Monday, 21 October 2019

10-yr-old student earns praise after refusing to answer ‘offensive’ math problem about girls’ weight

In a picture of the answer shared online by the proud parent, Rhythm encircle the question and wrote "what!!!!" adding that, "This is offensive. Sorry I won't right [write] this it's rood [rude]."

A fourth-grade student from Utah is winning hearts online after she refused to solve an ‘offensive’ maths problem that asked students to compare girls’ weights. Her answer on the worksheet refusing to solve the sum stating her reason and a note to her teacher explaining her concern are going viral.
Rhythm Pacheco is winning hearts online after standing up for things she strongly believes in.

Rhythm Pacheco, a Grant Elementary School in Murray, recently was given a homework where a question involving body-weight of girls made her uncomfortable as she thought it was very rude. The problem read, “The table to the right shows the weight of three Grade 4 students. How much heavier is Isabel than the lightest student?”

In a picture of the answer shared online by the proud parent, Rhythm encircle the question and wrote “what!!!!” adding that, “This is offensive. Sorry I won’t right [write] this it’s rood [rude].”

The 10-year-old also went ahead and wrote a note to her teacher explaining why she couldn’t answer the question. “Dear Mrs. Shaw, I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t think that math problem was very nice because that’s judging people’s weight. Also, the reason I did not do the sentence is cause I just don’t think that’s nice. -Love Rhythm”

Speaking to Today, her mother Naomi said, “Rhythm’s dad and I were extremely proud of Rhythm for listening to her gut instincts and standing up for what is right. Rhythm’s teacher was so responsive and handled the situation with such care. She told her she understands how she would be upset about this and that she didn’t have to write out the answer.”

People on social media praised the little girl for “standing up for the things she believed in”, while a few others lashed out at the publishers who curated the assignments.

“I was shocked… I was shocked, honestly,” Naomi told Fox News about the homework question. “I feel like it’s such an irresponsible way to teach children how to do math,” Naomi said.

\After the girl went viral and it raised concerned among many parents online about the kind of questions through which children learn these days, Eureka Math, the company that provides core educational materials to the girl’s school district, released a statement regarding the questionable math problem.

“User feedback is a vital part of our culture; we are grateful to receive constructive feedback from students, teachers, and parents alike,” said the statement. “We apologize for any discomfort of offense caused by the question. Please know that we will replace this question in all future reprints, and suggest that teachers supply students with an appropriate replacement question in the interim.”

(Source: The Indian Express)

Going back to China in search of my daughter’s secret past

As an infant, my child was left on a bridge with a note pinned to her sweater. I thought finding it would provide us both with answers.

Seven thousand miles was a long way to go for a tiny scrap of paper. The note was pinned to my daughter’s sweater when she was found at seven weeks old on a bridge in Yixing, China. That’s what I had been told by the adoption coordinator there who had placed her in my arms.

This search was set in motion 15 years ago when, at 3, Sophie was astonished to learn from me that all babies don’t come from China but from inside their mothers. When I explained that another woman had given birth to her, not me, she protested.

I could not bring myself to utter the well-meaning evasion that she was “born in my heart,” as had many adoptive mothers I knew. But it didn’t matter what I said; her world had been upended and she kept trying to right it.

At 4, she said, “Mommy, I always think: How was I made? What was I made from? Was I made from someone?”

This was bewilderment; this was grief.

At 5, after I had tucked her in one night, she said, “But why did she give me away? Did she not like me?”

“Sophie, I’m sure that she loved you.”

“But why did she not like me? Why did she throw me away?”

At times she would plead, “Mommy, do you know her? Can we call her?”
Brian Rea

Her questions made my heart hurt, as did the awareness that the very system that had allowed me to adopt her also made me complicit in severing her roots.

Sometimes when I held her, I would think “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” before realizing the phrase was not mine to say, that there were two people walking this earth who could say it. I wanted Sophie to have a chance to find them. The only possible link between her and the part of herself she had lost on that bridge was the note.

