Thursday, 4 February 2010

Who do you think you are?

Yesterday was my daughter’s 6th birthday. Without being too sentimental about it, I think that my daughter is fabulous. I alternately feel overjoyed and overwhelmed by her fabulousness (I think I may have made that word up, but it’s been a long week, so I don’t care). I always imagined myself with daughters. Sometimes I imagine things because I want them to happen but other times I imagine things as a way of warding them off, as a form of vaccination. My imaginings about daughters have been largely hopeful: after my daughter Libby’s death I thought I would never get to see a daughter grow up.

Libby’s life exhausted my imagination for some time. There was a moment following her birth when I revelled in my good fortune. I can still see the view out of the hospital window, the back of the midwife as she wrote Elizabeth on the hospital tags – a name Libby was supposed to grow into. Until recently, if it was possible, I would have chosen to press pause at that moment, that I’m the luckiest person in the world moment and keep everything as it was right then, before the day was split by sirens, before unfamiliar imaginings crept around new words: brain damage, cataracts, lumbar puncture, ventilation, transfusion, critical...

All of my recent writing seems to be about mothers and daughters, I don’t know why, it’s just coming out that way. After Alice was born I was determined to snatch my second chance and make something wonderful of it. When I write about mothers and daughters I often use the writing as a way of discarding my pessimistic imaginings. Three recent stories contain alternate versions of my real life experience with daughters and I’m itching to write more.

This week I read Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? Munro’s exploration of mother/daughter relationships is wonderful. I took the book with me on the morning of Alice's birthday when my Gran asked me to drive her to the doctor’s. I took it with me as I drove her straight to the hospital after the doctor had listened to her heart. I clutched the book on my lap all morning and afternoon as I watched her shrink into the hospital bed. I read it as I waited outside the x-ray room. I folded the corner of a page over as I told the hospital porter of course she is fine on her feet, you should see her on a bike, but even I doubted the truth of my words as my imagination crept around her silence and smallness. Her, I don’t want to die yet was met with assurances that I was unqualified to give, but gave anyway, sliding into mother mode.

We spent the evening at the hospital, Alice blew out her candles at home then off we went, armed with knitting magazines, chocolate éclairs and jelly babies. After visiting time was over, I dashed off to university to catch the end of a reading by visiting author Nicholas Royle. When I arrived, he was describing a story that his mother told him about women searching for amber on the beach. I thought about the stories my mother told me and the stories I tell in turn. I took my Gran home from the hospital this afternoon; that she didn’t tell any stories is a mark of how tired she was. When I said goodnight to Alice last night I told her the story of when she was born, it is one of her favourites: it is one of my favourites.

The urge to press pause at a perfect moment in life has passed, the present is too absorbing to countenance it. Before I went to bed I finished Who Do You Think You Are? In typical Munro fashion, the ending of the book takes the reader back to Rose’s childhood before catapulting her into the future. This technique allows the reader to see that Rose is many things – daughter, mother, lover, sister, child – all at once: she is an accumulation of her experiences. Tomorrow I’m hoping to start work on a story about a violin and an aging relative: it will be a case of examining my accumulated experiences and employing the vaccinating kind of imagination: describing things that I hope never happen. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a hopeful interlude at some point involving the appearance of an utterly fabulous daughter.


  1. I love your blog, its way interesting to read. Hope your gran is doing well and how about your brother?

  2. My Gran is feeling a lot better now. My brother, on the other hand, is not so good. Hope you and yours are all well and happy Julie :)

  3. Thanks Carys we are doing great thanks, Joshy turns 8 next month and will be getting baptised. I don't know where the time has gone to.