In the Shadow of a Fairy Tale 生活在童话阴影下

The New York Times · by LESLIE JAMISON · April 6, 2017

作者:莱斯莉·杰米森,刊于2017年4月6日《纽约时报》

When she was 6, my stepdaughter, Lily, told me that her favorite character in “Cinderella” was the evil stepmother. This wasn’t entirely surprising. During play dates, Lily often liked to play orphan, writing down long lists of chores: dichs(dishes); moping (mopping); feeding (the fish). She and a friend liked to drink something they called pepper water, which was ordinary tap water they pretended their cruel orphan-handlers had made undrinkable. Maybe it was thrilling to stage her own mistreatment, to take power over the situation of powerlessness she had imagined. Maybe she just liked a virtuous reason to dump water on the floor. When I asked Lily why Cinderella’s stepmother was her favorite character, she leaned close to me and whispered, like a secret, “I think she looks good.”

我的继女叫莉莉。6岁那年,她告诉我,灰姑娘故事里,她最喜欢的是坏后妈。这倒算不上多出乎意料。以前在跟别的孩子玩的时候,她就喜欢扮演孤儿。她会写个纸条,上头列满了要做的家务活:刷盆(盘)子、托(拖)地板、喂(鱼)食。她跟小伙伴还喜欢喝一种什么“辣椒水”,其实就是普通自来水,她们假装是坏心肠的孤儿院老师逼着她们喝的。或许把想象中对自己的虐待演出来,能克服在想象情境中的无力感,让她感到兴奋;又或许她只不过想找个合理的借口,把水泼在地上。我问过莉莉为什么最喜欢灰姑娘里头的坏后妈,她凑过来悄悄地说:“我觉得她挺好看的。”

For all her cruelty, the evil stepmother is often the fairy-tale character most defined by imagination and determination, rebelling against the patriarchy with whatever meager tools have been left to her: her magic mirror, her vanity, her pride. She is an artist of cunning and malice, but still — an artist. She isn’t simply acted upon; she acts. She just doesn’t act the way a mother is supposed to. That’s her fuel, and her festering heart.

这坏后妈的确心狠,但她往往只是童话里的角色。故事里的坏后妈疑神疑鬼,执迷不悟,一心要打破男权的秩序。为此,她不惜用尽手头仅有的可怜手段:魔镜,还有她的虚荣和骄傲。她工于心计、精于算计,虽然长存害人之心,但手段巧妙却不得不叫人佩服。她绝不逆来顺受,必定要采取行动、操控局面。她绝不是个慈爱善良的母亲,但这正是她心里头那股子狠劲的来源。

In many ways, fairy tales — dark and ruthless, often structured by loss — were the stories that most resembled Lily’s life. Her mother died just before her 3rd birthday, after a 2½-year struggle with leukemia. Two years later, Lily got a stepmother of her own — not a wicked one, perhaps, but one terrified of being wicked.

说实话,莉莉以前的生活很像那些黑暗残酷的童话故事,她像童话里的角色一样,失去了很多。她出生没多久,生母就得了白血病,苦苦熬了两年半,在她不到三岁的时候去世了。又过了两年,莉莉有了一个后妈,可能不是个坏后妈,但这个后妈生怕自己亏待了莉莉。

I wondered if it was comforting for Lily to hear stories about fairy-tale children who had lost what she had lost — unlike most of the kids at her school, or in her ballet classes, whose mothers were still alive. Or perhaps it brought the stories dangerously near, the fact that she shared so much with them. Maybe it peeled away their protective skins of fantasy, made their pepper water too literal, brought their perils too close. When I read her the old fairy tales about daughters without mothers, I worried that I was pushing on the bruises of her loss. When I read her the old fairy tales about stepmothers, I worried I was reading her an evil version of myself.

我有时候想,莉莉在学校里或是芭蕾课上认识的那些孩子,多数母亲健在,只有她与众不同,所以她听到童话里的孩子跟她一样没了母亲,是不是能感到一种安慰?又或者童话的存在,让虚构的危险格外真实,因为她的命运跟童话里的主角如此相似。也许童话幻想的外壳是一种保护,剥去这层外壳之后,故事里的辣椒水变得那么真实、故事里的危险那么贴近。有时候我给她念到一些没娘的小女孩的童话故事,我担心自己是在揭她的伤疤。而念到关于后妈的童话故事时,我又感觉我在给她讲一个邪恶版的自己。

I sought these tales avidly when I first became a stepmother. I was hungry for company. I didn’t know many stepmothers, and I especially didn’t know many stepmothers who had inherited the role as I had inherited it: fully, overwhelmingly, with no other mother in the picture. Our family lived in the aftermath of loss, not rupture — death, not divorce. This used to be the normal way of being a stepmother, and the word itself holds grief in its roots. The Old English “steop” means loss, and the etymology paints a bleak portrait: “For stepmoder is selde guod,” reads one account from 1290. A text from 1598 says, “With one consent all stepmothers hate their daughters.”

