SANDWICH, Mass. (AP)- Police reports have it that a motorist in Massachusetts is in custody after she stepped out of her SUV, pulled off her shirt and dashed topless towards another motorist with a knife in her hand.
According to the Cape Cod Times, the other driver happened to be a police officer who was off duty. The officer then puts a call through to the Sandwich Police Department to relate the situation on the road. In a Facebook post, police claimed to have received a phone call on Saturday about a recklessly driven SUV. They said the driver made attempts to hit the vehicle of the caller but had to slow the car down because of a red traffic light.
Police disclosed that the woman stepped out of her car, took off her shirt and charged towards another vehicle, holding a knife seeming like a dagger. The 39-year-old is facing multiple charges including an assail with a dangerous weapon.
My only child, Allegra, is 15. ‘Oh no!’ friends cry. ‘A teenager. How are you coping?’ I look at them but I don’t know what to say. I am embarrassed to speak the truth. Our story is so completely different to theirs. The tantrums, punishments, anger and tears that I raged through with my own mother, simply don’t exist. I don’t think they ever will.
That’s because five years ago, I hurt and broke her.
I was diagnosed with a very strange and rare cancer in my eye, which then spread to the lymph in my neck. The news altered the delicate fabric of Allegra’s evolving character from carefree little girl to heartbroken adolescent. She fast-tracked from sweet to cynical overnight. It taught me a fundamental lesson about human nature: don’t lie to protect feelings, even when you think someone can’t handle it. Just be honest.
She was just 10 when it happened. It seemed unthinkable to tell her the truth. I had an operation to remove a tumour from the inner corner of my eye; spidery black stitches snaked from my eyebrow down the side of my nose. It was a blocked tear duct, I told her, nothing to worry about. Chemo and radiation were not starting for a few weeks, so we went on holiday to Ibiza as planned.
Her ignorance of my illness hung over me like a sentence. On our last night at dinner, just Allegra, my husband and me, she uttered the C-word. It came out of nowhere; like a sniper’s bullet. Had she guessed? I had meticulously avoided any mention of it.
I jumped. ‘Oh yes, Mummy has a little bit of that,’ I immediately blurted out, relieved to be thrown a scrap. ‘But it’s all OK, it’s out now.’ I can still feel my heart thumping like it did that night, violently shaking me to my core. She was confused, curious; she furrowed her brow. I don’t know how much she understood.
What happened next is a blur. I had treatment, I was crazed from the chemo, so badly burnt by the radiation I wore a hooded parka when I picked her up from school. But as my scars, both mental and physical, subsided, I became her mother again.
When a friend threw a party in the country to celebrate my recovery, Allegra asked if she could make a speech. I expected something loving and cute. We all sat feeling stunned as she spoke words filled with pain and anger. I felt shame, but also heartbreaking sadness. She wasn’t yet 11. What had I done to her?
A few days later, I found out the cancer had spread to the lymph in my neck. I can barely write about what she saw next, what she witnessed.
This time I was more open. But of course, it destroyed her a little bit more.
So the child I gave birth to, the innocent little slip who laughed every day, who sang to flowers, talked to her fingers and kept snails as pets, changed overnight into a watchful, guarded stranger. I can’t let go of what I inflicted on her, how I stopped a character so full of joy, mischief, lightness and fun, dead in her tracks. Now, even though I am coming up to five years clear of cancer, she still watches over me.
I fly to the US on business – ‘Text me the minute you land,’ she says. I am tired – ‘Go to bed, Mama.’ She asks me if I have had my tests. This is not how it should be, I tell her. ‘It’s the way it is,’ she says, those big brown eyes now so much wiser than mine.
I feel every second of my life elapsing. Not because I am getting older, but because I just want to be alive for her, to teach her everything I know, just in case.
So now there are daily mantras: ‘Be kind, don’t judge,’ ‘Remember someone always has a story,’ ‘Even when you think you know it all, think again,’ ‘Always tip,’ ‘Write thank-you letters,’ ‘Brush your teeth.’ Allegra laughs at my inculcations. She doesn’t need me to tell her anything. She is omniscient, like the brave heroine in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen. She has that fortitude.
Now nothing is secret between us. Boys, first kisses, alcohol-related ‘incidents’, a puff of a cigarette. We discuss her love life forensically, as if examining a police case. She has no idea how much I love this.
I never did it with my mother. I often notice that same distance between my girlfriends and their daughters – I know what they have is more regular, that we are unusual. In a perverse way, I also know I have a lot to thank cancer for: beautiful honesty with my child.
