Magazine article The Spectator

...And the Children's Teeth Are Set on Edge

Magazine article The Spectator

...And the Children's Teeth Are Set on Edge

Article excerpt

SONS AND MOTHERS

edited by Matthew Glendinning and Victoria Glendinning Virago, 16.99, pp. 262

The drama of modern motherhood can be crudely summarised: the growing child requires more than a mother can give. In the past, aunts, grandmothers and the like might have made good the deficit, but now the excess of demand over supply pushes the price, or in this case the desirability, of what is wanted ever upwards. In response, some mothers flood the market with gestures of increasingly devalued adoration, others ration demonstrations of affection with Bundesbankian austerity, while still others behave like Tory Chancellors veering from boom to bust as they try to disguise the incapacity of the emotional economy to meet its citizens' expectations.

Yet, as this book of recollections by eight mothers and eight sons indicates, the nature of what is actually wanted is not at all clear - at least not when the child is male. Love is the obvious answer, and on the mothers' side there is no doubt about the immensity of their devotion:

He was without any doubt the most beautiful thing I had ever seen [observes Sara Parkin of her newly born son]. His small wrinkled head, pulled into a Martian deformity by his monitored delivery, expanded my heart up through the sixth layer of my skin until it burst with a waterfall of love flooding my senses.

Or Kate Saunders:

I love Felix to distraction ... It is the stormiest love affair of my life. If this was a real love affair, my friends would beg me to leave him.

Recognising that their sons must anxiously transmute this engulfing maternal love into a separated masculine personality, the mothers' outpourings come with a commensurate sense of inadequacy:

Notwithstanding the fact I have to work all the hours God sends to keep us solvent [says Saunders] I feel wicked. I am sure I shall sink into his consciousness as a selfish, rejecting harpy.

Or Victoria Glendinning agonising 20 years later about having left Matthew to be by himself rather than with her:

I didn't want to violate his need for privacy. I didn't know that `being with me' would have been any lure at all . . . I got it wrong. Like an echo, the commonest theme of the male contributors is frustration. Most attention has been directed at Jon Snow's admission that he felt irredeemably scarred by the shock of discovering that his mother wore a wig - a memory which evidently hides other, more complex reasons for his self-confessed distrust of women - but running through nearly all of them is the stoical line best expressed by Adam MarsJones' bleak ending to a lapidary memoir of his mother:

One of Sheila's virtues as a mother was to have stopped telling us, quite early on, that everything was going to be all right. …

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