The Weekend Charter

Each weekend, you'll be getting a joint double post on a single theme – there and back, as it were. And there'll be extra features: in-flight menu, and in-flight movie, where we share our brilliant recipes and our unique cultural insights.

Once a month our flight will have a correspondence: that's you! We want readers to suggest themes – the sillier the better - and we'll pick one to write about. Not that we don't have plenty of silly ideas of our own, but we like a challenge!

So we're counting on you, in the comments or on facebook or twitter!

This month's Charter brings you Maternal Instinct.


A mother's love is irreplaceable (sigh)

I'm sorry to be harping on about these things in a particularly non-humorous way, but seeing as I'm writing a book on Wollstonecraft I can't very well avoid thinking about it. And if I have to suffer, I don't see why the rest of the world shouldn't. So here we go. The other day in class, we were playing around with one of those utterly senseless thought experiments: you wake in a hospital tied to a man who's in the next bed. You find out he's a world famous violinist suffering from a terrible disease and only you can cure him, by sharing your blood with him for nine months. Do you have an obligation to stay? The students all seemed to think that yes, you should stay, except if you're a woman who's a mother. So I ask whether the father of the children could not equally well take care of them, at which point they go all misty eyed and say that a mother's love is irreplaceable. Of course they can't tell me why.

I tell them I don't think my love for my children is irreplaceable just because I'm their mother and not their father. I don't think that's ever the case in families where the father is as involved in the children's life as the mother. But then again, there aren't that many of those around.

The students' eyes are no longer misty by then, they're becoming harsh, and they start talking about maternal instinct, which I clearly lack.

Well, it's not even clear that human beings have instinct. Used to, but that died out along with being hairy all over and painting in caves. Except for infants. When you hang your baby up on the washing line by its toes and it holds on, that's instinct. (Ok, so maybe my students had a point and I do lack maternal instinct). It's to do with the bit in the middle of the brain getting covered up, I think. Something wierd, physiological and complicated.

Ok, so some people, probably psychologists, would say that I'm taking the word instinct too literally. Nobody is saying that mothers haven't made it passed the prehistoric stage (yeah, you bet that's exactly what they're saying!) Instinct is something more subtle than that, some internalisation of popular wisdom, an ability to respond immediately, in an unreflexive way, appropriate to the situation. Fine, I don't deny I've got that. Many is the time when there's been a situation involving the children and I've responded quickly and unreflexively. Usually, that's when I'm trying to watch something on tv and they break something, or get hungry. You can imagine the kind of instinctual response I'm talking about.

In-flight movie

So I know every one is talking about it on the web, and there's pages and pages of 'lost theories'. But there's a couple of things I feel really need saying. First Sawyer is way hotter when he's on the right side of the law. Secondly, Richard, Ricardus, or Ricardo, whatever his name his, turns out to be a bit of a wimp. What's with all the mysterious non-ageing if he's only Jacob's servant? Does he eat bugs?

Just when I thought streaming couldn't get any better, I came across SKINS, a British show about teenagers in Bristol. It's called Skins because they get naked a lot and they, well, you know, skin up. (That just means rolling your own cigarettes, really). One good thing about it is that the principle actor is the little boy from About a Boy and he's all grown up. Put that together with information you've already got and that is plenty good enough reason to watch the show. Plus it's all gritty and humorous and deals with really issues and stuff, so you don't have to hide when you're watching it, like when you're watching Gossip Girl (oops, sorry I let that out).

That's all for now, as I don't want to let out any real spoilers.

And back...

On Maternal Instinct. Or not.

I love my children. I utterly adore them. Aside from the usual “no”, “shush” or “don’t bite your sister/brother”, I also say “I love you, but I’m not just your mommy, I had a life before you got here and I intend to keep some of it”. When I say this, my kids (6 and almost 3) have that dead fish stare and start asking why, or even better, just shrug and seem to think that it’ll pass and I’ll go back to normal anytime soon.

On the other hand, when their dad tells them to go see me or do something else because he’s busy, they’ll just do it. I was talking about this to someone the other day, and also complaining a little (OK, a lot) saying how I was doing all the children-related work and that I couldn’t understand how I was the only one to hear them scream at night, and here’s the answer I got : “Well, of course, you’re the mother”. I am going to say this once, and once only, so listen up: there is no such thing as maternal instinct. It does not exist. The survival instinct does, yes, that’s true. But maternal, nope. The fact that my kids think I’m all for granted and not their daddy just means that he drew the line way further than I did. Mothers are not more patient, they don’t have Bionic Woman’s hearing abilities, and they don’t need less sleep. They just deal with those things because society makes them. Instinct calls for natural, for action deprived of thought. Does that mean women stop being human beings and turn into animals when they have kids?

