Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Are Mothers For ?

If Peter Pan is to be believed, mothers are for telling stories. Wendy Darling, once in the Neverland, acts out with gusto her part as 'mother' - sewing and darning, enforcing bedtimes, dosing the Lost Boys with imaginary medicines - but the only essential part of her role is the telling of stories, which is a medicine in itself.

Much of what Peter, and the Lost Boys, do not know is due to lack of a mother's tales - the old tales like 'Cinderella' and the informal, personal ones, such as the story Wendy tells of her own home and mother - stories that widen a child's understanding of the world beyond their immediate experience and that develop imagination and through it, empathy.

Children may begin "gay and innocent and heartless" but through story they will have their hearts opened and the limits of their innocence extended. Story is a way of growing up. Peter Pan's inability to remember story, even that of his own personal narrative, is indicative of his decision not to grow up.

"Who is Captain Hook ?" he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.
"Don't you remember," she asked, amazed, 'How you killed him and saved all our lives ?"
"I forget them after kill them," he replied carelessly.
When she expressed doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said "Who is Tinker Bell ?"
"Oh Peter,"she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.

Last week I came across an article by Germaine Greer in The Guardian about 'old wives' tales' in which she says "Women teach babies and children to speak, which is the same as teaching them to think. An integral part of this activity is waking up their imagination, to see the numinousness of the real world, giving them, to adapt Wordsworth's phrase, glimpses that would make them less forlorn."

So that is what mothers are for - to teach a mother tongue, to shape that tongue into story, to read and tell aloud, giving her child the tools for growth and maturation.

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