When we were little, we used to buy my mother mirrors for her birthday. In my parents’ bedroom, above the bed, against the warm paint of the wall, there hung a dozen or more little ornate mirrors, each a darkened shade of blue or red, tiny circles of glass framing the patterning. The tradition almost became as much about us as it did about her, amassing this collection of intricate little mirrors, my brother and I always gleaming with pride as she opened them, she always looking at my father, amused, who chose the present each year. We were too young to see the wry in that look. It takes a long time to understand that the very best presents are not just a reflection of she who receives them, but a reflection of she who buys them, too. Personal and intrinsic, the manifestation of that relationship shared, individual, to the two of you. The mirrors were never so symbolic; our relationship was still too young, too immature.
From me, March – A little mirror, dark blue, thin and tall with rounded bulbs
From her, August – Korky Paul’s Winnie the Witch, Roald Dahl’s The BFG
My mother met my father at a march for the liberation of Stonehenge. Marching for the right to be again with the stones, for public use, for community space – all that Thatcher sought to destroy, all that she had tried. They marched against her brutalism, and how she had loosed the police on the very last free festival of Stonehenge in ’85, the Battle of the Beanfield. Decades later I would witness the images at a local community house, as a young child. I would see how the police were designed to subdue and to oppress, see the violence they enacted to curtail the undesirables, savage and plain. See the hippies, celebrating together, in warm communion, before the batons came. Thatcher’s Britain shaped my parents, my mother, it strengthened her communion with the alternative, the hippy, the radical, it framed her youth. Protests would continue for more than a decade, occupying the stones at the solstices, my mother recounting occasions where she fled from the police with close friends of hers, how they crouched down in a field for hours at five in the morning pretending to be sheep. She always resisted.
From me, March – A little mirror, dark red, angular and with square glass
From her, August – A graphic novel of Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, a book of Michael Rosen’s poetry
By the time I was born, the battle had almost been won. Fourteen years after the brutal end to Stonehenge’s last free festival, the public right was reinstated, to be with the stones four times a year – at the equinoxes, and at the solstices. From as early as I can remember we would wake in the gruelling darkness of winter, piling all the clothes we could manage onto our bodies, four tops and woolly jumpers and two pairs of trousers, three pairs of socks, in preparation for that pilgrimage. We would stand between the stones and hear the druids hum and chant, the crowd their resonance, and we would feel that communion. Drummers kept a beat, or sat to the earth making bowls sing; people clothed in all sorts of pagan extravagance or, like us, just a rabble of old-school hippies. And when the sun was soon to rise, be it obscured by clouds or by rain, we would all go out from that circle, and look to the east, and be there, in witness. Refreshed, somehow. Or energised, as the tiredness is sung away between ancient stones, the cold dissipated between all those bodies, and the mind all but cleansed by the first glimpse of the solar.
From me, March – Orange flower water, a Lush bathbomb
From her, August – David Almond’s Skellig, Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom
I have always seen so much of myself in my mother. In my first year of secondary school we learnt about genetics, and were tasked with compiling a list at home of all of the traits we thought we might have inherited from our parents. My mother’s side was teeming: my eye colour, a wonderful green, my intelligence, my hair, my empathy, my fingers and their nails, my creativity – everything that I could think of. I showed it to my parents and my father pouted that I had come up with so little for him. I copied over some from my mother’s list, and called it done.
From me, March – David Almond’s Clay, a book about herbs
From her, August – Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon
I became better at buying presents, over the years. As I grew into my personhood so too grew the relationship between my mother and I, becoming something more, something more whole, something ever more conjoined. Books were our matter – devouring young adult fiction and children’s fantasies, later exchanging crime and Nordic literature – she fostering my creativity, my imagination, while I too sought to encourage hers, and her fondness for the wilderness, for ancient history, her love of the trees. When they married, my parents gave themselves a new surname, seeking a break with all that came before, seeking the start of new life, their own clan – Sparrow. A more fitting name for my mother I couldn’t imagine. She existed in the wilds of the sparrow.
From me, March – David Almond’s My Name is Mina, Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander
From her, August – Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking, Scarlett Thomas’ PopCo
When my partner met my mother for the first – and only – time, she talked of how much she admired her. She has that quiet, beautiful assurance about her, she told me, as if she is entirely at peace. It was a peace hard fought for. It was a peace that came from mothering. From our births, my elder brother, my younger sister and I, from seeking to rectify, from seeking to do better, to give us better, to nurture us, to love us, without condition. To see righted the wrongs of their youths, their lives, to ensure it. It was the act of birth, too, that was so healing for her. An almost spiritual connection to it. She gave birth to us all at home, a choice midwife astride. When my sister came, ten years after I was borne to light, we all were there with her, in their dark bedroom, with the little mirrors above the bed, early in the morning. We shared in that experience. Bore witness. I had dreamt about her, my new sister, that very night, I would tell her, later. An almost spiritual connection. Perhaps she could have sensed, then, that I felt the same as her, that I would grow to feel the same. That I had inherited that bond, that tether, that we shared that, too. But how could she ever have known? How could she know that I, who she only ever knew as her son, felt that same ache, that same wrenching, primal ache, that mortal yearning, to bear child, to bear it forth? How could she understand that her son could ever carry that weight?
From me, March – Scarlett Thomas’ Our Tragic Universe, Michelle Paver’s Gods and Warriors
From her, August – Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus, an abridged collection of Icelandic sagas
Everything changed when I came out. When I told my mother over skype that after a painful, searching two years, I had finally found the courage to act on my transness. To act on what I had been sure of for all of that time, sure, but so terrified to ever accept. Everything changed when I saw my mother, reflected in that little computer screen before me, put her head into her hands, and whisper ‘Oh, God.’
