I am reading Under A Wing by Reeve Lindbergh, her story of growing up in her famous family. I read another book recently, The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin, about her mother, Anne. It is a fictional characterization written as a memior which left me a bit unsatisfied on a number of levels. It was poorly written, lacked depth and it took liberties, in my opinion, that were unbalanced and unkind. Under A Wing by the Charles and Anne’s youngest daughter is the opposite.
I want to share a paragraph I read in Reeve’s book that I find enlightening and personally healing. Reeve is sharing conversations she had with her mother in her later years long after her father had passed. This conversation took place as Reeve was driving her mother to visit her Aunt Con in Maine. I won’t follow it with my own comments, but rather, will leave it to you to let it speak of your own memories.
“I was surprised and disconcerted to hear my mother tell me that she had often thought of her parents as ‘inaccessible’, a word I had not heard her use before this conversation. Anne (Reeve’s sister) and I had used it quite recently, though, and more than once, when discussing together the preoccupation and busy lives of our own father and mother during the time we were growing up. They were so involved with their work, their travels, their writing, we had said to each other. He was physically, she emotionally absent for long stretches at a time, we had decided. After our conversation I had thought about all the family trips we took together, and about our father teaching us to swim and to drive, about his reading The Jungle Book out loud on winter evenings in front of the living room fire. I thought about the time when I was sick in bed with an earache and my mother came and sat with me all afternoon without saying a word, in my darkened bedroom, and held my hand. I thought of all these times and became uneasy, and I was uneasy now, again, listening to my mother. Her complaints about her parents were so familiar that they threw me back on myself. I wondered about this cry of ‘inaccessibility’. Is it universal? What is it about? Is it true that all parents are too busy to pay full attention to their children? Or is the truth instead that no child can ever be satisfied, because no child can have every ounce of a parent’s attention? Do we all imagine ourselves, whether we are teenagers, middle aged, or octogenarians, as insufficiently appreciated children? When my children talk to each other, the way Anne and I did, do they voice these same complaints? And will their children say the same?”