Sunday, 22 March 2009
Julie Myerson, Jade Goody and other Mothers have their day.
Mother’s day today and the Boo sends me a cartoon (above) she drew and buys me text books for children in Senegal and a birth certificate for a Bolivian child so they can be allowed access to school and health care. A simply thing, a birth certificate, we take it for granted this naming of our parents, this naming of ourselves. I recall the registrar at the hospital when I registered my daughter’s birth having a very nice fountain pen and beautiful copperplate handwriting. Of course as much as I was registering a child I was also registering myself as a mother, an official document that stated I was a mother, something I could wave under the nose should I not be deemed worthy of the title. A long time ago I encountered a foundling, a woman left on the steps of a hospital when only a few hours old. I wondered how strange it must be to have been found. On birth certificates the space for father can be filled with that name that has fathered so many children over the years ‘Unknown’, there are few, if any, certificates that also have a mother‘s name absent. This elderly lady, now long dead, was never adopted and grew up in an orphanage. Her name was given to her by the hospital staff that found her, she never had an official birth certificate but a strange document that gave her an approximate date of birth and her name. All her life she never knew when her birthday was exactly, just a ball park date. She never held any bitterness towards her mother, accepting that in those days ( just prior to the first world war) unmarried mothers or mothers desperately struggling to bring up other children had little alternative other than to abandon their children. On the contrary she always pointed out that her mother at least left her in a hospital as other babies were sometimes left in bins, outside pubs and in other out of the way places where they may not have been found.
Many years ago my father, a policeman was involved in a crime where the body of a baby was found in a suitcase in a left luggage office. A woman driven to do such a thing must have been driven by terrible circumstances. Did she kill the baby and put it in the suitcase, did it die at birth and this was the only way she could think of disposing of the body and her social guilt, did she put it in the suitcase whilst it was still alive? Was the baby taken from her and killed by someone else, no-one ever discovered what had happened as no one could recall who had left the suitcase? My dad,the undertaker and the man from the left luggage office were the only people to attend the baby’s funeral on a grim wet day just before the outbreak of the Second World War. I often wonder if some woman went through the rest of her life living with the guilt of putting her own child in a suitcase and what drove her to do that rather than get rid of the body in some out of the way place. What do such women do on Mother’s day, do they simply block the abandonment of their child out of their heads, do they pretend so hard the pretence becomes the reality? Mother’s day is not only a chance for children to remember their mother’s but for mother’s to remember their children, to celebrate the fact that they are mothers. Over 50 babies a year are still abandoned in the UK , in about 90% of the cases the mother’s are traced and often reunited with their child so for about 10%, their birth always remains a mystery. So equally there are 5 women who for the rest of their lives can’t admit to having given birth to a child. Poets and writers get so much mileage out of their relationships with their mothers, Sharon Olds’ latest collection One Secret Thing shifts her gaze to that relationship having picked over the bones of her relationship with her father in minute detail.
We are always in need of someone to blame, someone to kick against; if nature had not given us parents I think we would have had to create them in order to feel justified and authenticated as human beings. Parents or substitute parental figures serve to meet our basic needs when young; food, heat, shelter etc but their main role is to love us and our role is to ensure we get that love and if the contract between us somehow gets skewed or torn up both parent and child are allowed to harbour resentment, anger, grief and general sucked a lemon faces with impunity because one or other or both didn’t live up to their side of the bargain. The recent Julie Myerson furor about her son’s addiction to skunk and the damage this caused the family is a case in point. A writer will inevitably want to write, a son who is unhappy will inevitable want to think they have been hard done by; both will attempt to convince others of their pain, justifiable motives and general reasons for sucking the lemon. To write about your family and publish that writing permits public access into an otherwise private area. Your motives for doing so can be laudable but to be mystified and overwhelmed that people are taking such a close interest in your family after doing so, albeit in a tabloid sort of way, is odd to say the least unless you are very dim. I hesitate to use the word naïve because it smacks of wide-eyed innocence and any decent writer worth their salt is always guilty of a certain knowingness.
It is sad for any family when they are raked over in the tabloids and not so tabloid newspapers. Jade Goody, was a girl that knew she was selling her death to the newspapers in order to give her sons a secure financial future. For all of her so called lack of talent and notoriety, she is the mother, who for me stands out as being truly innocent because she never sort or purported to be anything else other than purely mercenary. She did into the bargain gain a huge amount of publicity for cervical cancer which might save the lives of some women, but this was not her primary motive, she needed to take care of her sons. I am sure Julie Myserson, as she has been quoted as saying, wished to alert other parents to the terrible danger of skunk and this was her primary motive for writing the story of her son’s addiction anything else, money and publicity was purely secondary. Personally I prefer Jade’s approach…poor Jade has died today, her boys will undoubtedly never forget that their mother died on Mother’s day and if she went down fighting yelling ‘Show me the money’ well good for her, she earned every penny of it and her boys can be proud of her. Maybe Julie Myerson’s son might be proud of his mother for some things now or he may be at some later date, who knows, but making your life public property is always a deal with the devil and Jade Goody deserves to be applauded as having taken him on and beaten him hands down, may she rest in peace knowing that.