MEGAN NICOL REED
On finding kindred spirits
On finding kindred spirits
Two sons. No girls. I imagine that was my appeal. That and my adoration. For who wouldn’t want to be worshipped like that? Seven years old, I would have walked over hot coals for a few minutes in her company. I don’t need to delve deep for the reasons why. She had the thickest French accent, was supremely stylish, loved food. I would rummage through her overflowing jewellery box while she fed me baguette and strong cheese. Once, she let me take home a half-moon, iridescent black clutch appliqued with leather clouds and gulls. It was at her house I first tasted olives. How did I recognise at that tender age that here was a kindred spirit? Did I seek her out for her passions? Or did her interests, her traits form my own?
I have observed my daughter’s small devotions. Typically she has reserved her affections for teenage girls with a pony obsession to equal her own. I get it. I have zero interest in discussing the best way to lunge a horse. The object of her current infatuation, though, is a little older; very pretty, incredibly kind, not remotely into horses. Together they watch baking shows, plan elaborate vegan sweet treats and discuss makeup looks.
It intrigues me in a way her idolatry of horsey girls hasn’t. Because the thing is I like making cakes. I like makeup. She could do these things with me. But, if I am perfectly honest, there is little pleasure to be had for either of us in doing these things together. When we bake she eats all the mixture and manages to get sticky hands everywhere. She does not listen and forever wants to complicate things. When I do her makeup she is hyper-critical, frequently disappointed, always moves when I’m trying to apply the liquid eyeliner. She says I am mean and bossy. That I always ruin her fun. Whether cooking cupcakes or painting her face to look like Harley Quinn, inevitably it ends in both our tears.
I was beginning to wonder if she was right, if I was just a horrid spoilsport, but then a friend, who would rather avoid the kitchen if she can, asked whether her daughter might make dessert with me. Sure, I said. We discussed what we would serve, how we would cater for differing dietary requirements, wrote a shopping list, painstakingly prepared it, adapted our plan when disaster threatened; it was a joy from beginning to end. But when the tart came out and everyone was full of praise I tried to hide my pride in my protege’s efforts. For I could feel my daughter’s eyes on me and I did not know what to say to her.
It made me reflect on my own childhood. My mother made exquisite clothes and threw Middle Eastern-themed dinner parties when everyone else was still stuck on meat and three veg. However, I can remember her fury when I took some fabric from her sewing room without asking. And I can remember refusing to take her advice on a recipe and finishing up with a plate of slop.
How did it make you feel, I asked her recently, my crush on your friend? Well, she said, there was a kind of glow, it was affirmation, I guess, that I’d done a good job in bringing you up, that I had raised a human being who could connect with others independently of me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it wasn’t tinged with sadness, too.
Perhaps the love which binds parent and child will always have the potential to complicate their interactions and actions. Perhaps helping a child to understand the value of seeking out different people to fulfil different needs is sometimes the greater gift.
Kath kicks herself when she hears what comes out of her mouth at times. “I tell my kids it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, but blimey sometimes I wish I had someone reminding me to think before I speak, or type. Love the idea of a cartwheel, too, but after having kids no chance of that again – perhaps a quick salute to the sun!” Lesley says she always taught her children to bite their tongue, however, her partner has never learned. “[He] has a head that doesn’t engage the mouth – the number of boxes of chocolates over the years that have been dropped off after a party would fill a large suitcase.”
Perhaps the love which binds parent and child will always have the potential to complicate their interactions and actions.