March 2014 archive

Damaged goods

‘People blame mothers too much,’ my daughter said the
other day when I was trying to justify some of her troubles on the basis of my
absence when she was little.
 
‘It’s not fair to always blame the mother.’
In my mind, cause and effect go back to early childhood
and a person’s experience of being parented, but my daughters reckon there’s
more to it than that.
There’s a dog bone in the middle of the room hidden behind
the pattern of the carpet. The dog must have snuck it in while no one was
looking. 
We impose a no-bones-inside rule out of a sense of
order.  The dog refuses to leave
his bone in a bowl.  Instead he
carries his bone with him to all rooms of the house a child clutches her
comfort blanket in order to create the illusion that he has control of what he
needs given his lack of control over his mother. 
Our dog hoards his bones and hides them and we hurl them
back outside.  If only I could
grind away my worries the way the dog pulverizes his bone.
The dog of my childhood ate his bones outside on the
grass.  One of sisters once fell
and her hand landed on the sharp edge of a bone which went through her wrist
and came out the other end.  She
came into the house wailing and held her hand up to my mother’s horror.  A hospital visit later and all was restored. 
It is one of our many childhood accidents.  One brother ripped a hunk out of his
leg when he fell down a cliff wall and snagged his foot on a tree, another
sister wound up in hospital when someone opened their car door on her
bike.  I nearly drowned and twice I
was skittled by cars.  The list is
endless. 
If I were my mother I would have gone mad with the worry,
all those children, all those legs and arms and hands and heads, all ready for
damage, all open to accident and death. 
‘We are so lucky,’ my mother says.  ‘Such a healthy family.  No one gets sick.  No cancer.  No drug addiction.’  
I
tell her this is not true and remind her of her own mother’s death from stomach
cancer, aged 67.  I remind her of
my father’s death of a heart attack through too much smoking and drinking, aged 65.  But my mother shrugs it off, as if alcohol is
to blame, rather like some folks in America defend the presence of guns.  The guns are not the problem, it’s the
people who use them. 
‘This house is the epicenter of worry,’ another daughter
said to me when I was off loading some of my most recent concerns.  She reciprocated by telling me about this dreadful customer she had encountered
at her work, a woman who was unhappy with her purchase – a round shelf
unit.  She had been promised a
brand new one but there were none left so they gave her one from the floor. 
‘It’s damaged’ the woman said, for which my daughter
apologized and offered a refund, but the woman huffed off to think about
it.  Then she rang back to complain
that she had lost her receipt, convinced now that my daughter had kept the
receipt in order to prevent the woman from exchanging her goods. 
My daughter searched everywhere for the receipt which
could not be found, not on the desk in the wastepaper basket nowhere.  The woman rang off with threats of
further action and my daughter caught the contagion of paranoia. 
Then the woman sent an email complaining about the
treatment she had received while acknowledging she had since found her receipt
– ‘human error,’ she wrote, as if to mock my daughter’s original apology for her ‘damaged goods’. 

To mark out the generations

I wore my daughter’s purple sandals a few days ago and
looked down at my feet.

  

They could
be the feet of a younger person.  They could be the feet of a teenager, and
something inside me recoiled. 
‘Mutton dressed as lamb.’  
When I was my daughter’s age I revelled in the fact that my
mother was a frumpy woman who looked her age.  

I saw other young women around me whose
mothers looked almost as young as their daughters, or at least they dressed as though they were the same age, with firm tight gymmed-out bodies and I recoiled.

Did I want my mother as a frump to mark
out the generations?  

A Freudian might say it was about sexual rivalry – mothers and daughters.  Just as a mother is coming to the end
of her sexually active life, a daughter is entering hers.  There’s no room for both.  Or so we like to think.  

The women in my family of origin are all shapes and
sizes.  We span a ten year time
slot from oldest girl to youngest.  There are brothers slotted between, but
here I refer only to the girls because as girls we were bunched together – the girls versus the boys.  
My older sister erupted into her adult, and to my mind, sexual body and I once thought it revolting.  I wanted to
stay young, even as another part of me longed to grow breasts of my own.  
Childhood seemed then a safer bet to
female adulthood with all that adulthood entailed, from the beauty of breasts to the
ugliness of pimples.  

I wanted none
of it.  I wanted all of it.  

My older sister prepared one day to go
into the city to meet friends.  I
watched her as she sat at the dressing table.  She dabbed powder from a tight compact onto her cheeks on top of the stuff she had squeezed
from a pink bottle of what was then called foundation.  

My sister spread it well concentrating on the blotchy bits of her
face to cover any blemishes.  Her face makeup caked on like a mask, she then smeared her lips, a deep pearly pink with a touch of
purple. The lipstick suited her blue eyes. 
She pressed her lips together and puckered to even out the stain, and then dabbed at
the corners of her mouth with a handkerchief.  

She wore a tight woollen jumper, with a V neck that accentuated her cleavage.
Winter time and her skirt was also made of wool, hip hugging and knee length
above her black tights.  She wore
low heeled  black shoes, middies, that clicked as she walked across the concrete
footpath on her way from the house. 
I could walk her to the station if I had
wanted but by then my jealousy was intense to the point that I could not bear
the comparison any longer.  
Me, four
years younger and every bit the gawk, torn between growing up and staying small. 

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