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November 8, 2012 / Kate Gross

Is she a ‘Norphan, Mummy?

I find myself drawn to the books I read as a child. With time on my hands I should read all the novels I never got round to (and I will, I promise). But I often feel needy and unadventurous, so I pick up an old favourite from the days when I first discovered books, and the stories seemed so exciting, so vivid that the characters have lived in my head ever since. Ballet Shoes and the Painted Garden. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Horse and His Boy. The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, and JK Rowling (though I’ve always thought HP pales into insignificance next to these earlier giants). Plus, our current, rather lax style of parenting is also allowing for a great deal of movie watching, and I have been revisiting the Disney back-catalogue with O &I: Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Snow White, the Lion King. It’s probably because I’m feeling less robust than normal that I notice, notice, notice what the development folk call maternal mortality, and I just call dead mummies, or indeed just the absence of any parents. Being a rational student of literature, I know that the motherless child, or worse still, the orphan (or ‘Norphan, in the Gross household) is a literary trope designed to give the hero or heroine space away from the rules of adult life to develop their independent selves, a terrifyingly free place where magic can happen and the rules be tested and broken. But it is surely also a way for these grown-up authors to explore their own fears of leaving children behind, or themselves being abandoned.

As I sit waiting – yes, still waiting – to find out how far the Nuisance has spread and what can be done about it, I’m not afraid. Not for me, anyway. But I think about Oscar and Isaac all the time. How robust their little bodies seem, but how much they already understand (“Mummy, here is your tummy protector so we can jump on you”). How little we know about the future and what it will bring for them, for me, for Billy. And this is where what I read and watch seems give me an outlet for my worry, a cartoonish way to imagine the unimaginable of leaving them. Will I end up like Mufasa looking down over my little Simbas from the starry heavens? Will Oscar and Isaac turn out wild like Peter Pan’s lost boys? Or starved in an attic by some evil school master like Sara Crewe? Perhaps I could come back as the family Patronus (a lioness, natch) to protect the brood forever?

Before you all start to fret that I am sliding into some kind of dreadfully dark place, or only thinking the worst: worry not. I am honestly FINE. But we all need to think about the bad stuff, to try and process it in our heads, so we can live with the fear. Because as my own mummy always says (paraphrasing Kahlil Gibran, I believe) our sorrow is our joy unmasked, and we have to acknowledge the possibility sorrow to enjoy the joy. And this blog is not just for me to share my deep desire for luxury goods, but also what I hope and fear. Writing it, naming it, is a very cathartic thing for me. As I am sure it was for Frances Hodgson Burnett and the rest. But please, please, never mention Bambi. There is such a thing as too much.







Leave a Comment
  1. Jenny / Nov 8 2012 4:25 pm

    A lioness? Surely Labrador! X

  2. Lesley / Nov 8 2012 7:50 pm

    You know I was fine until you mentioned Bambi. Avoid the War Horse too. Let me know if you wish me to bring round Merry for shouty distractions x

  3. Laurie Lee / Nov 12 2012 10:58 pm

    Dear Kate
    I’ll talk to you about kids next time I see you, but reading your blog and about the tummy protector makes me hope you might enjoy watching this TED talk I just saw on a plane.
    I’m not sure if you are a gamer. If you are you will probably love it. If you are not, you will still find it interesting and because of Oscar and Isaac and the games they play will think about it more than you expect. Well, I did anyway.

    all the best

  4. Jess Glover / Nov 13 2012 4:02 pm

    OK so here’s a problem: you write too well, and have a somewhat unique authority in this matter, so what are your mere blog-responders to do? Carry on regardless… I have been racking my brain for literary and cultural counter-references. So far (my brain is not what it was) I have come up with: the Virgin Mary (maybe not such a great model), Mrs Peepo (very ever present), and Mrs Mog-the-Cat (also very ever present, if preoccupied with hats). My thesis is that these references should be used for their cathartic qualities where appropriate, but that they can only take you so far. I quite like the idea of you as a combination of Mrs Mufasa and Mrs Peepo. But much more relevant I think are your stories and our stories about you (among which I can think of a few that make any link to the Virgin Mary extremely tenuous). To the extend that you ever need help defining your past, present or future self as distinct from the humourless cancer sufferer, that’s what we and our stories can do. xxx

  5. Eileen / Nov 14 2012 2:26 pm

    The Secret Garden and Little Women were among my favourites. Before Sex and the City I remember thinking girls in my class were either an Amy, Beth, Meg or Jo. I so wanted to be Jo but think I proabably was always a Meg. Not sure if you would have read these ones Kate or were they for my generation? Stig of the Dump or The Silver Sword.
    My love of books was of course because of dad and the frequent trips to the library, every Thursday in fact for years. On one occassion during the dark days of the troubles dad and I were caught up in one of the frequent gunbattles which raged during the seventies. We lay on the floor of the library while soldiers took up position at the windows and eventually when it all quietened down we raced home. I remember crying on the way home because I had no library books that week while poor dad was just focused on getting us home.We went back as usual the following week !

  6. Tracey / Nov 20 2012 3:24 pm

    Don’t forget good old Enid Blyton! Now you have hours on your hands, maybe time to revisit The Enchanted Wood and Folk of the Faraway Tree?! Or else one of those lovely big Enid Blyton books of bedtime stories, bet the boys would love it. I am reading one to Molly at the moment (but only cos it was my childhood favourite and I am determined to brainwash her into thinking it’s hers, too. She’s already saying ‘Mummy, shall we have a story from your favourite book tonight?’).

  7. David / Nov 21 2012 2:22 pm

    Jane McGonigal, who Laurie mentions in her post, also runs a ‘reality game’ to help people through long-term illnesses – details are here and there’s a good description in Reality Is Broken. One of the ideas is that it makes it easier for people to articulate and ask for the help they need; which, brilliantly, Kate, your blog is already doing.

  8. trenchantly / Jan 5 2013 7:09 pm

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