刚当上继母的时候,我四处找了不少这样的后妈故事。我想找人倾诉,却并不认识别的继母,更不用说跟我情况一样的继母:孩子生母已不在,我独自全然扮演母亲的角色。我这个家庭成立之前并没有裂痕,却有一个黑洞,没有经历离婚的坎坷,却面临过死亡的伤痛。其实继母原本多数都是父亲续弦再娶,英语stepmother一词的词源就能看出这样的弦断之意。古英语里steop意为“丧失”,词根溯源,早在1290年,就有这样对继母的负面描述:“后母性恶”。1598年,有另一句话这么说:“后母常厌其女,人皆知之。”

The fairy tales are obviously damning: The evil queen from “Snow White” demands the secret murder of her stepdaughter after a magic mirror proclaims her beauty. The stepmother from “Hansel and Gretel” sends her stepchildren into the woods because there isn’t enough to eat. Cinderella sits amid her fireplace cinders, sorting peas from lentils, her ash-speckled body appeasing a wicked stepmother who wants to dull her luminosity with soot because she feels threatened by it. It’s as if the stepmother relationship inevitably corrupts — it is not just an evil woman in the role but a role that turns any woman evil. A “stepmother’s blessing” is another name for a hangnail, as if to suggest something that hurts because it isn’t properly attached, or something that presents itself as a substitutive love but ends up bringing pain instead.

后来的童话显然也一脉相承。“白雪公主”里的皇后,只因魔镜告诉她白雪公主貌美胜于她,便令人偷偷杀死继女。“糖果屋”里的后妈让两个孩子到密林里去,只因家里吃的不够了。灰姑娘则栖身于煤灰堆里,干着把扁豆和豌豆分开这样的苦活。灰姑娘灰头土脸,她继母却很高兴,因为灰姑娘的美貌被煤灰蒙住,就不会威胁到继母。从这些故事看来,继母和继女似乎天生是死对头,不是说坏女人当了继母,而是当继母让女人变坏。继母的角色好比是指甲旁的倒刺,因为贴得不紧,所以叫人生疼。继母想取代生母的爱,结果却带来痛苦。

The evil stepmother casts a long, primal shadow, and three years ago I moved in with that shadow, to a one-bedroom rent-controlled apartment near Gramercy Park. I sought the old stories in order to find company — out of sympathy for the stepmothers they vilified — and to resist their narratives, to inoculate myself against the darkness they held.

坏后妈的故事犹如一道长长的阴影,伴随始终。就这样,三年前我搬进了格拉梅西公园旁边的一套一室廉租公寓。故事里的继母角色始终为世人诟病,我却对她们充满同情,于是我到处收集这样的故事,半是为了寻找慰藉,半是为了抗拒故事描述的命运,希望自己能走出故事的阴影。

My relationship with Charles, Lily’s father, held the kind of love that fairy tales ask us to believe in: encompassing and surprising, charged by a sense of wonder at the sheer fact of his existence in the world. I uprooted my life for our love, without regret. Our bliss lived in a thousand ordinary moments: a first kiss in the rain, over-easy eggs at a roadside diner in the Catskills, crying with laughter at midnight about some stupid joke he would make during an “American Ninja Warrior” rerun. But our love also — always — held the art and work of parenting, and much of our bliss happened on stolen time: that first kiss while the sitter stayed half an hour late; those diner eggs on a spontaneous road trip possible only because Lily was staying with her grandmother in Memphis; our hands clamped over our mouths during those fits of midnight laughter so we wouldn’t wake up Lily in the next room. This felt less like compromise and more like off-roading, a divergence from the scripts I’d always written for what my own life would look like.