Our age gap added urgency to the search. I would obsessively do the math: When she’s 20, I’ll be 70. When she’s 30, I’ll be 80. At some point, too early in her life, I’ll be gone. I believed that, as she matured, it wouldn’t be enough for her to know that she was part of a generation of 35 million lost daughters who, under the “one child” policy, were apparently aborted, abandoned or worse. Or that she was born into a culture where bloodlines pass through sons and folk wisdom holds that you’re better off raising geese than girls.

I knew my child. She would long for a reason more specific and personal. I wanted her to have whatever evidence could be found before it went missing or before I was no longer here to help her find it.

I began to dream of that note. I questioned those who had helped me adopt her, both in the United States and in China. I visited Chinese officials. All were kind and responsive, but the note never surfaced.

Then, when Sophie was 11, we had the opportunity to return to China on a winter tour. By this time, she no longer asked about her birth mother; she was preoccupied with “The Hunger Games,” her friends and convincing me to get a dog. She no longer enacted abandonment scenes with her toys; she spent her downtime practicing the horse dance from “Gangnam Style.” Her past no longer seemed to haunt her, but it did me.

After the tour, I arranged a trip to Yixing, the small city in the Yangtze River delta where she was found. If that note still existed, it would be there.

On a gray day in early January, we set out with our driver and translator. I was glued to the frozen landscape out the window; Sophie was glued to her iPod.

Our first stop was Yuedi Bridge, where, on August 4, 2001, at dawn, a passer-by heard the cries of an abandoned child. I had imagined one of those elegant crescent bridges in ancient Chinese paintings, but Yuedi Bridge was a concrete slab over a polluted canal.

As we walked across, I wanted to prostrate myself to the goddess of second chances who had granted me this child when I had all but given up on motherhood.

Fighting tears, I glanced at Sophie and saw that her face was also clouded over.

“Honey,” I said. “I know. This is hard.”

“Mommy,” she said, choking up. “This is so boring.”

I said nothing but pulled her close.

Whoever found Sophie had taken her to the local police station, the one place I hadn’t contacted as I couldn’t determine the precise precinct from the records. That was our next stop, and soon we were standing before a woman we hoped could help. But she said to our translator with a smile: “Records before 2005 were lost in a fire.”

“How can you smile?” I said. “A part of my daughter was lost in that fire!”

Sophie looked panicked. “Mom, stop it. They’re going to put us in jail!”

“O.K., we should go now,” the translator said.

Our last stop was the orphanage where Sophie had spent nine months after being found, a place that seemed stuck in time. When I adopted Sophie, Yixing was covered in ancient soot. There was nowhere for a foreigner to sleep. Now, there were 30 hotels. The China that had produced a generation of abandoned girls was quickly being swept into the past.

We were introduced to the new director who said that Sophie looked like “a local girl.” She instructed my daughter to study hard, help others, always love her mother and take care of me when I am old.

Sophie managed a polite smile, though I sensed her eye roll.

As we were leaving, the director handed me a file. I began to leaf through and saw the adoption papers I had signed 10 years before. Then I noticed something stuck between two pages: a torn, weathered bit of notebook paper with ballpoint scribbles.

I lifted the weightless scrap. The lines had faded. There were a few Mandarin characters and numbers. I deciphered Sophie’s date of birth, which of course I knew, and the exact time of her birth, which only her birthparents could know.

This was the note.

I handed it to Sophie, who glanced at it, then gave it back.

She seemed unmoved, but I was overcome. Through tears, I snapped image after image.

Back in the car, Sophie said, “The note said nothing, so why did we even go?”

I, too, was disappointed at how little was there, but I remembered reading of birth mothers, about to leave their girls, who had written pages, only to tear them up in shame and scribble a birth date instead. One birth mother had even sewn her baby an outfit of patterned cloth from which she cut a patch — a precious bit of proof to be preserved, perhaps, until the day they were reunited.

I knew one thing for sure: Even in its brevity, the note was evidence that my daughter was left to be found. She was not left to die.

Sophie is now 18. This child who once clung to my chest like a barnacle now lounges across the couch, a rope of hair swung over her shoulder, ice packs tied to each knee after track practice.

“Mommy, massage my feet?”

