With a daughter's eye.
I have not read or reread all the pubished works of mead and bateson, neither of which I know completely, for to do so would be to remake myself as an expert instead of a daughter. . . . I have tried to weave my own ambivalence into this books, letting love and grief, longing and anger, lie close to the surface.
That she does, with style and eloquence. She was born in 1939, when her mother was 37, and her earliest memories are of her parents together, framed in the happines of marital harmony. But when she was 2, her parents began to withdraw from each other and from her, and the time they spent away gradually increased. Although she was left in the care of loving friends, her early childhood was marked by occasional loneliness, yearning and fear, by "midnight demands for comfort." And those years are remembered for departures. "There were all those beloved people, yet often the people I wanted most were absent." When Bateson was 3, her mother went to England and stayed months longer than the child had anticipated; she felt betrayed. Her father was often gone as well. "I remember being demure and proper to see a father who was often absent, and then holding on to his raincoat and screaming when he had to levave." Howard refers to a letter Mead wrote to a friend about this period, describing how she had spent three uninterrupted days with her daughter, then just 4 years old, for the first time in two years.
After the war, when Bateson was 6, her mother "organized much of her life . . . around the tasks of being a parent," although she was still away quite Often. It soon became clear to the girl that her parents' marriage was failing. A few years later, when they told her of the finality of their divorce, she "lay down on the ground and cried."
But she found ways of adapting. Moving "between a multiplicity of disconnected settings' became possible because she was "usually a well-behaved child, laughing and contented." She felt she had to be good, because "perhaps, if too many homecomings were marred, she [her mother] might prefer not to return." Bateson recalls unhappiness, lack of confidence and estrangement as part of her childhood, but adds: "There is no form of human child rearing that does not leave an occasional residue of fear and yearning."
Looking back, she also wonders whether the difficulties she had as an adolescent might have come from her mother's having adopted so many radical innovations in parenting without first thinking through the dangers they might entail. Wasn't there a risk, after all, that "some changed constellation of infant experience would set me at odds with my own society"?
Her choldhood training caused her to observe and to reflect on life, even as she herself was being observed and reflected on. One reason she had difficulty writing this book was that so much had been discussed for so long. Yet her voice comes through: "As I write about my experience, I repossess it." There was little privacy in her childhood; it was filmed and recorded in many different ways by her parents. Asked by friends if it made her angry to have been so "public" a baby, with all the documented ticklong, poking, bending, dangling and howling that went on, she answered, "No, here I am. I'm okay." But she is grateful that the careful record of her development was eventually broken off, making it less valuable than her mother had hoped. "It meant that her discussions of my childhood stayed within an anecdotal framework."
And "okay" she evidently is, although one has the sense that she cannot completely escape the powerful spirit of her mother. That so gentle a portrait should have been drawn of such ungentle people makes me think that Bateson is still adapting, still being the good girl, not complaining.
Yet given the number of embarrassingly vengeful books written about famous parents lately, Bateson's is a relief. Responding to the nastiness of Derek Freeman's recent attacks on her mother's work, Bateson writes, "There but for the grace of God go I." Elsewhere she comments, "My own experience has always been grist for the mill of analysis, and analysis has always been for me a way of dealing with emotion." Her analysis, in fact, covers a great many potentially explosive topics quite sedately. The most overtly negative emotions she expresses involve her mother's concealment of the diversity of her love life, especially two intimate relationships she sustained, one with a man and another with a woman. She admits anger at having been "deliberately deceived," but then backs off and blames herself for having inadvertently collaborated in the deception. She discusses her mother's bisexuality quite openly, unlike Howard, who doesn't quite deal with it. Bateson writes:
What she carefully concealed, I have now decided to write and publish. . . . Children do not, I believe, belong in their parents' bedrooms, nor does the public belong in the bedrooms of thsoe it has turned into public figures for their wit or their beauty or their wisdom. But Margaret Mead has walked in a thousand bedrooms, has been a touchstone for thousands of parents trying to understand the sexuality and sexual orientation of their children, has both helped and hindered women trying to understand themselves and their potential. Those who have atended to her words have, I believe, the right to know something of her experience.
Bateson has always worried that "because so much of her [Mead] thought was expressed in my upbringing, there is a sense in which my own hapiness has had to carry the burden of proof for many of her ideas." With a Daughter's Eye i impressive "proof" of a woman who, wanting it all, made sane and responsible choices to enable her daughter to grow strong while she herself flourished in worlds apart. Bateson's courage is very much in evidence in a book that must have been difficualt to write.
As for Margaret Mead, scholars may criticize her work and argue about the value of her ideas, but her legacy continues to be tenacious. "If we are to achieve a richer culture," Mead wrote in Sex and Temperament, "rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place." More than academic papers, biographies, memoirs, criticisms and affirmations, this is Margaret Mead's legacy at its simplest and its best.