‘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'.