These days, it’s the only physical contact she invites. I’ll take what I can get. I knead her soft soles, notice her toenails, pearly and perfect. I ask what she thinks about our quest for the note, hoping she’ll acknowledge that words from her birth parents, few as they were, mattered.

“I didn’t care about the note,” she says. “You did. You made it about you and it’s my story, not yours.”

Had I missed how let down she might have felt by this scrap that we had pursued so fiercely yet said so little? Had I missed how pushy I may have been with my guilt, my determination and perhaps even my projection of abandonment and loss?

Had I not turned the note into my great white whale, perhaps I would have noticed that, at 11, Sophie was busy growing up as a beloved daughter in America. And while I had believed the note might help reconnect her severed roots, her annoyance made me wonder whether any human being can tell another what they need to feel tethered.

As for whose story it is — it’s Sophie’s, of course, but it’s mine too. Beyond my own desire to know what the note might reveal, I saw it as my only link to the people whose loss had led to my gaining the privilege of nurturing a child and watching her life unfold. Who were they? What had they suffered in abandoning their daughter?

After all, it’s their story, too, but one that is hidden from us, existing only as a scrawled fragment, a few marks on an otherwise blank shred of paper.

(Source: NYT)

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Some lessons in Astro Photography

Here's my latest on shooting Milkyway and some lessons in Astro Photography in today's Kannada Prabha newspaper. Here's the link

A bluebeard of wives

“Sabrina,” says my husband’s first wife, “is married to my husband.” I hear this through The Grapevine, a multibranched root system resembling the hearts of my husbands’ two ex-wives planted in the same plot of deep, fertile soil. Vines like earthy veins, growing tough and twisty. A friend brings me cuttings. I hold them to my ear and listen.

I tell my husband I am writing about Bluebeard. “Oh fuck,” he says.

I look in the mirror. I have become uglier and stronger. I look out the window. A white shed glows in my yard. I live in “the unguessable country of marriage.”

“Bluebeard” first appeared in Charles Perrault’s seventeenth-century Tales of Mother Goose. A man with a blue beard, several missing wives, and extraordinary wealth gives his newest wife all the keys to all the doors of his very fine house. “Open anything you want,” he says. “Go anywhere you wish.” Except for the “little room,” he says.

I ask my husband to clean out the garage, but instead, while I am gone for the summer with our sons, he builds in our backyard—dead center—a white shed. As the walls go up, his second wife drops their daughter off to live with us, possibly forever. She also drops off many boxes. Contents unknown. The garage is half empty now. The shed is half full. I call my mother. “Now there’s a shed in my yard,” I say. “Of course there’s a shed,” says my mother. “Better check it for wives.”

There are doors no third wife should ever open.

My husband, possibly the gentlest man on earth, came to me in a coat of old vows. I married him knowing he arrived with wives. Maybe I married him a little bit because the vows had somehow deepened the lines on his face. Like handwriting I wanted to read, but never could. I married him knowing, but I didn’t know the wives would keep growing in a locked room in my heart. Sometimes they move around, angrily. Sadly. Wives, like peeling wallpaper. Curling wives. Wives like skin. Wives who tell their daughters things that their daughters, my husband’s daughters, don’t tell me. That silence breathes inside me. “What did she say?” I am always asking. “What did who say?” my husband answers.

“Perhaps,” writes Angela Carter, “in the beginning, there was a curious room, a room like this one, crammed with wonders; and now the room and all it contains are forbidden you, although it was made just for you, had been prepared for you since time began, and you will spend all your life trying to remember it.”

I am not an incredibly jealous person, but it hurts to think of my husband saying, “I do. I do. I do.”

Once a month, for over a year, I am told my husband’s first wife is moving to our town any day now, but she never does. It’s like when my sons put silver spoons under their pillows hoping it will snow in Georgia. Neither the snow nor the wife ever comes. Except for once. But it wasn’t snow, it was hail.

“That’s a terrible comparison,” says my mother. “Wives? Snow? Who is putting what under whose pillow? Who wants the wives to come? You?”

