Mothers’ Day, Mothering Sunday, who do we include?

Anyone who’s read my books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

will know they feature families and several different kinds of mothers. Professional women struggling to juggle the work and the family; a pastor’s wife expected to mother the congregation as well as her five growing children; a mother who has escaped a violent teenage marriage, been forced to abandon her child,  and worked in a women’s refuge … Though all are western mothers, and only one has suffered the trauma of the stillbirth of a malformed baby.

This Sunday is Mothers’ Day

or as it used to be known, Mothering Sunday. The middle Sunday in Lent, when (as you may already know), domestic servants had a day off to go and visit Mother.

Hedgerow spring flowers
Hedgerow spring flowers

Many of them would be just kids, really: girls the age we now count legally as children, girls who’d now be in school, girls too young to marry, and who we count as being too young to be seduced into sex. Sent out to earn a living as young teens, some as young as twelve, living in a servants’ attic, eating in the servants’ kitchen surrounded by adults. A visit home to Mother and the sisters and brothers was a real treat. They might take Mother a bunch of flowers, picked from a hedgerow along the way …

In fact, it’s a day about showing love.

So, here we are on Mothers’ Day
Me and my daughter, summer 1981

with cards, shop windows and catalogues of possible gifts, and for churchgoers a service where little  bunches of flowers are given out to the mums.

The churches have also, so as not to leave out the childless, so as to be inclusive, led the way to this becoming an all-women’s day.

It’s a good intention: but is there actually a reasonable argument for keeping this day to specially celebrate and be thankful for mothers? For what they do, for what they go through to produce, nurture, and protect, children? Hoping not to hurt anyone’s feelings, I think there is.

Every-Mothers’ Day

We might up-date celebrating mothers by being aware of mothers world-wide.

Well off, well educated, mothers in Western countries, aren’t in the majority of women on the planet. And we have health care to ensure that (usually) pregnancy, birth, and the post-natal days are safer than ever before. Clean water, a warm home, an income, maternity leave, all work towards happy motherhood. Postnatal depression can be treated.   

Most young girls here have not gone through FGM, with all that does to intercourse and giving birth. 

Most have not, at puberty, had an arranged marriage, which nicely puts an end to education, can lead to pregnancy  before they are fully grown and developed, can lead to dangerous childbirth, or at worst to death.

Most western women do not develop a fistula from going through complicated, protracted labour and delivery in a poverty stricken area without enough doctors, nurses, or trained midwives: for us, the minority, there are maternity units with skilled staff who can perform a safe caesarean.

But all these events give a very realistic picture of being a mother in, say, somewhere like Afghanistan, or many African countries..

Mums in the refugee camps in Europe
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters

Having fled war, mothers living in makeshift shelters are having keep an eye on their young girls. Living in a tent, or substandard group housing, girls are vulnerable to abduction, presumably to be used for sex. It isn’t nice: it’s a terrible worry for parents. Especially for mothers, who know what sex with an older, maybe roughly forceful, man would be like for their young girls.

So, it’s a day about love?

I would really love to see Mothers’ Day become a day when we think about the reality of being  mothers. While being thankful to our mothers, and for our own safe birth, let’s do more than that. 

That’s not to say we need to deny ourselves giving and receiving flowers, chocs and hugs … But whether or not we are mothers, inclusivity might mean showing empathy to mothers less fortunate: giving to an organisation which cares for women as mothers.Let’s make Mothers Day about love and generous inclusivity 

Find out about fistula, FGM, and other related topics:

Information on FGM, and other related topics

What is a fistula, how are they caused, why are they so dangerous and excluding? 

AUTHOR EVENT:

Celebrate books and reading:

It will soon be time for the second 

 Hawkesbury LitFest … Saturday 23rd April, all day

at Hawkesbury Upton … author readings,

talks, poetry, children’s activities … in a Cotswold

Village setting 

Writing a series: re-connecting with a vision of my characters

 Cambridge: Clare College bridge
Clare College, Cambridge: the bridge

So – when I began Baby, Baby, and even when I decided there was more to tell, and embarked on The Labyrinth Year, series were popular.  But I hadn’t thought in terms of a series. Love you to the Moon (the ‘work in progress’, novel 3 of the Mullins Family saga) now finds Max and Jenny as long-established professionals, into their forties, and parents of teens. It is 2007, and daughter Alice is almost the age Jenny is in some of the backstory scenes of Baby, Baby.

