I think it was Rebecca West who once described this society as one in which middle-aged men run around complaining about their mothers. But from the look of the best-seller list, where "My Mother, Myself" is spending its gestation period, we seem to be a nation where grown-up women are running around ruminating about their mothers.
Fortunately, the author of this book, Nancy Friday, is no stick-fingered whiner like Portnoy. Her book makes at least one direct hit a chapter. Is there a mother alive, for example, who wouldn't brush her daughter's hair from her eyes before she walked up the podium to pick her Nobel Prize? Is there a daughter who hasn't felt loved, comforted and yet infuriated and trapped by her mother's ability to "know" what's she's feeling - even 3,000 miles away?
The incidents, the sensations and experiences of the women in this book often ring true.
Yet, since I have had the nagging feeling that something is missing. Friday's complaint is about maternal possessiveness, the inability of a mother to let go and of a daughter to get free. But she lacks the perspective that van only come from being a mother as well as a daughter.
From the title to the end, Friday, a confirmed non-parent, presents a one-sided veiw of a two-way relationship. It is, therefore, for me, as flawed as a one-sided explanation of a car accident.
It is perhaps impossible to fully portray symbiosis or the drama of dependency without a sense of the wrenching, overpowering life experience of parenthood. All of the mainstream American child-raising values lead us only to function as young, independent adults in the years between our childhood and our parenthood.
But children, no matter how planned, no matter how longed for, come into most of our lives as a crisis of change. There is an almost physical shock - the shock of responsibility, the shock of infant dependency.
Kids arrive bearing baggage full of nightmares about neglect and daytime terrors of guilt. We begin to do things we once laughed at - making midnight breathing checks and mental lists of what can go wrong.
Whole highways of feeling are suddenly, prematurely, opened while certain avenues of options are suddenly, temporarily, closed. We become responsible.
We see the world as a far more treacherous place. We train ourselves to keep danger in childproof bottles. We turn our lives, like Cinderella's, around time clocks and are self-disciplined into putting the needs of another above our own.
Parrenting does not, at least these days, come naturally. No matter how softened by love, it arrives stunningly. There is not only the first shock of infant dependence, but the simultaneous notion that the business of a "successful" parent is to raise strong, independent people. Just like we were.
Traveling through parenthood we hear not only warnings about the evils of neglect and the ends of smothering, but also other voices - our children's. It isn't only the parents who act and the children who react. It is a fluid and rich and complicated interaction.
I'm convinced that it is as difficult for a growing child to acknowledge and accept the separate life of a parent as it is for a parent to acknowledge that in a child. Our children want us to be totally available but never demanding, totally dependable but never dependent.
So, together we lurch through the mutual experience of childhood and parenthood. Together we struggle to calibrate the apapropriate distance between suffocating symbiosis and neglect.
We try to find a way to hold each other, to hug without grasping .
This process, as difficult as it is eternal, isn't just a matter of My Mother, Myself. It flows on and on ... My Mother, Myself, My Daughter ... a story that can only grow richer with sequels.