Marriage is hard. There are days when all the dead wives are me. The wife who is never sad. Dead. Hanging on a hook. The wife with a good paying job. Dead. The wife with a clean garage and a window that looks out her kitchen. Dead. The dancing wife. Dead. The famous wife. The wife with straight teeth. The wife who throws sparkling dinner parties filled with brilliant poets. Dead, dead, dead.

What do you call more than one wife? A bluebeard of wives?

For a marriage to survive, pieces of the tale need to be left out. I prick a pinhole through the story so I don’t go blind staring directly at the sun. The deleted text message. The old regret. The surrender. My husband and I have been married for ten years. Longer than he’d been married to the other two wives, but not collectively. I don’t want my sons anywhere near the wives. As if they’d fall in, and I wouldn’t be there to jump in and save them. “‘Sinkhole’ and ‘quagmire’ are not flattering ways of speaking about other women,” writes Margaret Atwood in her version of the fairy tale, “but this was at the back of Sally’s mind.”

Few fairy tales have as rich an afterlife as “Bluebeard.” Sometimes it’s a bloody key, sometimes a withering flower, or an egg, or a rotten apple, or a heart-shaped mark on the forehead that is proof of the wife’s disobedience. Sometimes it’s the mother with her “black skirts tucked up around her waist” who saves the last wife from decapitation. “A crazy, magnificent horsewoman in widow’s weeds.” Sometimes it’s a dragoon and a musketeer. Sometimes it’s the wife who saves herself.

Like marriage, the cultural resilience of “Bluebeard” is mystifying.  And like a fairy tale, marriage belongs to a never-ending circulation of happily-ever-afters in the shape of a cliff. I rummage through a big box of gowns and beards. Someone has worn these before. Now my husband wears the beard. Now I wear the gown. I do. He does. We wear it like skin.

In Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” the nameless wife and the marquis’s matrimonial bed is surrounded by so many mirrors that when the marquis undresses his new bride what she sees is dozens of husbands undressing dozens of wives. And when the marquis tells his wife to prepare for her death, “twelve young women combed out twelve listless sheaves of brown hair in the mirrors.” On the edge of sex and death, the wife multiplies. She becomes the army of wives coming up over the hill. Are they coming to save her or join her? It’s hard to know.

I shouldn’t be writing any of this down. It is not a good idea. This essay is the bloody key. It’s my act of disobedience.

In the 1812 “Bluebeard,” published in Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Wilhelm Grimm (in the annotations) makes a handwritten comment that Bluebeard believed the blood of his wives could cure his beard of its blue. This is why the wives’ blood is collected in basins. He bathes in it. His dead wives are his medicine. An imaginary disease needs an unimaginable cure. “Magic,” writes Maria Tatar, “happens on the threshold of the forbidden.”

I look through old photographs of my husband. In one, he is with his second wife and their newborn daughter, who is asleep on a pillow. The pillowcase is gray and white and I recognize it as the same soft, worn pillowcase I now sleep on. Have slept on for years. My head fills up with hot static. A biting shame. I pull the pillowcase off and put it with the rags. I should give it to my stepdaughter, but I don’t and I don’t know why I don’t. I just don’t.

I am married to a man I love very much who had many lives before the life I now share with him. Sometimes I look around for myself in those lives. Under the bed. Behind a tree. One day I might just jump out, whispering boo.

Or maybe the wives should put me in a barrel stuck full of nails and roll me downhill into the river.

The first time I met my husband’s father was at his funeral. The casket was open. To this day, my husband’s father is the only dead person I have ever laid eyes on. Our son, Noah, would have his eyes, his mouth, but I didn’t know this yet. After my husband gave the eulogy, but before he could return to the nave, my husband’s first wife flew toward him like a soft white bat. A blur in the air that had been locked in a chamber for years. She collapsed into his arms. Shaking and sobbing and coming into focus, as if she was returning to life. I sat in the pew like a dumb little girl. They shared grief and they shared daughters. And by the time they had broken each other’s hearts, I was still nothing but a child.

If Bluebeard’s wives were killed for having laid their eyes on all the dead wives who came before them, then why did the first wife die? What could she have seen?

