Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A Mother's Day...

People often discuss the raison d'etre of blogs and the motivations of those who create and sustain them. I do not think that today is Mother's Day in any culture, but it is my own Mother's birthday. What prompts me to wish her a very happy Birthday on an internet site she probably never will see? Who knows? I will speak to her by telephone later to convey my wishes to her directly in any case, provided I am able to reach her. She is almost insanely busy at all times and I seldom am able to gain access to her. I shan't make a moral judgement on the life of some one who is available always to society but not to family members, but I will say that it is one reason I never wished to become involved in 'public life'. I feel that such a role takes a person hostage, that privacy is flung out the window along with many of the ordinary pleasures and priorities of ordinary individuals. What is even more peculiar is the fact that many of those who devote their lives to 'society' are not even known or recognised beyond their tiny frames of reference. Nonetheless, small ponds are often densely populated with large fish vying for supremacy or at any rate, attention.

Our parents obviously do influence us for better or worse. One of the reasons that I value solitude so highly is the fact that I seldom enjoyed it as a child. Our house was filled with people almost constantly and the loud voices of intoxicated academics was a poor substitute for a lullaby. On the positive side, I did meet some individuals who were brilliant as well as famous and I was required to perform in circles usually unknown to young children and adolescents. Nonetheless...

To my mother, however, I owe the gift of life itself. To my mother, I probably owe my appreciation of art and all that is exquisite. To my mother, I owe my personal acquaintance with the magic of holidays and festivals. Although, oddly enough, she always scorned 'fantasy' in the realm of literature, she was able to create fantasies on holidays and to make us believe in magic.

I remember an incident a few years ago on New Year's Day actually. A little girl and her brother were at a family affair that I attended and the little girl was bored. I suggested that she have a tea party. She protested that she didn't have any toys with her and certainly no tea set. I told her she could pretend and was appalled and saddened to discover that this child never had experienced any forays into the realm of the imagination.

All children have the capacity to 'make-believe' and this little girl was no exception. I was able to create a little world for her and her brother within the space of a few minutes and she was more excited by her tea party than she would have been with another new toy.

One would think that children would possess this power naturally and would need no prompting by an adult. Apparently not. My mother was fond of speaking of 'opening a door' when she spoke of a new opportunity or possibility. 'I always tried to open doors for my children' she would (and still does) declare. One of those doors that a parent should open for his/her child is the door to the world of the imagination. Once opened, the child can populate that world without any aid, but perhaps he/she needs to be shown that the door exists.

I worked briefly on Saturdays in a local doll shop and was rather shocked by the horrible tales of destruction and mayhem that mothers, aunts and grandmothers would relate to me. They would speak of their offsprings' cruelty towards dolls and stuffed toys as if relating tales from the Inquisition or the Reign of Terror. They never perceived their own responsibility at all! A child is not born careful, nor is a child born merciful. Children need to be taught compassion and care.

When a child drops her favourite doll or toy, she should feel empathy with it. A child who is taught to feel compassion may say: 'Oh Baby, are you hurt?' Treat the symbol of a child or animal with care and compassion and you will treat the real child or animal with compassion as well. When a child is taught by adults that 'it's only a toy', that child is denied the valuable gift of empathy.

The disease of contemporary consumerism and greed is apparent in the way in which children view their possessions. When I heard of children selling their toys and dolls for a profit and bragging of their cleverness in transforming a sentimental object into hard cash, I was filled with dismay and sorrow for the generation of the future. I worked at the doll shop at the height of the 'collectable' fever that raged throughout the West, and parents would buy dolls and toys for their children, then deny them access to them. 'Oh no, you mustn't EVER take it out of the box!' A beautiful doll would remain imprisoned behind plastic, forever unapproachable, without any opportunity to establish any relationship with its owner. No wonder children viewed their toys and dolls as commodities rather than best friends and companions.

Now, of course, reality takes its revenge on these 'collectors' who are presented with wardrobes stuffed with dolls and toys (NRFB: Never Removed From Box) that take up far too much space and yet have not reached their supposed full value as 'collectables'. As they have no sentimental value either, these poor creatures are condemned to eternal darkness... Did these 'collectors' not realise that, by consigning these items to a future sale, they would be forced to compete with every other 'collector' who had done the same. All those hundreds of people who queued up for the 'Holiday Barbie' year after year, to buy not one but five or six of the dolls, now will be forced to dispose of them somehow...

