EN­TER THE STEP­FORD MOTHER

Her son wants a ‘yes dear’ mum, but Emily Houri­can is fol­low­ing her own mother’s ex­am­ple and say­ing, ‘no way’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON -

My el­dest son and I, will, I think, re­mem­ber this sum­mer with equal vivid­ness, but for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons. It has been The Sum­mer Of In­de­pen­dence. The Sum­mer of Bound­ary-Push­ing. The Sum­mer of ‘I’m Just Go­ing Out And I May Be Some Time’.

For him, it has prob­a­bly been a kind of a com­ing-of-age sum­mer in which he has marked the tran­si­tion from child­hood to some­thing more grown-up, com­plete with in­tense friend­ships and mo­ments of height­ened aware­ness, all bathed in a golden glow of ex­cite­ment. For me, it has been a time of anx­i­ety and vain ef­forts to smother my over­pro­tec­tive in­stincts, but with­out over­do­ing it and ne­glect­ing my parental re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

It started shortly af­ter his Con­fir­ma­tion, with his get­ting a phone, which cost him €160. Al­most im­me­di­ately, he smashed the screen, so that cost €120 to fix. “Why don’t you get one like mine?” I asked, show­ing my an­cient Nokia, that barely re­ceives texts, let alone email and the in­ter­net, “it does the job per­fectly.” He didn’t deign to an­swer.

Soon, he be­gan by­pass­ing the usual route of play­date or­gan­i­sa­tion — via mother to son — and mak­ing his own plans. “Can I go and meet so-and-so at the park?” That sounded in­no­cent enough, so, “OK”. Soon, though, the cou­ple of hours on the odd af­ter­noon be­came all day, ev­ery day. Set­ting off at 10am, with a prom­ise of be­ing back “by six”, and only the sketchi­est abil­ity to fill me in on what he would be do­ing for eight hours, and with whom.

And so “OK” be­came “I’m not so sure about that . . .” At which point, of course, the whole, “You never let me do any­thing” rant started.

I know what he wants — he wants a Step­ford Mother, who says, “Of course dear, have a lovely time. See you later”. Who asks no awk­ward ques­tions. Who doesn’t quiz his friends about what they have said to their par­ents, then quizzes the par­ents to see if the sto­ries match.

I know this, be­cause I used to want

bil­dungsro­man;

the ex­act same thing. “Why can’t she just say yes and not fuss about whether she knows peo­ple’s par­ents and what ex­actly we’re do­ing?” I used to think, fu­ri­ously, when my mother ques­tioned me closely about the vague plans I pre­sented her with. “What does it mat­ter if she knows where I am, as long as I come back when I say I will?”

I longed for a pleas­ant, smil­ing au­tom­a­ton, who just said yes to all the silly, fran­tic schemes, dreamed up on a whim, com­mit­ted to in an in­stant: “If I can’t go to the amuse­ment ar­cade with Ni­cola, I’ ll die . . .” In­stead, my mother was likely to give my friends the third-de­gree, ring their par­ents (in be­tween say­ing, “How kind, maybe you could just hoover the stairs? And the bath­room needs a re­ally clean,” when they were stupid enough to ask syco­phan­ti­cally, ‘Is there any­thing I can do to help?”), and cat­e­gor­i­cally refuse to let me hang out with kids she hadn’t known since they were five.

It drove me crazy. I con­sid­ered her over­pro­tec­tive, ab­surd, and my­self supremely grown-up, more than able to take care of my­self and judge the de­sir­abil­ity or oth­er­wise of my so­cial sit­u­a­tions. Now, of course, I am reap­ing the whirl­wind I once sowed. Be­cause, fi­nally, I get it. These ques­tions, this ob­ses­sion with who/ where/what, is an at­tempt to hang on to them, even as we know they are des­tined to leave. We are ter­ri­fied of let­ting go, of see­ing our chil­dren dis­ap­pear over the hori­zon and into the adult world, where any­thing can hap­pen to them.

My re­sponse to not hav­ing a Step­ford Mum was sham­ing — I lied through my teeth. I ran a sta­ble of imag­i­nary friend­ships, girls I had barely seen in years, and used their names in­stead of the newer, more ex­cit­ing friend­ships. My son is bet­ter than that, I hope and be­lieve, and so he sulks, but obeys. So far. And maybe he, too, will fi­nally come to ac­cept in me what I se­cretly ad­mired in my mother, even while curs­ing her — the very fe­roc­ity with which she re­fused to do as I wanted; her fight-to-the-death against Step­ford Any­thing.

good

This is an at­tempt to hang on to them, even as we know they are des­tined to leave

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