Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Mother/Myself

My daughter has landed in Manchester. In her text she tells us it’s sunny. It’s strange to me that once I know she has reached her destination I feel as though I can stop holding my breath. Even when my daughters take a brief trip to the country I feel this need to know they’ve reached their destination intact, otherwise I fret.

I have been trying this morning to write a speech for my mother’s ninetieth birthday next month. I have long told people that I wanted to give a speech at my mother’s funeral, because I still resent the fact that I was not able to do so for my father when he died. When my father died 27 years ago now, my oldest brother wrote the eulogy and asked our now estranged brother in law to read it out at the funeral.

It was a double whammy this gesture. I think my brother may have been trying to re-involve said brother in law into the family at a time when my sister’s marriage was on the brink. My brother-in-law had found someone else. That my brother did not read the eulogy himself created a distance for me and the words my now ex brother-in-law read in the church about my oldest brother’s version of our father rang untrue.

I was much younger then, I’d just given birth to our first daughter who was ten days old. My mind could not have been sharp, but I remember feeling cheated at my father’s funeral because my oldest brother had focused on all the positive aspects of our father that he remembered and they bore little resemblance to the man my father became when dealing with the rest of our family.

I am sixth born, hence my blog name. It has always mattered to me, this family chronology. I agree with Frank Sullivan, who writes on birth order: family chronology is a powerful influence for most of us in how we lead our lives.

As a child I resented that I was not first or last born or at least bang smack in the middle of the nine children. The brother, the one above me who was the first of my parents' children to be born in Australia always seemed better placed than me. He at least could identify himself as the first Australian born child and in the middle. The four oldest were born in Holland; they had that special privilege. The last four born in Australia seemed like an after thought.

Of course my perspective on this keeps changing.

At my father’s funeral I resolved to have more of a say about my mother’s life at her funeral. But this speech on which I'm working now, is not for my mother’s funeral. It is to celebrate her life, while she lives. She will tune in and although her hearing is not the best these days I must write this speech with my mind on her.

How can I write about my mother from a purely positive perspective without my speech sounding cloy and false? There are of course good aspects to my mother. She has always been an optimist and this has helped her through a most difficult life, at least when we were young, but it has also led her to a level of denial that leaves those others of us looking on with a sense of being left out in the cold.

I want to write about my mother as honestly as I can. I want to be able to include some of her ‘warts’, but I do not want to hurt her feelings. Every time I go to write about her strengths I have my brothers, mostly my brothers, though not all of my brothers, in my ear telling me otherwise. She’s manipulative, they will say. She neglected her children. She’s a bitch.

Are these really my brothers' thoughts, some of my brothers' thoughts, or are these my thoughts? I have to own up to my own doubts.

My mother/myself. I share my mother’s name. A Dutch custom. The oldest daughter is named after the mother’s mother, the second daughter named after the mother. The same applies to sons. Elisabeth Margaretha Maria. My mother bore the title, Mrs, and I the Miss, but otherwise our names, until I married and changed my name and then later still when my mother remarried and changed her name again, were exactly the same.

My mother likes to tell me that of all her children, I am the most like her. As a child I enjoyed the comparison, as an adult I do not. There are aspects to my mother’s personality that bother me and I do not like to identify with them, besides my mother was a first-born, I am a middle born, we have to be different.

My mother left school at fifteen to help her mother care for her five brothers and her little sister, I went to university, the first girl in my family to do so. We have had a different life and yet I identify with her optimism and to some extent a certain level of idealism and naiveté, even though I know it’s there. Still I do not desist from it.

My mother, I fear, does not see that her optimism borders on denial, and can tend to exclude the experience of others, besides she has her strong religious beliefs that help her through everything and I have no such comforts.
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