Wednesday, 11 June 2014

What One Does Not Do

I grew up knowing that certain behaviours were unacceptable.  

One did not put one's elbows on the table.  
One did not wear shoes in the house.  
One did not answer back.  

My father was violent and abusive, my mother too scared to leave him, not because of his reaction, but because she was terrified of being by herself, terrified of admitting this man she had defied her parents by marrying was, as they had thought, not a good person.  

One did not put one's feet on the furniture.
One did not tell one's teacher how one got a black eye.  
One did not ask questions.  

I have contrasting memories of a patient, doting, storybook mother, affectionate and smiling and gentle, and a woman akin to a storybook stepmother who looked at me with disgust and disappointment and distain, and treated me with barely constrained abhorrence.  It's difficult to allow my mind to linger on the memories that make me smile or even to acknowledge that they exist - to do so means those that leave me crying feel even sharper, even hotter, even more heartbreaking.

One did not scribble on one's pencil case.
One did not interrupt.
One did not use more than one tablespoonful of shampoo.

When I was small my mother would have me near her, while she carried on with whatever jobs needed doing around the house.  I remember sitting up to the dining room table and watching her thread her sewing machine.  I remember standing next to her as she simmered oranges to make marmalade.  I remember sitting on as stool next to her armchair as she knitted another tiny white cardigan for a work colleagues new baby.  

One did not cry.  
One did not read after bed time.
One did not fold down the corner of the page of a book.

I was told, often, that I was worthless, unloved, unwanted.   On one of the cold days that followed every argument I remember my mother looking straight at me, perfectly calm and controlled, and explaining to me that had she known the kind of person that I was going to be before I was born, she would have 'taken care of it'.  She looked away, gazing out of the window for a moment, then turned back to me, leant in close and whispered as she looked in my eyes 'You ruined everything.  You ruined my life.'

One did not answer the front door, or the telephone.  
One did not leave any food on one's plate.  
One did not say no.

And now I have a daughter.  Her name is Petal.  She has never been in the same room as the woman who gave birth to me.  She has never heard the sound of her voice.

My daughter will put her elbows on the table.
My daughter will forget my birthday.
My daughter will complain about me to her friends.

I want Petal to know that jam is made of fruit, and that it's not hard to make.  Even if she never does it.  I want her to have it on that mental list of 'stuff to do one day, maybe'.  Along with sewing up a hole in a sock, icing a birthday cake, making a run for a guinea pig, and learning how to waltz. 

My daughter will be certain I do not understand her.
My daughter will break things and blame her brothers.
My daughter will shout at me.

I hope that she will continue to ignore what some consider to be the constraints of her gender, whether that means playing in the mud or choosing to paint her bedroom blue or camping in the garden and having a never-to-heal scab on her knee, but I hope she will also have the strength of character to paint her room pink, if that is what she wants.

My daughter will wear clothes that I do not approve of.
My daughter will slam doors.
My daughter will accidentally on purpose forget to do her homework.

Petal has watched yarn grow into a blanket over hours on my lap, seen it finished, and snuggled up with it in her bed.  She has wrapped it around her on the sofa, and I have told her that every time she holds that blanket around her it's as if my arms are around her, giving her a hug.  Soppy I know, but sometimes she catches my eye when she's wrapped up and I know exactly what she's thinking.

My daughter will answer the front door, and the telephone.
My daughter will cry.  Cry hot hot tears over the loss of a pet, a boy, a sticker, a girl.
My daughter will put her feet on the furniture.  Often.

Petal is almost ten.  She loves roller coasters, she sings along to the radio, she wants a pet of her own.  She will be fifteen, then twenty, then twenty five.  She will live a life away from me, full of dreams and smiles and a little bit of heartbreak.

My daughter will make mistakes.
My daughter will lie to me.
My daughter will know that she is loved.  Every second, every minute, every hour, every day.


  1. What a fantastic post. The world of parenting can be so different generation to generation. Good for you for doing what you think is best!!! Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

    1. Thanks Jenny - I'm pretty sure my children are having a better childhood than I did, which means a lot.
      Take care

  2. I am so sorry for your heartbreaking childhood but am applauding you in taking that trauma and choosing to be different and make your children's lives full of light and fierce love. Well done!

    1. Thank you Lisa, that is a very touching thing to say, and it means a lot to me that you have taken the time to say such a lovely thing.
      Hope all is well with you, and take care of yourself as well as that granddaughter of yours!
      L x

  3. There's so much that I want to say, but I'm afraid to....wonderful powerful post, and your daughter is so lucky to have a Mum like you xxx

    1. Thank you hun - so many people have childhoods without smiles, and it helps me to ponder it all every so often and recognise that while I worry about my parenting, I do try, and I'm pretty sure they have many more smiles than I did!
      Thank you for reading, and take care of yourself as well as everyone around you, okay?
      L x


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