Sennen Village Primary School
Sennen Village Primary School

This is where the writer must skilfully re-connect with the characters, and imagine them forwards through the maturity (or not) that comes with time. Construct a backstory: career events, giving birth and raising kids, all that makes a family saga real for the reader. I shudder at the character changes we’re sometimes presented with by TV soaps – just to fit in the latest cliff-hanger story-line, and I dread falling into that myself!

Clare College entrance, where Jenny met Max
Clare College entrance, where Jenny met Max

Part of me even tries to suggest that this mis-matched pair would surely have parted by now?

If you, reading this, are a writer, I wonder how you would embark on re-finding Jenny, age 42? Last time I knew her, she was barefoot on the beach at Sennen, ten years younger, exiting a labyrinth drawn in the sand by her stepsister Daisy (known as Daze).

01/09/2004 11:23
The sand at Whitesands Bay, Sennen Cove

Daisy’s idea was that everyone walked the labyrinth, carrying a stone or other object to represent something they will leave behind as they move on…

 

Jy's stone 2
Jenny kept the stone which she’d forgotten to leave in the centre of the Labyrinth

… But Jenny finds, as she leaves the path, that she’s still carrying her stone. It feels heavy in her hand.

This led me to say, There is more, here … we should continue the  journey…

Like Daze, I’m a visual artist, so I’ve turned to studying the photos I’ve taken, over time, of the key places in Jenny’s life so far …

Lobster boats, Sennen Cove
Lobster boats, Sennen Cove

… the journey from Sennen Primary School, where she was the new girl in Year 2, after her parents separated …

 

 

 

Camb market
Cambridge Market (where Jenny unexpectedly meets Daisy, pregnant …)

to the local Cape Cornwall secondary school in nearby St Just…

 

to studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge

Typical lab desk, Oxford University Dept. of Pharmacology
Typical lab desk, Oxford University Dept. of Pharmacology

 

 

and her career as a research  scientist in Oxford …

Where next, Jenny? And who with?

 

 

Who are your friends and mentors, what is happening back in West Cornwall, and how is it for you, being a career scientist, a wife, and Mum to two bright teenage girls? Is there drama in this – and, who’s perception of love will drive them to despair?

 

 

DSC04335.JPG
 Oxford Canal

The Labyrinth Year begins with a narrowboat holiday,

 

 

and takes Jenny to speak at a conference in California,

 

 

then ends with her career as an Oxford scientist in jeopardy ..

Oxford University science area from the Parks
Oxford University science area from the Parks

N Ben's garden 2008 - 2

And who is trying to take over the storytelling next?

Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

Standing with Parisians, under the tricolour

Soon after ‘Remembrance Day’ I find myself symbolically dressed

It wasn’t until I added a beret (because it was howling a gale outdoors and I didn’t want my hair blowing across my face) that I glanced in the mirror and saw I was dressed in the colours of the Tricolour. Freudian, you say? Hardly: a navy and white striped skirt demanded a plain jumper, and the cherry-coloured one, bought recently, went perfectly: red and navy, a traditional match.

We have exchanged the red poppies of peace in Europe, produced originally as reminders never to go to war again, for the Tricolour, which arose from the French Revolution. We stand united with the people of Paris, traumatised since Friday’s terrorism. What our leaders decide to do about this may  look like retaliation, or ‘revenge’.

Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)
Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)

For days I’ve wished the rhetoric would stop, sadness at the consequences of all our clashing histories would sink in, and be admitted, and  recognised in as many ways as possible. Busy deciding on whether to write about ‘Christmas, what does it mean to you?’ or ‘Why I write what I write’ for my next blog, I’ve ‘procrastinated’ by working on my novel.

Novel number 3 in the Mullins Family Saga: Love You to the Moon is themed around the vexed question of  what we mean by ‘love’. Constructed to include a variety of expressions of love, the plot should lead towards a catastrophic gesture in which the love (obvious to its perpetrator but not to anyone else) is certainly debatable.

