There’s an editing acronym I’ve become familiar with over the past few years – NQR, or ‘Not Quite Right’. It’s a polite way for an editor to say, ‘Hey, the word you’ve used here isn’t working – can you try something else?’ I’ve often laughed guiltily at the word circled on the page – having known all along, for example, that ‘astringent’ is not an apt descriptor for the smell of seaweed.
I love the acronym NQR so much, I’ve started using it outside of the realm of writing. Last week I sniffed the yoghurt in the fridge and concluded that it was NQR. Chatting to a real estate agent at the local shops yesterday, I decided that there was something NQR about him. Summer in Sydney has been NQR this year, and there’s something definitely NQR about the popularity of Junior Masterchef.
And recently, I wondered if there was something NQR about two men I have had a mild crush on for some time: Alain de Botton (Philosopher) and Firass Dirani (Actor). And in both cases, it was because of the way they talked about their mothers.
In de Botton’s case, he was quoted in an article (Sunday Life, 19/2/12) describing his mother thus: ‘She had a hard time being a maternal figure and wasn’t able to give me the confidence that I believe a boy needs to succeed with women in adolescence… Even now, the sort of women who remind me of my mother – glamorous, high maintenance – put me off.’
Meanwhile, up the other end of the spectrum, Dirani was quoted a fortnight later, stating: ‘My mother, Sobhia, is the strongest woman I know. She is Lebanese; fiery and passionate… Needless to say, my future girlfriend/wife would have to love my mother. She would need to respect her more than she respects me.’
Really? The extremity of these comments interested me – de Botton blames his mother for his early romantic failures, while Dirani lauds his mother as a model of virtue to which all aspiring partners should pay homage. There’s something NQR about it: there’s Bad-Ass Mum and Perfect Mum. Where’s the middle ground?
In my experience, mothers are complex beings. Like the characters in my novel, real mothers are flawed. They love their children desperately, they fail to meet expectations (especially their own) but they do the best they can in an increasingly complicated world. They are neither Good nor Evil, neither utterly virtuous nor thoroughly irredeemable.
When my own kids grow up, I can only hope they won’t relegate me to either end of the maternal spectrum. Instead, I hope they will locate me – and love me – somewhere in between… in the terrain of the ‘Good Enough’ mother. And that’s where most of us operate most of the time, don’t you think?