At the funeral I say hello to the first wife. She just stands there. Doesn’t say hello back. Just looks at me. I don’t know what to do so I hug her. And there we are. In each other’s arms. Swaying in a church. She is old enough to be my mother.

This is how you make a chain of paper wives: Cut a piece of paper lengthwise. Fold it into quarters, accordion-style. Draw half a wife on the top layer. Cut the wife out and unfold. Voila. You will get a chain of paper wives holding hands.

I’m the wife all the way at the end of the paper chain. I look to the left down the long hallway. I see the little room. The little room where writing is safe. Here is the combination: key, flower, egg, apple, heart. I open the door. I go in. Look at this place. It smells like being alive. If I could do it all over again I’d marry my husband in this little room. I’d give birth to my sons in this room. I’d die in this room. I would. I will. I do.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Motherhood makes you obscene

My mother had green eyes. Black hair. Her name was Marie Augustine Adeline Legrand. She was born a peasant, daughter of farmers, near Dunkirk. She had one sister and seven brothers. She went to teachers college, on a scholarship, and she taught in Dunkirk. The day after an inspection, the inspector who had visited her class asked for her hand in marriage. Love at first sight. They got married and left for Indochina. Between 1900 and 1903. A sort of commitment, adventure, a sort of desire, too, not for fortune but for success. They left like heroes, pioneers, they visited the schools in oxcarts, they brought everything, quills, paper, ink. They had succumbed to the posters of the era urging, as if they were soldiers: “Enlist.”

She was beautiful, my mother, she was very charming. Many men wanted her over the years, but as far as I know, nothing ever happened outside of her marriages. She was brilliant, and had an incredible way with words. I remember her being fought over at parties. She was one of a kind, very funny, often laughing, wholeheartedly. She was not coquettish, all she did was wash herself, she was always extremely clean. She had a sewing machine but she didn’t know what to have it make. I, too, until I was fourteen or fifteen, dressed like her, in sack dresses. When I started to become interested in men, I picked out my outfits more carefully. Then my mother had me sew incredible dresses, with frills, that made me look like a lampshade. I wore it all.

I’ve written so much about my mother. I can say that I owe her everything. In my everyday life, I don’t do anything that she didn’t do. For example, my way of cooking, of preparing a navarin of lamb, blanquettes. My love of ingredients, she had, too. I bore everyone at home with that. When there’s no extra bottle of oil on hand, it’s a problem. That’s normal. What’s abnormal is buying only one bottle of oil. What can you do with just one bottle of oil? What a disaster! What I’ve also inherited from my mother is fear, the fear of germs, along with the constant need to disinfect. This stems from my colonial childhood. Although my mother was very smart about practical things, she didn’t concern herself at all with the domestic realm. As if it didn’t exist. As if the house were a temporary thing, a waiting room. But the floors were washed every day. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more clean than my mother.

When my father died, I was four years old, my two brothers seven and nine. My mother then became the father as well, the one who earns a living, the one who protects, against death, against illness—at the time, there was a fear of cholera. All three of us were crazy about our mother, and we must have made her happy. She needed it, she showered us with a hysterical love, especially, even then, my older brother. Back then, she continued to teach for our benefit, and then, to increase her meager middle-of-nowhere teacher salary, she bought that notorious land with her twenty years of savings. Everyone’s heard the story, her failure, her fury at having been duped. A failure that for me came to represent tragedy, much more so than a department store burning down. She nearly went insane. I remember the epileptic seizures that would rattle her until she lost consciousness. We were terrified to see her like that, we would scream our heads off. During that time, she no longer laughed, it was a disaster. We no longer had anything and the loan sharks were after us. We witnessed it all. I would think: Is this really what life is?


My mother, though she loved us, was never affectionate. I, too, am wary of affection. Never did we embrace in our house, never did we shake hands, never did we say hello. Never did we say Happy New Year, or Happy Birthday, that would have made us laugh. Maybe a little wave when one of us left, and even then! It was later that I realized I missed that. When I arrived in France, you had to kiss people on both cheeks, ask them how they were doing, that whole song and dance, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.


