Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Papillon's mother

This morning I translated a post from Papillon about her mother. It was such a sad post. She doesn't feel she can talk to her mother about anything intimate.

I struggle to talk to my mother too. She is now very elderly and frail, and I am her nearest relative, both in terms family and of distance.

She has always been very concerned with her position in life. I suspect marrying my father, a doctor, gave her the respectable position she craved after her own risqué-for-the-time upbringing. Nevertheless she was always very disparaging about my father's family. We were constantly being admonished about how we spoke, behaved. I can remember her apologising to one of her friends for the accent my sister and I had picked up in one of the places we lived.

That didn't make me feel good, but worse was to come on the day she said I could have plastic surgery if I didn't like how I looked. I hadn’t even been aware of the possibility of needing it. Then when she said “I really pity your husband” that I was truly wounded. Because I wouldn’t wear what she wanted me to wear. I was 12 years old. My confidence was undermined for ever. Although things have improved over the (many) years since, I will never be described as assured.

I have tried to understand her better. I tried to persuade her to record her memories but all we got were socially acceptable memories of her colonial days in Africa. Nothing intimate, nothing personal - only stories which were designed to impress. I had hoped for some sort of revelations about her hopes and fears, the things that had made her the way she is, rather like the ones in Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter.

No, I can't really talk to my mother. I do try. She has become less demanding recently so we are getting on a bit better. We aren't living in a novel after all, and nothing she did will match the enormity of what Papillon's mother did to her.


  1. For me it sounds like your mother and the Papillion "story" tells about women as products of their environment with no chance to see the realities otherwise but what "was expected" and "C'est la peine". The alternatives was the utterly darkness and expelling.

  2. I have a difficult relationship with my mother, too. I cannot remember ever receiving a single word of praise from her, though God knows, I worked hard at the beginning to please her. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that although she loves me, she doesn't particularly like me. It's hard enough to accept that as an adult, but it's devastating for a child. And she still knows what buttons to push! I just hope that my relationships with my own daughters is and will remain better than mine with her.


  3. Tor, yes, you are right of course, they are products of their environments, as we all are. And the world has changed.

    Janeway, oh yes, those buttons are still being pushed! It's usually made clear that I haven't performed, in whatever way, as well as expected. And I boil with rage inside, then feel guilty for that ... Thank heaven for the internet so that I can explode to my sister half way round the world.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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