说到我和莉莉的父亲,我们的爱情本身就是童话,它包罗万象,让人惊喜连连。实际上,查尔斯的存在就好像一个奇迹。为了他,我抛开过去的一切,无怨无悔。我们的幸福由千百个平凡的瞬间连缀而成。我们在雨中初吻、在卡茨基尔路边餐厅共尝溏心煎蛋,半夜看“美国极限体能王”重播,他讲傻兮兮的笑话,我俩一起笑到流泪。除了这些浪漫瞬间,我们的爱情还包括我俩为人父母的角色。我们一起分担、一起学习,希望成为更好的父母,那些幸福的瞬间实际上也是一个个偷来的时光:保姆多留了半个小时,我们才有了雨中初吻;莉莉去了孟菲斯她奶奶家,我们才一时兴起开车旅行,在路边店一起吃了溏心蛋;半夜大笑时,我俩其实都紧紧捂着嘴,生怕把隔壁莉莉吵醒。但这丝毫不影响我们生活的乐趣,反而感觉像抛开了之前我为自己设想的人生剧本,即兴演出,带来意想不到的快乐。

I approached the first evening I spent with Lily as a kind of test, though Charles tried to stack the deck in my favor: He decided we would get takeout from the pasta place Lily liked, then spend the evening watching her favorite movie — about two princess sisters, one with a touch that turned everything to ice. That afternoon, I went to find a gift at the Disney Store in Times Square — not only a place I had never been but a place I had never imagined going. I hated the idea of bribing Lily, trading plastic for affection, but I was desperately nervous. Plastic felt like an insurance policy.

第一次和莉莉共度一晚,我感觉如临大考。之前,查尔斯已经想方设法帮我作弊:他建议我从莉莉最喜欢的意面餐厅点外卖,之后在家看莉莉最喜欢的电影,就是关于一对公主姐妹俩,其中有一个能把一切冻成冰的那部片子。那天下午,我专门去时代广场的迪斯尼专卖店去挑礼物(倒不是说我从没去过迪斯尼专卖店,但我从没想到过自己会去给一个孩子挑礼物)。我真心不愿意用礼物去收买莉莉,这让我感觉得来的感情太廉价,但我实在不知所措,廉价的礼物姑且算得上是一点心理鼓励。

The clerk looked at me with pity when I asked for the “Frozen” section. I suddenly doubted myself: Was it not a Disney movie? The clerk laughed when I asked the question, then explained: “We just don’t have any merchandise left. There’s a worldwide shortage.”

我问店员“冰雪奇缘”礼品柜台在哪儿,店员怜悯的眼神叫我心慌:难道“冰雪奇缘”不是迪斯尼家出的吗?问题问出口,店员哈哈大笑,他说:“是我们家的,没错。不过跟这电影有关的一切都卖空了,你去哪家店问都一样。”

She was serious. They had nothing. Not even a tiara. Or they had plenty of tiaras, but they weren’t the right tiaras. I scanned the shelves around me: Belle stuff, “Sleeping Beauty” stuff, Princess Jasmine stuff. There had to be other movies Lily liked, right? Other princesses? There was a moment when I considered buying something related to every princess, just to cover my bases. I had some vague realization that the low-level panic in the back of my throat was the fuel capitalism ran on. On my cellphone, I was on hold with a Toys “R” Us in the Bronx. On my way out, I spotted something shoved into the corner of a shelf. It looked wintry. It had ice-blue cardboard packaging: a sled.

她没骗我,柜台空空如也,连个公主头冠都买不着。别的头冠倒多的是,不过没有一个是“冰雪奇缘”里那种。我找遍了各个柜台,什么“美女与野兽”、“睡美人”、“阿拉丁”的礼物都有,除了“冰雪奇缘”。莉莉肯定也喜欢别的动画,别的公主吧?我甚至想随便买个跟公主相关的东西,算是保底。当时,我暗暗笑话自己,正是这种不知所措才让店家大发其财。我掏出手机,拨通了布朗克斯区“玩具反斗城”的电话,往出走的时候,瞥见一个柜台角落里有个什么东西,跟冬天有关,冰蓝色纸盒包装,那是一个小雪橇。

I cannot even tell you my relief. My sense of victory was complete. The sled came with a princess, and also maybe a prince. (A Sami ice harvester, I would learn.) The set came with a reindeer! (Named Sven.) And even a plastic carrot for him to eat. I tucked the box under my arm protectively as I walked to the register. I eyed the other parents around me. Who knew how many of them wanted this box?