What I wrote, my mother didn’t like, not at all. She would tell me nonstop: “You, you were made for business. You must get into business.” My mother, daughter of farmers, regretted all her life not getting into business. From the beginning, she understood nothing of my books. She was sort of illiterate when it came to literature. No doubt this profession she couldn’t tolerate was the reason for our first separation. She saw only the side that wasn’t serious, the literati, Parisian, journalistic side of writing. The tabloid side. Of course, she appreciated my success, the articles on my books. She had formed me in her image, I don’t know if it was pride. Maybe I was her way of acting out a sort of revenge on life.


My mother had been a teacher first and foremost, and she was proud of me because I had been her student. A good student. I passed the exam for my school certificate at eleven years old, they had to make an exception for me. The teachers, at that time, were good at teaching spelling. I scored twenty out of twenty in dictation. The highest grade possible. It was a day of immense joy for my mother. Everyone wondered where I had come from. I remember, they pointed at the little girl, at the end of the bench, where did she come from? She came from the middle of nowhere. Where, for four years, I had spoken nothing but Vietnamese. I was afraid. It was in Saigon. The exam took place in a big empty middle school. It was the first time I had seen so many white people. My mother took it hard that my brothers couldn’t pass the exam. They couldn’t do anything, school didn’t interest them, they dropped out at around ten years old. Then my mother bankrupted herself on correspondence courses for them, the Universal School, the Violet School for my older brother. They lasted only two days.


She took teaching very seriously. My mother and the other teachers, they’re the ones who brought French culture to Vietnam. A hundred thousand students must have passed through her classroom. She was much beloved, no doubt also because of her great generosity. She couldn’t stand for a student not to go to school because they were too poor to buy the supplies. At that time we lived in a magnificent house with a tiled floor. She would lay down mats all over for the young girls who lived too far from school, and she would feed them at night. It came naturally to her. That’s why I’m still a little reticent when people talk to me about certain aspects of colonialism. The teachers were truly passionate public servants, who killed themselves working and who had miserable salaries, the most miserable of all, the same salaries as customs officials, postal workers. My mother, when she bought her land, had no idea about the dirty bribes and under-the-table dealings. I think it’s because of my mother that I’ve retained a sense of honesty. I thought to myself the other day: I am honest, painfully so, like my mother was.

I wasn’t really aware of it and I didn’t care when my mother would tell me that I was her best student. I was simply interested in my studies. What really had an impact on me was when someone other than my mother told me that I was a good student. She would have done anything for me to be a math professor. So I enrolled in advanced mathematics. Halfway through the year I dropped out.

I admire that after her failure with the land my mother did not give up. She had retired from teaching, but she went back to it by creating the French School that was soon full of Indochinese and French students. The classes she taught there were so straightforward that all the kids understood, even those who had been worthless in other schools. Word got around to the families and her school was soon jam-packed. She knew how to manage her staff, with that incredible authority she always had over people.


Although she was a teacher, my mother didn’t read. She never read anything. She didn’t buy us books. The only books I read, as a child, were the books that she had to give away as prizes: Victor Hugo, whose Les Misérables I read two or three times, in comic book format, illustrated by Gustave Doré. I remember a book by a woman about Indochina, Christiane Fournier. One by Pierre Loti also, others by Delly, Roland Dorgelès, and a novel, The Bachelor Girl by Victor Margueritte. Only textbooks were worth something to my mother, who didn’t like when I read. She would yell, she would say that if we were reading then we weren’t working. I remember that even so she still had me read certain things by Michelet, the type of writer that suited her. She used to say: one of the greatest writers of all time. Which I’ve always agreed with. And also Renan. Right now I’m rereading his history of Christianity, The Life of Jesus, one of François Mitterrand’s favorite books, if I remember correctly. And also the books about Joan of Arc.


I find that in literature, no writer’s mother compares to mine. My mother, she was a great character, a comical character, too. She had all the attributes of a great character. She was capable of madness, like the affair with her land, but she also possessed a great lucidity. She embodied those contradictions that make for great characters, like when she nearly died upon learning that I enrolled in the Communist Party. But she is not the main hero of my body of work, nor the most permanent. No, I am the most permanent. Writing is to write for oneself.


