Thirty years ago today, I became a first time mother. If I had a different type of child, I’d write about how easy he is to love, brag about his wonderful talents, his remarkable bravery, toss a few of his quirks into the salad to make it real, end on a soppy note. The thing is, today is his day; a blog like that would make him squirm with embarrassment. My blog about his graduation DID make him squirm. Instead, we’re going to a sushi bar with friends and hopefully laugh ourselves silly. We may even get a puppy if we’re lucky. (Seriously!)
Red letter days remind me about good and bad aspects of family, which I suppose is true for anyone who didn’t grow up on Little House on the Prairie. My work in trauma has tested and, in some ways, broken the illusions our culture puts forward as absolute truth about family. Sometimes, this causes me to make decisions about people in my private life.
My son says I’m judgemental. I say I’m experienced. It’s difficult to know in advance which is correct, because while I am more experienced than my son, that experience is skewed. I’ve lifted too many rocks and seen what lived underneath. That’s made me a big believer in the power of memories. We create a memory, it stays. If it’s a bad memory, it harms. So I think we need to be somewhat selective, not give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
In real life, that’s a wonderfully fine tight rope that needs assessed all the time. These are real lives I interact with, reject or accept, so there are real life consequences for my choices, to both myself and other people. In writing, however, I worked under the misconception that no holds were barred.
Years ago, I wrote a fictional story about a woman who suffered domestic abuse. An editor rejected it with the note that they only published stories about strong women. I wondered if by ‘strong’ she meant not-real. In my world, any woman in a relationship, gay or straight, could be a victim of domestic abuse, not just the ‘weak’ ones.
In my current manuscript, a father’s children collude with his narcissist ex-wife to cause him social and fiscal harm. His children do what is called, ‘identifying with the aggressor’ (the mother). In kidnap and POW situations, we know it as Stockholm Syndrome. My character feels forced to cut off contact with his children or go down in flames. A male reader told me that a parental relationship isn’t equal, and a father should always be there for his children. He said the father’s decision made him unlikeable and as a reader, he couldn’t invest in the man’s story.
These are the myths about families that keep intra-familial harm in business.
A long time ago, a counselling supervisor referred to a client’s parenting style as ‘love with a hook in it’. Think about that. Not false love. Not abuse. Love with a hook in it. The child is loved but with a painful consequence. Not every dysfunctional family lives in the Bates motel.
In one of Neil Gaiman’s talks at the Edinburgh Book Festival, someone asked him if Ocean at the End of the Lane were for adults or children. Gaiman said children can deal with violence and other scary things. They live in the same world we do and see a lot more than we think they do. But what he didn’t think children should have to handle is Ocean’s conclusion that some evil things are too big to conquer without a price, and as such, classified the book as fiction for adults.
We need more fiction for adults. Go write it.
Happy Birthday, El Punko! Thanks for coming to live me all those long years ago! You rock.