What Sons See When They Look At Us

“William appeared at half-past twelve. He was a very active lad, fair-haired, freckled, with a touch of the Dane or Norwegian about him.

“Can I have my dinner, mother?” he cried, rushing in with his cap on. “‘Cause it begins at half-past one, the man says so.”

“You can have your dinner as soon as it’s done,” replied the mother.

“Isn’t it done?” he cried, his blue eyes staring at her in indignation. “Then I’m goin’ be-out it.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort. It will be done in five minutes. It is only half-past twelve.”

“They’ll be beginnin’,” the boy half cried, half shouted.

“You won’t die if they do,” said the mother. “Besides, it’s only half-past twelve, so you’ve a full hour.”

The lad began hastily to lay the table, and directly the three sat down. They were eating batter-pudding and jam, when the boy jumped off his chair and stood perfectly stiff. Some distance away could be heard the first small braying of a merry-go-round, and the tooting of a horn. His face quivered as he looked at his mother.

“I told you!” he said, running to the dresser for his cap.

“Take your pudding in your hand—and it’s only five past one, so you were wrong—you haven’t got your twopence,” cried the mother in a breath.”

If there’s one ting that DH Lawrence knew, it was sons.

This could be my Felix. His packed lunch used to come home unfinished every day because he would leave it, half eaten, to join the boys playing football outside. I practically had to superglue his bottom to the chair yesterday to eat a pasty, whilst his friends waited next door to play with him in the kind English summer sun.

And sons are not backward in coming forward, so to speak. They speak their mind. They have spent so long modelling the father you chose all those years ago for his confidence and incisive wit; so long analysing your mothering tactics to find the Achilles’ heel; that every exchange is a duel, a joust, a sword fight in words.

In my house, these exchanges end “I’m not debating the issue. That’s how it is.”

And he accepts my word, or has so far. Mothers’ authority seems to hold good, it seems. He and I are very alike: hot-headed, big-mouthed, forthright, fair, fallible.Perhaps therein lies the secret.

But they see you and know you, warts and all.

This is one reason why I would commission portraits from many, but certainly not from my son. I want someone who can see the girl I used to be, not the old woman I shall become.

It mystifies me, then, why one mother consented to stand for a sculpture done by her son. But one day in 1578, Cassandra Sirigatti, husband of the dashing Niccolo, acquiesced, and the result presides with weary resignation over one of the Mediaeval Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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Her son was Ridolfo Sirigatti, the famous and talented Florentine sculptor, and it must be owned he sculpted his father too.

Cassandra wears a rich brocade dress. When she was younger she was probably a beauty, and when life moved those petrified muscles and she laughed and talked, animation probably made her beautiful still. But take away that life-breath, and whilst it is a brilliant life study, it is just so brutally honest, like a photograph on my camera I would rather erase. We must all grow old, we must all be care worn, but we rely on the breath of life to make us animated.

Sons. They say it how it is.

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23 thoughts on “What Sons See When They Look At Us

  1. I would love to know just how old this woman was when the sculpture was done. Perhaps only in her fifties? My sisters and I – all now femmes d’un certain age – often remark there’s nothing like a smile for an instant face lift. She is a beauty, nonetheless.

    1. I thought late forties or early fifties, though life was harder then and they didn’t have the creams and potions they have today, Silver. As you say, a smile would be nice: it must have been unfashionable; the Mona Lisa didn’t quite smile, either, did she?

  2. I think you have perfectly described me and my eldest: “. . . very alike: hot-headed, big-mouthed, forthright, fair, fallible” and, yes, there will come a day when Mother’s authority most certainly will be challenged. 🙂 However, there will also come the day when you are thanked.

    This son’s sculpture is beautiful and timeless.

  3. And yet, like most sons, Siragatti likely thought his mother to be beautiful.
    Ah, Kate, it is interesting, isn’t it, how we see ourselves in our children, then them in us.
    Hope all is well there. 🙂

    1. It is a beautiful piece of work, to be sure, Penny, and I’m sure you are right. But she was probably much more self effacing than I, and I have a dollop of vanity. I must shed it soon: much as I admire what she did with her lifeI don’t want to become an old Barbara Cartland….

    1. Oh, thank heavens there is someone out there who agrees! (Though your Iceland pics portray you as one who really doesn’t have to worry about anything like that!) Hope you had a lovely time.

  4. I have four of them and I KNOW what you mean, also once a while ago Senior son took a photo of me that he really loves, he kept saying I love this one, this one is great.. but there was too much light, and I looked grumpy and wrinkly and some how… I don’t know.. vacuous. Cassandra and i have a lot in common. Now the bloody beautiful aging image is immortalised in his FB page. . bloody buggery facebook! I can only be grateful that it is in Black and White.

  5. When she had a disapproving look, you’d probably do or undo whatever she wanted rather quickly. And perhaps she didn’t approve of bashing at bits of rock as an occupaion.

    1. Yes: it’s the looking n the mirror thing, isn’t it, Roger? It is the bane of my sex that all my peers and contemporaries seem to do it every day, and groom carefully. If I neglect to look, I tend to walk into work with porridge on my nose and haystack hair. Thus, the ageing process is ever evident.

  6. My Mum always says that the best make up is a smile. Whenever we study various sculptures or even the mean and moody type of contrived photos published in magazine photo shoots of various models and celebrities, it’s true to say that a smile would change the appearance of each immeasurably. There’s nothing like the light in the eyes that a true smile spreads for exuding warmth, humour and affection. Qualities I think all boys and girls appreciate in our mothers. 🙂

    1. Indeed, Heather 🙂 Perhaps the sculptor should have told a joke before commencing. Or – as used to happen with family photos when I was a child – balance a toy on his head and let it fall off. Nothing like a bit of clowning to bring the house down.

      1. The toy idea is brilliant. The spontaneity makes all the difference. In my case, I kind of freeze in the seconds between the button being pressed and the flash, which doesn’t result in a good look. 😀

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