So what do we mean by ‘Love’?

On Saturday, a quote from Martin Luther King was circulating on Facebook. The message, basically, was love can conquer hate. Meant as a message hope, this carries within it the sad fact that hope is so crushable, so disposable, and so easily forgotten.

Martin Luther King was a preacher, and knew his Bible: in the words he chose, he had adapted a phrase, well known and read at most Carol Services. Soon it will be Christmas, and all over Britain crowds, whether normally churchgoers or not, will hear it read: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sometimes the original Greek phrase is translated as ‘the darkness has not comprehended (understood) it.’ Here’s something so significant for our time. Light shining into darkness illuminates, penetrates, and makes everything clear to see. When we further translate, using love for light, then love being shown to those who do not understand love, and whom we believe to have acted through hate (translated darkness) should be a powerful weapon, or rather, a powerful overcomer, for love doesn’t seek, in overcoming, to destroy.

However … were it that easy!

My motivation for looking at ‘love’ in the next Mullins family series is to try and tease out, in story,  the meanings, and the interpretations, of this so widely and over-used word.  ‘Altruism’ or unselfish acts, given freely beyond duty or  expectation of ‘payback’ has been dismissed, debunked, or denied existence  by thinkers like Richard Dawkins: we all know about The Selfish Gene or we think we do. Every unselfish act is really me-directed. (Really …?)

Alongside that belief, ‘love’ is used when ‘desire’,  ‘instinct’ or ‘desire to control’ would fit the context better. Literature is filled with such uses and excuses. A  banner at a demonstration against domestic violence, especially rape, reads ‘Love shouldn’t Hurt’, but  the obviously contextual meaning  was ‘Sex shouldn’t hurt’. Which was somehow also sad since love, as in generosity, does quite often hurt,  but in a very different way.

The bothersome questions

So, back to Paris, Friday 13th, and the sudden atrocities in the city perhaps most associated with Love (equals sex/romance)?  Emotions poured out, candles and flowers, expressing sorrow, horror, fear: immediate reactions.

A few days on,  if we collectively self-identify with the light/love quote expressed in that and, adopt a Tricolour solidarity as our Facebook profile, what does this mean to us, to  those who were caught up in the events, or to on-lookers?  We need to ask ourselves this question.  Long term, what is this solidarity? And to answer with honesty and integrity. Would we agree to do everything in our power to seek revenge, or to see that the collective reaction of Europe is not one of hatred, and if so, what actually does getting involved mean?  Are our collective hands clean anyway, in historical terms, are we white as pure light, or have we, as  nations, thrown elements into the international pot which is now boiling over?

Are we also fundamentalists, our current fundamentalism being free speech, strangely coupled with a strong cultural preference for secular values? Historically the religious cultural background of Europe, brought over from the Middle East itself, are not control, empire-building or capitalism. Ironically, they are based on a teaching of ‘love towards enemies’ with a bias towards the poor and the disadvantaged. It was for our founder to be the basis for condemnation and execution.

The shadow of revenge

While realising that in pragmatic, realistic terms, air strikes and retaliation may be forced upon the international community, it is horrifying to hear the rhetoric from some international leaders. At the same time, standing back we wonder at our own reactions, hope these are more than ‘knee-jerk’ and whether our love is real enough to stand testing. What do candlelight vigils and bouquets really mean, once the candles burnout and the flowers wither and fade? When the street cleaners clear it all up – which they will inevitably  have to.

How ironic that the attack took place only 2 days after the anniversary of the Armistice: is anyone left alive who can recall that day, and how felt? ‘Remembering’ was instituted so that there would ‘be no more war’, and not to ‘glorify the military’. SInce then, weapons and devices have increased in power and in use.

I return to writing my novel themed around what is love, using that phrase which, analysed for meaning would be found to be meaningless: Love You to the Moon.

Related Articles (which I’ve read in the past few days) you may find interesting:

From The Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Sunday 15th November  (The information here is referred to in Arab Digest, a blog which collects together articles from journalists and experts on the Middle East from around the world)

SheridanVoysey’s blog on Turning the other cheek in an age of terrorism