Dawn French, her daughter, and the pain of putting yourself in your parents' shoes

Memphis Barker
Monday 26 October 2015 18:45
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I moved back in with my parents, much to their surprise, in early September. It had been obvious for some time, to me, that I would need to crash with them when the lease on my apartment ran out, but I had neglected to let them know, in so many words.

To be honest I hadn’t said anything at all. My parents exist, in my mind, like a set of wind-up dolls: cranked into life by my presence, but otherwise seated in their favourite chairs, covered in some kind of protective sheet, just biding the time.

Nothing dramatic occurred when I finally dropped it into conversation, that I would be moving back in, three days before the vans were due (when I say “vans”, what I’m technically referring to is my mother and her car). “You will, will you?” said mum, an eyebrow raised. “Yes,” I said, banking on biology working in my favour.

There was a moment of grumbling I didn’t bother to pay much attention to, and now here I am, interfering with their television schedule, resolutely back in the nest.

One other thing I haven’t bothered to ascertain is whether or not they are enjoying this state of affairs. Typically, I’m too busy complaining about how difficult it has been for me, sometimes putting down my fork, mid-mouthful, of a meal it’s statistically improbable I will have bought or prepared (or have any more than a hazy intention to wash up), to inform them of how much I miss being around people I can talk to. Or how it’s not entirely my fault there are shoes everywhere, because if they hadn't indulged me I might have learned. Frankly, I remind myself of an intelligent puppy, reprimanding its owners for not putting its nose in enough of its own piss, when they had the chance. In a word, ghastly.

I might have been able to leave my parents' house without ever looking in this particular mirror, if it wasn’t for the actor and comedian Dawn French, who has revealed to the press how she feels about living with her daughter.

“I expected that if you nurture [a child], like a tomato plant, it grows towards the light,” said Dawn. “But I haven’t got a kid who wants to read with me, and have adventures with me, I’ve got a different kind of kid... and that’s been my lesson.”

I can see exactly how this kind of thing could happen, with my own mother in the hot chair: you’ve had a glass of bubbly for lunch, the interview’s going incredibly well with a very nice man from the Telegraph, and suddenly – wham! – you’ve moved on from talking about the “love” you feel for your child to how they’re some kind of failing tomato plant, growing gnarled, misshapen fruit in the dead of night.

It is part of the privilege of childhood to assume that one’s parents are reduced to something a bit like a Teletubby when asked to talk, in private, on the subject of yourself, all cooing and gurgling and nodding. One hates to imagine the truth: quite a good deal of carping goes on as well.

Parents gather (in a park, or wherever it is they meet) and blow off steam: “Bit vain my eldest”; “Rather glad this one spends all day on the iPad... what a snoozefest!” The idea that someone who has not only “seen you at your worst”, but lived with you for years of it, might still be able to make rational judgements on your existence is unnverving.

French says that the reason she cannot live with her daughter, who is 24, any more is that there would be a “murder”. I do think that if I had been expected as a teenager to have “adventures” with my parents, as well as “read” with them and “spend time with them”, I would have had apocalyptic visions. I have always liked to read as far away from anyone else as humanly possible. As for adventures, I’m not sure it’s really possible to have one with someone who genuinely does want you to wrap up warm, and take a sandwich. Each to his own, though.

Of course if the shoe were on the other foot and it was the daughter giving an interview, nobody would blink an eye at less than favourable comments. It’s the circle of life. You abuse your parents, and in turn your children abuse you. Present company excepted, mum.

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