9/13/2008

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.


-Philip Larkin

Admittedly, my knowledge of Larkin is limited beyond my awareness of this poem. I hear he liked a drink (what poet doesn't?), and that his father had an odd zest for Nazism. I came across the poem in the Family section of our favourite weekend newspaper, The Guardian, a couple of years ago. I took a liking to it immediately as a new mother fearing her own inadequacies, as well as a person who appreciates highbrow literary types - Larkin was asked to be Poet Laureate but declined - beginning a poem with a line so strong as "they fuck you up, your mum and dad..."

The first line of this poem is on a constant loop in my head as I muddle through days as a mother. It was present when I was in a coffee shop with P last week, our conversation consisting mainly of "P, please sit down", "P, Mummy says no shoes on the chair", "P, Mummy would like you to eat your muffin nicely and not like a savage." It hovers as I'm letting P run the length of an aisle in the supermarket, ensuring that she doesn't run into other shoppers, but not quite motivated enough to deal with the certain tantrum which would result from stopping her. Larkin's words echo as I allow her sweet face and big, pleading blue eyes to convince me without speaking that she needs yet another horse from the generic My Little Pony collection which she is so fond of.

My Mom has always said that no one is ever truly ready to become a parent. Even with my relative new presence in the sphere of motherhood I've also realised that you won't know for years whether you have done more fucking up than raising well. My general approach to parenting is a relaxed one - I encourage P to explore, I don't overuse the word "no", I ensure that she doesn't eat rubbish, I give constant cuddles, we sing songs all the bloody time, and I make sure she knows how clever and wonderful she is.

This all points to being a good mother, but looking at the examples provided above, you can flip all of those to be negatives - exploring leads to recklessness and ignorance of boundaries, lack of exposure to being told "no" can mean your kid is a spoiled, entitled brat, too much strictness with foods can be a gateway to eating disorders/food issues, too much physical contact can affect independence, and showering a kid with praise all the time could leave you with an arrogant prat of an adult child.

I know that like everything else in life, it's about the blessed happy medium. However, also like everything else, finding that balance is difficult. One day I think I'm far too accommodating, then on another I feel like a cruel tyrant. I happen to think P is as well-behaved as a two year old can possibly be, but I suspect all those bastards that cast us numerous hairy eyeballs when she tantrums would beg to differ.

I think of my own parents, who must have raised me well as I think that if P turns out like me, then we would have avoided Larkin's bold assertion. It's tremendously arrogant of me to hope my daughter is like me because I'm so great or something, but I'm really not too bad. Ok, I'm a flake, which I get from my Mom. I'm hard to get to know, a gift from my Dad. I hear some people are intimidated by me, so again, thanks Dad. I love the arts and culture, something else I managed to inherit from my Mom.

All in all, I'm kind of alright. I'm hoping P will be the same and I don't fuck her up. Not too much anyway.

8 comments:

Aunt Becky said...

You won't fuck her up too badly. Or, I should say, you'll fuck her up in the same ways we all fuck our kids up: by something random you don't even realize you do. But kids? Resilient little buggers.

Brigindo said...

Somehow I think it is the people who worry so much about achieving that balance; who critique their parenting behaviors, styles, what-have-you, that are least likely to fuck up their children.

To me the most important aspect of good parenting is to be self-aware; to parent consciously; to be active and engaged parents. People vary greatly on what methods they believe should be used and vary on the methods they use day-to-day but to me Larkin's poem is more appropriate for people who parent mindlessly, and often, selfishly.

Doesn't sound like you have any of that so I'm sure P will turn out amazing...since she already is.

Lori said...

Yeah, I often wonder how expensive therapy will be for my two with all the fucking up we're bound to do. I just try not to fuck up too badly.
Your style sounds a lot like ours, though we do use "no" what seems like quite a bit. But we don't get too freaked out by what we think is ordinary almost 2 year old behavior.
We're just muddling through best we can.
Though I have a friend who seems to have a very permissive style that I think has resulted in the flip side you described in your approach. And it is a purposeful parenting style with her. Her kids don't listen to her and don't respect her authority. That example sits in my head everytime I'm tempted to say "eh, no biggie" to something the kiddos are up to that should really be discouraged.

Magpie said...

Good poem.

I'm sure we'll all fuck 'em up a little - just hopefully not too much.

Irene said...

I was fucked up by my parents and in turn fucked up my kids, but all in al we didn't turn out too badly, although we do know our own particular neuroses and heartaches. I think to stop the cycle, somebody needs to stop having children. It could have been me and might have been a good choice. As it is, the cycle continues, because I now have a grandchild.

Korechronicles said...

Yeah, I get what Larkin is saying and looking around at my birth family I can only say "Right on, Phil, old son". But I am equally certain that there are very few, my dear departed parents included, who come home from the hospital with their tiny new treasure proudly wrapped in their arms and say to each other, "How many ways can we fuck this kid up?" And then set out to do it.

elizasmom said...

I like my parents, and I think that on the whole they did a fantastic job raising me — I have my, er, "quirks," but I am employable and marriagable and such and on balance happy, so I think they did right by me. Still, I definitely went through a phase where I picked them and their motives apart (hello, therapy!) and was just ultra-aware of every real and imagined slight. And, I tell you, even though I know everyone does it, sometimes, I just get so sad thinking that it's inevitable that one day, Eliza is going to come at me with a similar laundry list of ways we messed her up. I already feel like a failure, even though I don't even know yet what she's going to blame me for. But that is just too damn depressing when there are toddler feet to snorfle and bellies to tickle and cheeks to kiss and ears into which to whisper how very very much I love her, so I choose to focus on the snorfling and kissing instead. HEAD IN THE SAND!

Rachel said...

I think grandchildren will be the litmus test for whether or not we did all right. My parents did their level best to fuck me up as much as they could. Add some biochemical issues and drug use into the mix, and I spent my 20's being very fucked up indeed. But I got through it.
Now I have The Jillian, and my mom said to me the other day that it would appear that THEY were successful as parents because *I* appear to be a successful parent (so far). Does that make sense?

As for me, I think I'm doing a pretty good job. My child is happy, healthy, crazy-smart, and certifiably insane, like most other 2-year-olds. Check back in 12 or 13 years and THEN we'll see.