当时我那种如释重负的感觉简直难以形容,一种满满的成就感。小雪橇还可以配一个公主,或者配个王子(后来我才知道,其实他们是萨米族的卖冰人),而且居然还搭配一头玩具驯鹿(名叫斯文)!居然还有它吃的塑料胡萝卜!去结账的时候,我把盒子夹在胳膊底下,生怕别人抢走。看看周围这些家长,保不齐真有人要跟我抢!

I called Charles, triumphant. I told him the whole saga: the clerk’s laughter, the worldwide shortage, the frantic phone calls, the sudden grace of glimpsing pale-blue cardboard.

我得意洋洋,给查尔斯打电话,前前后后讲给他听,店员怎么笑话我啦,怎么到处都缺货啦,怎么病急乱投医到处打电话啦,以及怎么如有天助般看到那淡蓝色的盒子。

“You won!” he said, then paused. I could hear him deciding whether to say something. “The princess,” he asked, “what color is her hair?”

“亲爱的,你太棒了!”他说,之后停了一下。我听出他有点犹豫。“你买的那个公主,头发什么颜色?”他问。

I had to check the box. “Brown?” I said. “Sort of reddish?”

我没记住,只好看了看盒子。“棕色,有点发红?”

“You did great,” he said after a beat. “You’re the best.”

“买对了”,他停顿了一下,说:“你真厉害!”

But in that beat, I could hear that I had the wrong princess.

但在他一顿之间,我知道自己买错了,不是莉莉要的公主。

Charles wasn’t criticizing; he just knew how much a princess could mean. He had spent the last two years knee-deep in princesses, playing mother and father at once. The truth of the wrong princess was also the truth of unstable cause and effect: With parenting, you could do everything you were supposed to, and it might still backfire, because you lived with a tiny, volatile human who did not come with any kind of instruction manual. The possibility of failure hung like a low sky, pending weather, over every horizon.

查尔斯并不是在怪我,只不过他知道一个公主对孩子意味着什么。过去两年里,他整天和这些公主们打交道,既当爹又当妈。买错公主玩具的事也说明了,带孩子的时候,你根本搞不清什么前因会引起什么后果,所有该做的都做到,可能依然不讨好。因为这一个个小小人儿忽晴忽雨,没有说明书能告诉你怎么跟他们打交道。暴风骤雨随时将至,每个家长都得做好心理准备。

In “The Uses of Enchantment,” the psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim makes a beautiful argument for the kinds of reckoning that fairy tales permit: They allow children to face primal fears (parental abandonment) and imagine acts of rebellion (defying authority) in a world reassuringly removed from the one they live in. Enchanted woods and castles are so conspicuously fantastical, their situations so extreme, that children don’t need to feel destabilized by their upheavals. I wondered if that was still true for Lily, whose loss lived more naturally in fairy tales than other places. It can be a fine line between stories that give our fears a necessary stage and stories that deepen them — that make us more afraid.

童话能容纳超脱俗世的想象,在《童话的魅力》一书中,心理分析学家布鲁诺·贝特尔海姆对此曾有过精彩的分析:在童话里,儿童可以直面内心原初的恐惧(被父母抛弃),或是想象自己的叛逆(对抗权威),而童话世界与他们所生活的世界天差地别,想象并不会变成现实。充满魔力的森林和城堡如此奇幻,只属于想象世界,那里发生的一切不会影响现实生活。但对于莉莉的生活,我却不太确定,失去母亲这样的事似乎只应在童话里发生,而不是在真实生活里。因为失去了母亲,原本释放内心恐惧的童话便悄然变化,让我们恐惧。

In an 1897 letter to the editor in Outlook, a high-circulation turn-of-the-century American lifestyle magazine, one reader laments the effects of reading “Cinderella” to young children: “The effect or impression was to put stepmothers on the list of evil things of life.” But in our home, it was less that “Cinderella” put stepmothers on an evil list and more that the story raised the question — with a kind of openness that might have been impossible otherwise — of whether stepmothers belonged there. Often, Lily used the figure of a fairy-tale wicked stepmother to distinguish our relationship from the one we had just read. “You’re not like her,” she would say. Or when it came to the stepmother she admired from “Cinderella,” she was generous: “You look better than her anyway.”

