum you’re losing control” meme. I’m not losing control, I told him, are you? And by the way, you really need to learn the difference between expressing emotion and losing control. The two are not necessarily the same thing, I told him.

I was also thinking of his wife when I said this. I thought, I bet he says this to her when there’s a disagreement, so I better bring him up to speed about women expressing ourselves. This “you’re losing control” thing is an attempt to shut us up, a projection, and a put down. In my experience it is usually said by males who fear they are losing an argument, though it’s not necessarily gender-based.

Finally, I was reduced by his wilful obduracy to foul language. Fucking hell, I said. “Don’t swear at me down the phone, Mum,” he demanded. Oh my! I cackled, in capital sarcasm font, so in your moral universe me swearing is a bigger offence than you not telling me stuff I really needed to know?

“We’re going round in circles,” he bleated. Indeed we are, I replied, taking pity. Let’s sleep on it and talk again in a couple of days.

My sons taught me foul language. Since becoming husbands and fathers they’ve turned on me. I can’t swear, and I’m reprimanded every time I do something they consider the least bit edgy and that is quite a lot of stuff I do and say. Last time I took Archie out and stopped for coffee, his father asked me if I’d left the baby in the car while I went into the cafe. I looked long at him, and shook my head in a WTF kind of way.  Archie’s mother then stepped in and reminded her husband that he’d survived my mothering quite well, and he should perhaps pull his head in.

I am extremely fond of Archie’s mum. I see a lot of me in her. Archie is also showing signs of a possibly anarchic personality. On his recent first plane trip, and though only fourteen months old, he stood up on his seat and hurled peanuts at the passengers sitting behind him till his dad grabbed him by the nappies and hauled him off to the toilet where he gave him a stern talking-to and probably told him he was losing control.

I’m considering forming a group called “Mothers Who Say Fuck.”  I’m sure I’m not the only mother who overnight finds herself dealing with a role reversal initiated by her adult children who for some reason, and without consultation, have cast her as the irresponsible adolescent and themselves as long-suffering adults who are burdened with keeping an eye on her and monitoring her language. I can’t quite get my head around this phenomenon. All things considered, they have some nerve.

This attitude does, however, make for a special bond between grandmothers and grandchildren. We share a common cause – defying their parents. We will both be instructed to mind our mouths. We will both be exhorted to act responsibly, and to act our age. On the positive side, we can sit at tables and roll our eyes at one another when their parents issue yet another fucking edict. We can slink off and comfort one another when we’ve been reprimanded and given time outs. We will always know we have each other, when everyone else is pissed off at us because we’ve thrown the metaphorical peanuts. Oh, yeah. I see only good times ahead for Archie and me.

Me and Archie

 

 

 

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