The exchange of presents took on a new role, between us, after that. The best presents are not just a reflection of she you buy them for, but of the relationship you have, of she who buys them, too. They became a substitute for the relationship that was suddenly, without warning, slipping between our fingers, that we so desperately wanted to maintain, even through all the hurt, so wounded we were. The presents became a crutch. I bought my mother a beautiful book of sheet-music from a pianist I knew she would love, a pianist who had made me cry, accompanied by more fiction, for her wilderness. It didn’t matter that her husband was loosing every violence of passion and bile through email and through skype, that she too was contributing in every way she could, to try and convince me that I was anything, anything other than what I knew to be, that she could so clearly never accept. I bought her gifts to symbolise the relationship I wanted us still to have. The relationship that we had always had, so close, so nurturing, so warm, for all of those years. The relationship both of us, surely, still wanted. Creative, and beautiful, and full of wild. Surely our bond could survive a request for a new name, a new pronoun?
From me, March – Ólafur Arnalds’ Skissur, Agnes Ravatn’s Bird Tribunal
From her, August – A hiking GPS, an array of vegan goods
For her fiftieth birthday, a turbulent year of my coming out behind us, of words that I knew in some part of me I would never be able to forgive, I wrote her poetry. I spent a full month writing three pieces, Postpartum, trying to crystallise her relationship to birth, to motherhood, a relationship that I simultaneously felt I so understood, but never could; for lack of a womb, or for her continuing rejection of her queer child. I wrote them in communication, I wrote them to tell her I understood, to tell her that I knew her, that I loved this part of her, that it was never my intention to kill her son, that her son lived on in me, her daughter, by a name she still hadn’t ever used. A reflection of so much that I saw in her, of me, of the relationship I felt (un)conjoined through those experiences. Weeks of careful crafting, of piecing together the words, with her ever in my mind, the her that I still wanted to have in my mind, the her that I wanted to remember, through all of that tumult. That I had to try to remember.
From me, March – Postpartum
From her, August – A thick duvet, for our arctic flat was ever so cold; a book on Icelandic flora
She never mentioned the poems. For Christmas I would buy her feminist comics, literature, trying to assert that commonality that I saw that we shared, her feminism so blazon, so intrinsic, and mine so fundamental to who I had become, but such gifts would fall hollow, too. Our relationship had moved beyond the point where it had anything to do with me, her daughter, beyond the point where I could affect it any longer. She couldn’t see past the misogynistic monster that all trans women embodied in her head, the monster that poisoned her only daughter by seeking acceptance, that betrayed her and all of her sisters by claiming a false womanhood, a womanhood that would only damage and endanger and threaten real women. To her, these presents were only a reminder of what she would now prefer to forget, but likely never could, or another colonialist assumption of identity. For her birthday I bought her more sheet music, from my very favourite pianist, to which so much of my poetry was written to; and a book I knew she must love, for all the same reasons it touched me.
From me, March – Nils Frahm’s Sheets Eins, Elene Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend
From her, August – Two old copies of Icelandic poetry, three copies of an old Nordic poetry journal
She asked me what I wanted, for my last birthday.
All I could think to answer was ‘acceptance,’ the only gift I had ever wanted for in the five years of understanding who I was. To know that I would still be loved – as the human I was. As the promise from mother to child goes. I asked for something material, instead. Perhaps she could ship me all of my old LPs still cluttering up their house.
I received a letter, from my mother, three weeks after that birthday. A card, signed by my sister, her, and not her husband, who months previous had finally found the resolve to admit to himself that he couldn’t live with a queer child, but who lacked the courage to disown in any semblance of kind words. My mother’s letter asked me whether I understood the damage I had done to our family. The damage that I continued to do. The misogyny of my actions, my beliefs, my intentions, the toxin that I had become. How she couldn’t bear the sympathy of her friends anymore, those same friends who marched for Stonehenge, the hippies, the anarchists, the radicals, all apparently understanding of the neglect of a trans daughter.
From me, March – Abi Andrews’ The Word for Woman is Wilderness, Björk’s 34 Scores for Piano Organ Harpsichord and Celeste Book
From her, August – _____
The hormones work as they shall. I often see my mother, now, when I look in the mirror. How a reflection of me is a reflection of her. How the woman I admire to be is still that same woman I once saw in her. I wonder whether she ever saw a reflection of us in all of those tiny mirrors. I wonder whether she looks into them, still.
Her birthday looms. She never sent me those LPs, in the end, or anything else – only the card, the letter. I try and think of a present I can buy her that communicates that our relationship is scant sustainable for me any longer. That I can’t continue to be villainised for having dared to come out. For having asked for a different name, and nothing more.
I often see my mother, now, when I look in the mirror, and she is me, and I am her, and we are still mother and child, and we are still mother and daughter. My name is hers, even when it is not, and my surname is hers, even when it is not – chosen from books, from the wilderness, from the inspiration of her, it all comes from her. C. S. Willow – an ancient tree, a folkloric tree. I am my mother’s daughter, and I am her, and she is me, and how can I not then love her, still?
The very best presents one can buy are the manifestation of a relationship shared. A reflection not just of she who receives them, or of she who buys them, but of the two of you, personal, and intrinsic –
From me, this March upcoming – A little mirror, perhaps, in woodland green
From her, the August yet to come ..? 🎈
edited by laneia.