Sunday, 28 November 2010

Children and childhood

Over on her blog, Transitioning Past, Debra Mckenzie has posted Someday I want to be a Mom. I just had to read that. The reasons are complex.

Not that I actually want to ever become a mother. Or ever did. But I find any mention of children compelling reading from a personal point of view.

I agree with Debra's thinking on what parenthood entails. I was a parent myself for most of the 1980's, from 1982 to 1989, the child in question being my step-daughter A---, who I inherited at age 11, and who is now a married woman of 40 with two little children of her own. I won't say I was a 'good parent', whatever that means. I got off lightly, because A--- was so, so easy.

We had a rather carefree, hands-off relationship. I was her older friend rather than her overbearing mentor. Her real father M--- was in New Zealand, and from the first I drew a careful distinction between him and myself. I wanted to preserve the idea of 'her father' for the years ahead, when she'd get to know him again. And so it happened: M--- must have been surprised but very, very glad that he still had a clear-cut role to fill again. (We got on well)

A--- called me J---, nothing else. For deeper reasons that, of course, I didn't then understand, I was pleased to be called simply by my first name, my rather androgenous first name, and not given a male label like 'Dad', which I had no right to anyway. In parallel to this, I wanted to be simply J--- with my then-young niece J--- and nephew M---, and not 'Uncle'. Nobody quite saw why I made a fuss about such a small and customary thing.

I never laid down the law to A---; I never had to. She was in most ways a model child who never had awkward moments, who was always bubbly and cheerful, and a pleasure to be with. If A--- lacked the qualities of the scholar, she nevertheless could set herself realistic goals and fully achieve them. She was always sensible and focused. This didn't prevent her, in her late teens, partying hard with her friends: she was up for tipsy late nights on Greek beaches for instance. But her selective forays into relationships were conducted with an almost ironic realism, as if she was saying (to me, at least) 'I know he's awful/too keen on his fancy car/unreliable, but let's watch him make one silly boast too many, and then I'll get out of it and find the right one'. And she did find the right one, very much so. I recall an entire day together in Brighton (in 1992, I believe), when it was just her and me. She wanted to explain the men she liked to me, and get my cool opinion on which to choose, although I soon perceived that she had a clear favourite who she later married. It was such fun to wander from place to place on a windy day, around the Lanes, onto the Pier and back again, discussing little things about the contenders for her affection. But that kind of close consultation said something about our relationship. Something I valued more than she knew. Or maybe she did know; A-- has always been accepting and supportive and broad-minded to an astonishing extent. I think she instinctively knew how it was with me; and it didn't matter. I have many sharp images of A---, none more meaningful than the way she clutched and squeezed my hand as we stood together at my brother's funeral service in early 1996. All the way through. She held me together. How I wish I could feel that grip now. How I wish she were here, now, as my life takes a decisive turn, and not so far away in New Zealand.

Let's get back to children in general. Such a hard subject for me. Actually, I'll have to develop this in another post, because I feel upset just thinking about my own childhood, and how different it could all have been. And I'm not talking about dolls and frocks. I'm talking about the wall I made to hide behind, the prison I made for myself. Another day, then.

5 comments:

  1. That guy in the iron mask has nothing on us!

    Caroline xxx

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  2. You stepdaughter sounds like a wonderful person, and it's great that you have such a good relationship with her.

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  3. I've just read Jerica's post. It resonates considerably with me.

    Que sera sera

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  4. A lot of un-step parents don't get that kind of relationship with their own children. You are both fortunate to have each other.

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  5. I didn't have the happiest of childhoods either, but I take consolation in knowing that is shaped the person I am. Right now, I'm pretty happy about that.

    Same with you?

    Angie xx

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