I believe that I loved my mother more than anything, and that it came undone all at once. I think it happened when I had my child. Or else during the film based on The Sea Wall. She didn’t want to see me anymore then. Finally, she let me back into her home, saying to me: “You should have waited for me to die.” I didn’t understand, writing it off as a whim, but it wasn’t at all. In what we believed to be her glory, she saw only her failure. That created a rupture and I didn’t make any effort to get closer to her again because, from then on, I no longer saw any possible understanding between us. Other disagreements followed. And then didn’t she also have that excessive preference for my older brother? I’ve spoken about it so much. She loved her eldest son the way one loves a boyfriend, a man, because he was tall, handsome, virile, a Valentino, while my little brother and I were like fleas next to him.


I think one of my mother’s problems is that she never had any love affairs with men. I have the feeling that she was completely ignorant of what it could have been like. People told me that my father was very much in love with her. And that she wasn’t with him. I wish her preference for my brother could have been bearable. But it became unbearable, especially when, egged on by him, she would beat me. He would watch her and say: “Harder!” He would hand her scraps of wood, broom handles. She really roughed me up, yes, she would hurl herself at me when I slept around. She didn’t slap me, she kicked me and hit me with a stick, with the help of my brother. One day things became clear for me, but too late.

We didn’t confide in my mother. Yes, when I was little, I told her everything, I stopped with that Chinese lover. My brother told me that I was acting like a stranger. She was always oblivious of that whole part of my life. For example, she never knew that when I was twenty, in France, I was forced to have an abortion. The guy was very rich, I wasn’t yet an adult, his parents didn’t want there to be any trouble, they drew up fake certificates, they wrote on them: appendicitis.


Today, my mother, I don’t love her anymore. When I talk about her, like I’m doing now, I get emotional. But maybe it’s me faced with her, my reflection, that makes me emotional.

At the end of her life, she was as detached from me as I was from her. Fortunately, she had her son. She lived in Touraine. I only went to see her in order to feed her, because she said that no one cooked meat like I did. I would drive for six hours to cook her a steak. She thought only of her son. She was always in a state of constant worry for him. I don’t know how she lived like that. Today, she is buried with him. There were only two places in the family plot. It would have been impossible for all that not to have degraded the love I had for her.

If I express care, emotion, when I talk about her, it’s because I think about the injustice she suffered as well as the injustice she perpetrated. The image I have of her is not a very good image, is not a very clear image. I see her again preventing me from kissing her, pushing me away with her hand: “Leave me alone … ” I still write about her, she’s still here. But, for example, today, I find my father much more beautiful than her. On my walls, I have tons of photos of my parents. In this one here, look at how carefree my little brother is, and how my older brother already has that controlling, knowing smile. I have separated myself from them in life. We separate ourselves from people by writing. But now with death approaching, that woman seems much less harmful to me than before.

Back then, I saw with a real joy, like an unexpected revenge, my brother and my mother screaming at each other for stealing the money that I brought home. Money that I was given from the boys in those private lessons I took who were more or less in love with me. And when I wanted to pay for the burial of my brother’s mistress, my mother succeeded in taking the money for herself. Today, I tell myself I don’t have any right to reproach her for those things. I accept that she loved two of her children less, but when I see similar situations around me, I think to myself, okay, it happens, but it always makes me very afraid for the child loved less.

I wrote that my mother represented madness. Doesn’t every child think of their mother as a sort of lunatic? Don’t we often hear: My mother is a lunatic, a madwoman? That doesn’t preclude love. I myself am a mother. Am I crazy? I don’t know, but I have raised my son very poorly. I had lost a child before him, at birth, and he suffered for it. I spoiled him too much. I was afraid all the time. In the end, I think motherhood makes you obscene. A mother indulges in all of her games. I remember my mother playing war in front of us, singing “The Regiment of Sambre and Meuse.” She would hold a stick like a shotgun and she would sing, then she would cry, cry, thinking about her brothers who died in Verdun. We would cry, too. Then after we would say: “Whatever, she’s crazy.”

—Translated from the French by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan

(Source: The Paris Review)