You seemed to grow impossibly quickly, Jane Anne. Like a damn weed.
I almost understood how my mother had been so transparently clingy to us kids. I wanted to wrap myself around you and never let you go, in the hope that my love might smother you back into an innocent baby.
I wasn’t ready for you to grow up at all, even if you were only a child.
On the other hand, I was very glad that you were growing up so well. And so independent. It was funny to me that you were growing into your own little personality, and it reminded me so much of Leolin. Your personality, mostly—the way you spoke, the way you waved your hands around. But the hair style you preferred, the clothes you liked to wear—it was almost like I was staring at my little brother as a child again. Except better, because you were my child, and I would protect you with everything I had.
I do wish you had been a little more proper as a child. Well, no, I don’t. I don’t wish that at all. I just wish you had found it easier to fit into the mold that your father wanted for you. Because you and he didn’t get along at all well. Something about not acting like a proper lady. And he really didn’t like your… habit.
Derek: “We are not paupers, young lady. We are a family of status and you need to behave as such.”
Jane Anne: “But father—“
Derek: “Don’t you dare talk back to me, young lady. If we had nothing, than your stealing would be an honorable hobby. Serving the family well. But stealing when you have much is greed at best, and an indicator to the rest of the world that you don’t have much at all at worst. Do you want people to think we’re poor, Jane Anne?”
Jane Anne: “…no, father.”
Derek: “No more stealing then.”
I didn’t mind it. Well, I did, in the sense that it was breaking the law and not necessarily moral, but at least it demonstrated that you had a little backbone in you. More than I did, at least. And I liked seeing that spirit in you. It brightened up the house.
Really, Jane Anne, I think I just loved you unconditionally, and nothing you could ever do would make me stop seeing you as the light of my life.
It was a difficult balance to strike, however, with your father as displeased as he was.
Derek: “You need to do something about Jane Anne. I’m done discussing this with her. Make her behave.”
Janelle: “I do the best that I can, Derek, surely you see that. I don’t coddle her. I tell her off as much as you do. I ground her, I take away her toys, I don’t let her watch television. What else would you have me do?”
The balance I had found was a relatively simple one. When Derek was there, I was strict with Jane Anne. I watched her closely, I made sure that she acted like a proper young lady, I even tried to convince her to wear dresses (which she hated) and practice walking around in little heels. This wasn’t because I wanted her to do such things, really, or behave in such a way (though she did look adorable in her white dress), but because I needed to pacify Derek somehow.
Derek: “You need to be her mother, dammit. I can’t believe you’re having another one, and you can’t even raise this one right?”
Janelle: “Derek, I—“
Derek: “Maybe I should have my mother come stay with us a while. She raised me right, she’ll surely be able to get a handle on Jane Anne and ensure she starts behaving properly.”
Because I did not—not at all—want Derek’s mother coming to stay with us. As people in general, they were impossible to stand. As one’s in-laws? Absolutely insufferable. I didn’t want to subject myself to that, much less Jane Anne.
Janelle: “That’s not necessary, Derek. I’ll make sure she behaves. I’ve been reading some parenting books, and—“
Derek: “My mother didn’t need to read parenting books when she raised me. She had a natural instinct for good motherhood.”
Janelle: “You’ll see, Derek. Don’t count me out as a bad mother yet. Not when we have this other little one on the way.”
I said it half as a joke, but Derek didn’t laugh. He looked like he was considering the notion seriously—like he might have already decided that I was a bad mother.
Derek: “We’ll see.”
To be fair, maybe I was a bad mother at the time, Jane Anne. I was so determined to ensure that you kept your fire and spirit, which I consider a good thing. But the vacillation back and forth between good cop and bad cop with me can’t have been easy on you.
Jane Anne: “C’mon, Mama, let’s go play.”
Janelle: “Not right now, darling. Your father’s still home, so let’s finish reading this book, yeah?”
Jane Anne: “But I don’t want to.”
Janelle: “I know, hun, but I promise we’ll go play as soon as your father leaves.”
Derek appeared in the doorway.
Jane Anne: “But Mamaaaa—“
Janelle: “Do I need to send you to your room, young lady? You will sit still and be silent and do as I say, or you’ll be grounded for a week! I won’t stand for this kind of behavior anymore, Jane Anne. You were born into a family of high status, you must act like it!”
Derek, from behind the door frame, nodded slightly and left the room again.
Jane Anne had tears in her eyes.
Jane Anne: “I’m sorry, Mama! I didn’t know that would make you mad! I just wanted to play.”
Janelle: “Oh, honey, shhhh. It’s alright.”
I wiped the tears from her face with my thumb.
Janelle: “I’m sorry I had to yell. I just had to pretend in front of your father, but I’m not mad at you at all, sweetheart. Not at all.”
Jane Anne: “…”
Jane Anne: “Promise?”
Janelle: “Pinky promise.”
And the constant vacillations certainly didn’t result in any kind of change in your character. I didn’t mind; I was really just hoping that Derek would come one day and decide that he liked the way that you were, because you were his daughter and you were perfect as you were.
I couldn’t understand why he didn’t think that already. I’d married him for the perfect family, but he was always so distant with you, Jane Anne. Not quite angry, but cold. Certainly not fatherly. I didn’t mind him being that way with me (though I did my best to ensure that he wasn’t), but it bothered me to see him acting that way with you. That wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.
How were we meant to be the perfect family when he was shirking his duties as so much as a good father?
Maybe he didn’t think allowing your kleptomania to go on was being a good father… but you were a child. A child needs love and support more than anything, not constant discipline for their little rebellions. Stealing a doll from the school toy box wasn’t hurting anybody, and it made you smile so big to show me your prizes. That was what it meant to be a perfect family, not perfect behavior – as long as only those in the family saw it.
For the time being, I knew I couldn’t convinced Derek, so I settled for doing what I could for my family—raising you right. I read you books, we played games, I taught you chess. But mostly, for now, we played. You were young, still just a kid—you needed to have fun.
Jane Anne: “Mama! Father just left. Can we go play in the fountain now?”
Janelle: “Sure, sweetheart! Let’s go.”
B: “Janelle? Don’t look now, but your husband is right behind you.”
My heart sank. I felt myself go pale.
Janelle: “Why don’t you go back inside, Jane Anne. Get out of your wet clothes.”
Jane Anne: “Okay, Mama.”
Janelle: “Um… hi love.”
Derek: “What the ever loving fuck am I going to do with a waste of air like you.”
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