We talk about sex – not in a prurient or salacious way, I am just careful not to sugar-coat, conceal or obfuscate. I never want her to feel embarrassed by it. When there’s a sex scene on TV, we don’t change channel or squirm. (Well, maybe a little bit.) I tell her endlessly that I’m fine if she’s into girls. ‘I’m not gay!’ she bellows. But it’s cool if you are, I bellow back.
She’s now at boarding school. She wanted to go. I kept the deep loss I felt during those first few months to myself. If she felt the same, she didn’t let on. I think it’s been good for both of us – to get some distance, to release that watchful pressure we had over one another. She calls every evening. She looks forward to our weekends.
On Saturday nights when she should be trawling for parties and boys, she stays in for a movie night with her parents, arguing about what we’re going to watch and where our takeaway should come from.
If I’m going out, she tells me if my mascara is smudged, my dress is wrong or my knicker-line is showing. I love that she does that. But she has never said, ‘You look ridiculous, don’t say that, don’t wear that, you embarrass me.’
I never pretend we are friends; I am still her mother. But cancer has blurred our roles, and in a way we are now more like sisters – a relationship neither of us, only-children that we both are, ever thought we would experience.
I’m just the older, wiser one, I tell her. ‘Barely,’ she says.
My friend Leora, an oncology researcher with a PhD in biochemistry, was 34 when she decided to freeze her eggs last year. She wasn’t panicked that she wouldn’t find a man. Nor was she bothered about when she’d get round to starting a family.
“Whether or not I use the eggs, mentally it put me in a far better place to relax and get on with my life,” she told me after the procedure.
Her newly relaxed demeanour was rather sexy, and within about three months she met someone great and they moved in together. Babies will come, but only after she nails an important promotion at work.
Leora’s story is not unusual. To date, only six per cent of women have used the eggs they’ve frozen (only half of these have been able to get pregnant with them). Over a third have become pregnant naturally, according to the study of women aged between 27 and 42 published in Human Reproduction earlier this year. And the rest have clearly found other alternatives.
With so few women actually using their eggs, the hysterical reports last week about the popularity of the procedure among a ‘leftover generation’ of women who can’t find a man good enough to have a baby with appear slightly insane. Egg freezing is clearly a useful outlet for women – even if its comforts turn out to be psychological rather than practical. But are we really at a reproductive crisis point?
I suspect not. Alarm bells rang loud and clear when I read that women are taking ‘desperate steps’ because of a ‘missing generation’ of ‘eligible men’. Is this not simply version 2.0 of that old chestnut – aired so strenuously in the 70s, 80s and 90s – that women who choose careers over the joys of hearth and home will suffer?
‘Man shortages and barren wombs: the myths of the backlash’. So begins chapter two of Susan Faludi’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning Backlash. With female educational attainment and career achievements both rocketing, Faludi pinpointed a widespread ‘backlash’ against women that was designed to make them feel like crap: guilty, anxious and unattractive.
The main weapon in this assault was women’s fertility and, by association, their romantic status. With their high-falutin’ degrees and professional ambition, it was no wonder that men were declining to put a ring on it, in Beyonce’s hallowed words.
The crux of it was this. Based on a number of half-baked or misinterpreted studies, it became a truism that a ‘crisis’ was underway as more and more women were remaining single and/or delaying child-bearing either by choice or chance. Outrage and panic was peddled on TV and in print. Who would have the babies? And, so the subtext went, who would nurture the menfolk?
But the grimmest effect of all was to be seen in the unmarried women themselves. They were, so the theory went, becoming miserable wrecks, winding up depressed, unfulfilled, alone and brooding over expensive martinis in their posh flats while dreaming of a clutch of babies.
Admittedly, the terms of debate about the current female reproductive disaster story have improved. Previously, the barely-disguised moral of the story was that women should jolly well stop disrespecting their biology by having careers instead of children in their 20s and 30s.
Now at least the academic who produced the report admits that if the problem is a lack of eligible men, we should be trying to get men better educated, not only expecting women to lower their standards, though, she said, women may need to rethink their criteria. (The idea that women are too picky is another chestnut that’s had a good roll around over the past 35 years or so. One recent example is Lori Gottleib’s 2010 bestseller Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough).
After the generational massacre of World War One, there really was a man shortage – one million fewer men than women of marriageable age in Britain. Today, the argument is on far shakier ground. People like Leora are not freezing their eggs because of men. They’re doing it for themselves, because they can: they’ve got financial independence, a range of life options and best of all, control over their reproductive futures. That so many women are freezing their eggs isn’t a sign of crisis: it’s something that could be celebrated. Women are flexing their psychological and economic independence, not succumbing to a desolate wasteland of man shortages or barren wombs.