I much rather would have one doll or toy who experienced childhood with me, even if she had lost some of her original 'mint' condition.

A clever woman wrote a book entitled 'Barbie Forever' in which she made a comparison between Barbie dolls and the prehistoric goddess figurines. I do believe that we demonstrate our nature in the manner in which we treat our possessions and icons. Dolls and toys that are purchased simply for future monetary value and consigned to a dark wardrobe are not loved and have no connection whatsoever with existence.

A doll or toy who is loved and cherished becomes a friend or companion, the repository of confidences and secrets, a comforter in times of sorrow or pain. The doll or object that is set on a shelf to be admired has a relationship with its owner as well. It is akin to the idol or votive figure set in a niche in the wall. It becomes a sort of god of the hearth, a symbol of the home and the spirit of its occupants. As the years pass, it serves as a repository of memories, a touchstone to the past. The object that is set in a safe or wardrobe, never even to be seen again until it is taken out for disposal is NOTHING.

My mother gave me my love of dolls and my love of toys. When I went to work in the dollshop on Saturdays, I had an extraordinary experience. Dolls were displayed in cases and when sold, would be replaced in their original boxes. The first time I did this, I was overpowered by the force of the past. The doll in question was the creation of a dollmaker who has made dolls for almost a century. The colour of the box as well as the tissue paper within had not changed, nor had the logo and company design. I suddenly was taken back to Christmas as a child, when I opened a box like it to find my Christmas gift within. The memory was visceral, and all the senses were swept back to that magical moment.

Childhood is not an altogether happy time for many of us. It is a very difficult time and there are periods we probably would forget completely if we could. The magic of childhood, however, seldom can be duplicated in adulthood. When one is fortunate enough to experience that same magic again, one is twice blessed.

I would like to thank my mother for giving me this magic.


Yves said...

Thank you so much for sharing these intimate glimpses, which have surely a universal value too. I had a very ambiguous relationship with my mother who was one of those people who had no idea how to be a mother, preferring to be what I can only call an "adventuress" though that sounds a little too glamorous.

However, I am not sure if a parent can teach compassion in the way you describe. Surely the parent will teach the child by being compassionate to the child, who will then act out what she has learned with the doll. I don't know though.

As a boy I had no dolls but I did have a collection of toys including a monkey with its arms nearly dropping off. I've recently remembered that when we left Australia in 1946 by ship from Fremantle - I was 4 at the time - she told me that most of my things were in our trunk. I had seen these trunks being lifted by the crane in a big net and dropped in the hold, and understood that we could not open the trunk till we reached England. Then I discovered she had deceived me and and apart from my threadbare Monkey, had left all my precious things behind, including an Elephant. For several years after, when I was upset about something, I would remind her of the lies she had told, which infuriated her of course.

It was not until I was 50 that I discovered that she had also left my father behind, having always mendaciously claimed he had died in the war. I did not make a fuss, but made up for lost time and contacted him.

Freyashawk said...

Thank you for sharing some of the heartbreaks of your childhood. Oddly enough, my first stuffed toy was an Elephant, not a Teddy Bear, and my sister had an Elephant as well. Mine was pronounced a health hazard and chucked in the bin, but my sister's Elephant was preserved for posterity. As he was stuffed with sawdust, perhaps he did become a hazard, but if it had been my child's favourite toy, I would have moved the proverbial heaven and earth to save him. One never completely forgets those early 'betrayals' by a parent.

On the other hand, parents are no more than ordinary human beings with the same faults and weaknesses that all human beings share. They are given a rather terrifying responsibility, with the power of life and death over another human being, as well as the power to shape that child's character and destiny to some extent.

As in your case, there were far worse betrayals than the loss of a beloved toy, but I discovered that I only would hurt myself by carrying the weight of that pain and bitterness all my life. I realised that my duty lay in being the best daughter I could be. I had no control over my mother apart from that. When I achieved that recognition, I freed myself from the past and allowed myself to establish a 'working relationship' with my Mum in the present and future.

Finally, I was able to extract the best from my childhood without having my vision clouded by pointless regrets.