The Clamour of the Daimon- On Being a Mother
The child is father to the man, each ensures
The safeguards to their hungers…
The correction of residual crimes…
Denial of appetites outgrown…
The shaping of their talents
Offers incense to the brazier burning
On the altar of mankind.
Blogs are supposed to have a focus. Mine, seemingly wide-ranging, is all allied to the book, Involution. A Book about Everything that needed all my living to supply its vocabulary and much of that living was motherhood. In this, like all mothers, I had to feel my way, and thereby come to encounter my daimon’s determination to wrest control.
My last post focused on my mother, and on being a single daughter, an only child.
As a perceptive comment to that post noted, everything recorded presupposed the book recently published; the early and necessary independence, into which a whirlwind experience threw everything into the air, rearranging all the components of life and leaving little but a bloody minded opposition to coercion or conformity. In every way I had to start afresh. In relation to motherhood one central pinion anchored resolve, the perception of what failing her daimon had led to in my mother, bitter regret. My inopportune arrival blighted my mother’s life, neither her fault, nor mine; a fact nevertheless.
Being inopportune, always too early, has been a constant. This book was conceived forty five years ago, forty years too early for its acceptance. A better acquaintance with my daimon probably needed the necessary dislocation provided by time’s brake. It and I had an argument to undergo first. James Hillman’s extraordinarily powerful book ‘The Soul’s Code’ has helped put it all into perspective. Character finds wider cracks through which to enter as we age. The daimon or occupying genius (the active element of Soul) in each of us struggles against the distractions of middle age and of parenthood. It snakes its way through impediments and often disappears, reduced to a few remembered dreams, the inexplicable impulse, or sudden blinding shafts of recognition.
Between the book’s early failure (with two small daughters in tow) and its recent incarnation more motherhood intervened. That also required the mastery of house building, mixing mortar, carpentry, drains and daily doing at its most basic. I had flown too close to the sun, melted my wings, and fallen, badly burnt: the discipline of motherhood would re-connect me to ordinary life. It was the re-education necessary to render the sun a softer and more benign presence threaded on quiet days, sliced and apportioned by welcome oblivious nights of exhausted sleep.
The re-education also introduced a new realm of experience that would prove to be necessary to extend my vocabulary into architecture, design, music, the hunger for time to read and on being servant to necessity. The last was probably the most important.
In talking about my mother, I reverted to memories, and she, now safely dead, would be unable to correct them or to argue and be unlikely to feel aggrieved. I feel I can count on her sympathy. Not so with my still very alive daughters. They would be mortified to be identified, and they have daimons of their own, refusing to be pinned, so I must confine their existence to what they did for me.
That seems sufficient, because I intend to examine the effect of both my childhood and theirs on the conceiving of a book. It is creativity at its broadest that draws upon everything, emotional and psychological, academic and philosophical, each intricately facets of the same enquiry. Who am I? Why am I here? Why did I come through that portal (my mother) or give birth to that child?
What shall I do with all this experience before I depart?
My own mother’s tight-lipped stoicism, which made my very existence a burden, had led me to take a vow at about sixteen. If I ever had children they would know, because I would share with them, all things: anger, impulse, confusion, and impetuous affection. Words would not be withheld. I would never have them say, as I had, ‘I would rather you beat me than stay silent, why won’t you tell me where or in what I have failed?’
If I had children I would also have more than one; they would have each other: An insurance against my own shortcomings.
I struggled to unite my four daughters in what I believed was a single family. Therein lay my failure to understand that unity requires the consent of all, to each. Much later I had to accept that I had two families, severed by the father of the first, whose refusal to include the second split us, as though with an axe. The father of the second family accepted all, in an almost saintly indifference to distinctions between his and another man’s children.
Daughters Part One
My first marriage had yielded two daughters, so different from one another they initiated the most essential lesson
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
(Kahlil Gibran- The Prophet)
The first at ten months walked away, escaped any lap, shunned hugs and kisses, threw herself into deep water, climbed up dangerous heights. She needed nothing from me, except the freedom to be left alone and watched from a distant eye. She asked for very little, gave very little. As an ingénue mother I mistook this for precocious advanced development; hurrah for independence! Her sister was the exact opposite, needing a great deal of affection, constant reassurances and encouragement. Honing maternal skills required flexible adjustments between these extremes, one impervious, one hypersensitive, one over confident, one with only tentative questions.
The second, faced with living on a building site developed obsessional cleaning instincts and domestic virtues that manifested before she was ten, binging home the bacon for Thursday night suppers on her bicycle after ‘cookery’. She created order where none seemed to exist. Her sister, immune to labour, simply disappeared into a caravan where she painted her nails and revised for examinations in which she was determine to excel, and if possible exceed. Her fierce competitive instincts were equal to anything, from scrabble to chemistry. It took her no time to persuade her father that her academic record would be much assisted by boarding away, away from the cold tap and the portaloo amidst the nettles. He obliged with alacrity. My vow needed pruning. Neither was like me, nor sought what I understood.
With both the vow was inappropriate. That is the hell of motherhood, you only have one to sample from, and without siblings you start completely un-apprenticed, learning only from sometimes serious mistakes. My mother was not ‘typical’. No mother is. She had taught me by default; I had been peripheral to her life, my children would be central and know always that they were. Pendulums are never a reliable pointer, but the circularity of existence is invariably reduced to the swing between extremes.
My oldest daughters did not want to know anything about me, but I had set a course of candour (hatched from my childhood of silence) and took much too long to realise its penalties. I lost both of them; not immediately, but later, when all that candour backfired and I was so very clear as target. Their father stripped me of them utterly, knowing how central they had been in every aspect of creative life. He waited until late adolescence with all its insecurity and resentment made them vulnerable to persuasion. His revenge was served very cold, and wrapped with foreign travel and few returns.
They left, one for university in Africa, the other for training college in Switzerland and never looked back. I had served my purpose, with all the tedium of schooling, housing, homework and transport. Holidays had been treats with him, in exotic surroundings like Costa Rica, Kalahari or Galapagos. Half of my family were always severed from the other half, by money and partisan affection. While the older two were camping on beaches, or on film locations the second family stayed home and played with the dog or tolerated a Yucca plant as perennial pricking wicket.
Overwhelmed by labour and literally putting a roof over heads I failed to see this divide widening. The experience which had set in train both my divorce from him and the book took many years to develop its consequences, to alienate my children from me and from each other. I had complimented myself on a successful and benign divorce, (he and his new wife stayed with us occasionally) but instead merely provided labour and education, enabling him and his wife to live well under canvas, or in remote places without available schools, until his daughters were old enough to leave me without proving an imposition.
Self deception took a long detour, through illusion and dogged determination, but even this provided its salutary lesson; that one daimon (mine to foster unity) is powerless against another that preferred disunity, and could exploit every argument to make its case. The devil has all the best tunes, for sure.
But I had been offered a second chance ( to be continued).