On mothers and daughters

Last updated 05:00 11/05/2014
mum, mother
MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS: It's complicated.

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The cows eyed us up gloomily, as if they wished they were anywherebut there. The alpacas fondled our proffered hands sweetly.

Their manky dreads quivered. The pigs were pink and coarse and they sucked greedily at their mother's tit.

Dutifully, we ticked off the farm animals on our Easter Show map. Now, said my five-year-old daughter, for the fun stuff.

While her nine-year-old brother quaked at any ride more thrilling than the Cup and Saucer, she measured herself hopefully against the minimum-height-required signs for the scariest attractions.

She was game for anything and she laughed out loud and long and joyously. And when she'd had her fill of hot chips and won herself a blue furry whale and a Peruvian woman had braided her hair, she begged for more.

One, we said. The last. And so she picked a tower from which you drop on to foam. Yet when she got to the top, she couldn't do it. Couldn't take the leap.

It's all right, we said. Next time, we said. But she was inconsolable. Not from fright. No, she told me through clenched teeth, because she'd let herself down.

Oh where did you come from, sweet child of mine, I thought, as I enfolded her in my arms, knowing though, before the question was fully formed, that she is me. That she was made in my image. That here before me was the miniature manifestation of every personality trait I've spent the past 30-odd years muzzling.

My bossiness, my perfectionism, my bloody-mindedness. My contradictory desires to both fly on the edge of all caution and remain incomplete and constant control.

My mother took us to Disneyland  for her 40th birthday. I was 20. My brother 17. She took us not because it was her dream, but because it had been ours as children.

She hates rollercoasters as much as I love them. Is terrified of heights. To mark her birthday she went on the highest, fastest ride there. I bullied her into it. Determined that, as mother and daughter who are particularly close and alike in so many ways, I could force her to share my particular pleasure.

I was desperate to have a daughter. Filled with fear at what my life would be if I didn't. The friendship I would never know. It's so much more complicated than ever I imagined, though.

As we age, against instinct, but also of course because of it, we become our parents. What we once rebelled against is often exactly what defines us as adults. And as parents what we ran from in ourselves often presents itself at our doorstep in our children's personalities.

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I caused my mother a thousand small deaths with my inappropriate and direct line of questioning. Why, I asked a couple of terribly earnest and closeted, middle-aged lesbians, do you have separate bedrooms?

Why, I asked the very unhappy man who lived down the road, did your wife leave you?

For now, thankfully, I am the target of my daughter's inquiring. So, she said very loudly in the doctor's waiting room recently, how old were you, Mum, the first time you had sex? (She has no idea what sex is, except that as a five-year old it's something she's not meant to know about yet.)

So, she said very loudly in the queue at Kmart, the first time Dad kissed you, how long did it last and did you like it?

Her friendships are as intense as mine were, until I learnt a little space was a good thing. We could both live on whipped cream alone and when, recently, she developed an appreciation for mashed potato and gravy, saying it "makes me so happy I want to go to sleep", I could only nod in the recognition of one stodge-lover to another.

It is, I think, a mother's job to love endlessly. A child's to rail and revolt. And eventually succumb to the inevitable. 

- Sunday Magazine


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