Thursday, 30 December 2010
On Being a Good Mother 3 (and last)
My mother after release from Penig, after physical recovery.
I should mention one vital thing in my mother's case: her great capacity for tenderness. It was a fraught tenderness, as much need as affection, but it was glorious. Perhaps that is one of the things about a good mother: a capacity, however latent, for tenderness. Love is too complicated for a child to understand, and talk of love is rather frightening. It is more responsibility than a child can cope with, an adult thing that lies beyond childhood. It is too easy a word for most adults too, too easy yet necessary, because we want it said to us. We want, as adults, to be loved, in an adult way, and adult ways are legion. Children don't know legion, or at least they cannot name it. It is too big a thing to name.
So early tenderness, so early refuge, so sheer physical presence, sustenance and contact can be established as a start. The warmth, softness and voluptuousness of the feminine are parts of childhood desire and set the pattern for later desires. (I have a keen memory of lying on a grassy hill and rolling down it next to my mother. I think I sensed some identification between the curve of the hill, the softness of the grass, and the body of my mother rolling beside me.) Tenderness helps us get over most things, and if we don't feel tenderness - and some people cannot help not feeling it - then at least a desire to understand the child in our care. We can, with work, manage the effort at understanding.
But in the end there is, I suspect, no right way to be a good mother. No book can offer appropriate rules. As the child becomes ever more conscious it is good for it to feel the difference and resistance of the mother, to sense that she does not come immediately when called, that she does not immediately do what you desire. Resistance is good too. It is good to feel the life in your mother as a separate life.
I think my mother hounded us a little too much, that she tried to drive us towards her own ideas of success and security. The desperation of her efforts became ever more palpable as time passed. The only time my father ever hit me was when, at the age of sixteen or so, I suggested that she wanted us to succeed so she could impress her friends. Smack across the face from dad. It was shocking at the time, but it was understandable. It told me that I was close to the truth and yet very far from it.
And of course she died before any of my books were published, so she would have died in fear and disappointment. She died partly because, by the end, she was tied to the house. She was tied to it because she was extremely frail physically and full of physical pain. The energy was waning and had nowhere else to go
The trajectory of her life included childhood illness, rejection by her brother (something of this appears in the long poem, Metro), the push for independence as a photographer, the terrible trauma of the camps, the return to illness and to motherhood with the fury and energy directed into being a mother whose children would be a success. But then they weren't - not on her terms - and then they grew and left, and she, in turn, was left in the house she had so desired with the kitchen she desperately desired, the garden, the small greenhouse with its tomatoes, and the terrible heat of summer 1975 that was eventually too much for her.
I feel quite stupid talking about her in terms of good or bad mother. I can't really tell what was good and what was bad in her. She was a person of great complexity. I am sure she is in my bones even now. I can't quite tell what she is up to in there, but I do know I would not be a writer, and certainly not a poet, if it wasn't for her. But then we are all people of great complexity, even the apparently simplest of us.
Let's throw away the books and the models. We do what we can with our demons and angels. We don't have to conform to any public face the world serves us with. We ride life and are carried along by it. There is limited choice in the available horses. Let the horse have some life in it, thats all.