I’m not saying there’s no special bond between a mother and a child, I’m saying it is as special as the one he/she has with the dad. Different, sure, but just as special. You see, when people tell me about maternal instinct, a real instinctive reaction comes and urges me to punch them in the teeth. But since I’m not an animal and I can control myself, I don’t hit them. Why should I be any different towards my kids? Wouldn’t maternal instinct be something worrying if it existed?

Last night my little girl decided her bed was lame and ours was cool. She was pretty stubborn and ended up screaming, yelling, crying, waking her brother up who threatened to move to another house to get proper sleep. Now, instinctively, I would probably have told her to go sleep in the hall or kicked her in the arse or yelled like a mad woman. But since I’m a mother, and not an instinctual animal, I just told her endlessly that she had her bed, that it wasn’t lame at all and that I needed my sleep and my space at night. She fell asleep at 2 a.m. and woke up at 6 a.m. and said “I want my bottle now. I think my bed is lame and I want to sleep with you tonight”. Having no maternal instinct obviously does not make me good at this mother thing either, it seems.

In-flight Menu:

Recette de la tarte au citron meringuée : (if you want it in English, please post a comment and I’ll translate it. Also, you could start learning French. Or Japanese, for that matter. But it wouldn’t help you for the lemon pie.)

Pour la pâte :

250g de farine

125g de beurre

2 oeufs

30g de sucre


Pour la garniture :

2 citrons

2 œufs

75g de beurre

20g Maïzena (farine de maïs)

230 g de sucre

4 Cuillérées à soupe de sucre roux

  1. Enlever ses bagues. Pétrir les ingrédients pour la pâte et faire une boule. Attention ne pas y aller de main morte, c’est sportif. Recouvrir d’un film alimentaire et mettre au frigo pendant une heure.

  2. Préchauffer le four à 180°C mais on n’a pas le temps d’aller boire un café en attendant qu’il chauffe, y’a d’autres trucs à faire.

  3. Râper le zeste du citron (attention aux doigts : d’abord parce qu’on peut se faire très mal et ensuite, parce que c’est de la tarte au citron, pas de la tarte aux doigts) et presser les fruits. Là c’est mieux d’avoir une machine. Ou quelqu’un qui ne s’est pas coupé les doigts avec la râpe.

  4. Faire mousser les œufs et le sucre ; Ajouter le beurre fondu, la Maïzena, le jus de citron et bien mélanger au fouet.

  5. Etaler la pâte, piquer le fond et garnir

  6. Cerise sur le gâteau (non, non, y’a pas de cerise, c’est une expression) : la meringue. Une fois que la tarte est cuite, battre très fermement 3 blancs d’œufs puis incorporer toujours en battant 50g de sucre très fin. Recouvrir la tarte, faire un joli dessin au couteau et mettre au four très chaud sous le grill pendant 5 minutes. Se faire un petit café si on veut mais le boire DEVANT.

  7. Laisser refroidir tranquillement (là on peut même sortir le boire, le café) et mettre au frigo.

We wish you a pleasant flight!


Lee Chalmers said...

I don't have children, yet. I am scared of this 'maternal instinct' that I have heard of, which will make my brain dissolve into a pile of mush at the sight of my newborns face, removing all capacity for rational thought. No thank you. I like being rational. I like having a life and I do not want to become a giant feeding machine. Does that make me selfish? You bet. Just like the mewling infants.

Sandrine said...

Thanks for you comment Lee! I think as a possibly future mother you need to know this: your brain will melt entirely independently of how you feel about your baby. It's called 'leaky brain syndrome' and it doesn't ever come back (a bit like what happens to your body actually). Still, you can hide it after a while. And it's better if you have a partner handy to do the nights, so you don't go completely crazy.

Anna said...

Love this post. I hate all the rubbish about maternal instinct. I read a book in pregnancy by Miriam Stoppard (a British baby guru) which included the line - "mother love is instinctual - just like hormones!". Yup. That's the badger.

Sandrine said...

Ooh don't even get me started on Miriam Stoppard. I had my first child in the UK, so this is who I read. She lied through her teeth and told me (and millions of readers) that my baby would sleep through the night after three months! Way to go, Miriam.
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