十九、二十世纪之交,美国有一份广受欢迎的生活杂志叫做《展望》。1897年,该杂志刊登了一封读者来信,信中感叹,给小孩子讲灰姑娘的故事,“不过是把继母变成生活里又一样可怖的东西”。但在我们家,灰姑娘故事并没有起到妖魔化继母的作用,而是让我们有机会讨论继母是不是真的可怕。说实话,若不是借着灰姑娘的故事,我们根本无法这样开诚布公地讨论这个问题。每当此时,莉莉必定要把我跟那些童话故事里的坏后妈区别开,说我们的关系和故事里的不同。她总是说:“你跟她们不一样。”若是谈到她喜欢的灰姑娘故事里的后妈,她对我总是不吝赞美:“你长得怎么都比她好看。”

I wondered if claiming the stepmother as her favorite was another version of playing orphans — a way of claiming the source of fear and taking some control over it. Did she worry I would turn cruel? Did she love me fiercely so I wouldn’t? I wondered if it helped her to see us reflected and distorted by a dark mirror, if these more sinister versions of our bond made her feel better about our relationship — or gave her permission to accept what might feel hard about it. I actually found a strange kind of comfort in the nightmare visions of mean stepparents I found in popular media — at least I wasn’t cruel like them. It was a kind of ethical schadenfreude.

我会想,莉莉说喜欢灰姑娘的后妈,是不是另一种形式的扮演孤儿角色,通过掌控恐惧之源来掌控恐惧本身。她是在担心我总有一天也变坏吗?她是不是极力去爱我,让我不会变坏?我俩的形象倒映在黑色魔镜里,变得面目全非。看到这样扭曲丑化后的母女关系,她会不会更安心于我和她现在的关系?或是让她更容易接受这一关系中原本难于接受的部分?看到大众媒体里继母如梦魇般存在,说实话,我感到一种莫名的放松,至少我不像那些继母一样心狠手辣。这是一种道德上的幸灾乐祸。

In many ways, these stories my family inherited mapped imperfectly onto ours. In fairy tales, the father-king was often duped and blind. He had faith in a woman who didn’t deserve it. His trust, or his lust, permitted his daughter’s mistreatment. Charles was like these fairy-tale fathers in only one way: He trusted me from the beginning. He believed I could be a mother before I believed it. He talked openly about what was hard about parenting, which made it feel more possible to live in love and difficulty — love as difficulty. He knew what it meant to wake day after day, choose three possible dresses, pour the cereal, repour the cereal after it spilled, wrestle hair into pigtails, get to school on time, get to pickup on time, steam the broccoli for dinner. He knew how much it meant to learn the difference between the animated ponies with wings and the animated ponies with horns and the animated ponies with both — the alicorns. He knew what it meant to do all that, and then wake up and do it all over again.

我们这个家庭跟那些童话相差甚远。童话里的父王往往色令智昏,错信了一个不值得信任的女人。他的信任,或者说他的欲望,最终引来他女儿的厄运。查尔斯跟这样的父王角色相比,可能只有一个共同点:他从头至尾信任我。我还没有信心能当好一个母亲的时候,他就相信我能做到。对于养育子女时的辛苦,他并不讳言,这种态度让我更有信心带着爱去应对困难,也许爱本身就是困难。他知道带孩子的滋味,每天起床、从三套衣服里挑一套、倒牛奶麦片、弄洒了再给她到一碗、费劲给她扎上马尾辫、准点送上学、准点接放学、蒸好西兰花准备晚饭。他知道动画片里长翅膀的小马、长角的小马和有翅膀有角的小马有什么区别。有翅膀有角的叫做“天角兽”。他知道每天做这些是为了什么,第二天醒来依然乐此不疲。

My relationship with Lily, too, was not like the story we inherited from fairy tales — a tale of cruelty and rebellion — or even like the story of divorce-era popular media: the child spurning her stepmother, rejecting her in favor of the true mother, the mother of bloodline and womb. Our story was a thousand conversations on the 6 train or at the playground in Madison Square Park. Our story was painting Lily’s nails and trying not to smudge her tiny pinkie. Our story was telling her to take deep breaths during tantrums, because I needed to take deep breaths myself. Our story began one night when I felt her small, hot hand reach for mine during her favorite movie, when the Abominable Snowman swirled into view on an icy mountain and almost overwhelmed the humble reindeer.

和童话故事里不同,我和莉莉之间没有虐待和反抗,也不像离婚时代大众媒体里描述的那样:孩子排斥继母,思念生母,思念生养孕育自己的母亲。在我们的故事里,有说不完的话,无论是在纽约地铁6号线列车上,还是在麦迪逊广场公园的游乐场里。在我们的故事里,我给莉莉涂指甲油,尽量不弄脏她的小妞妞。在我们的故事里,我教莉莉在想发脾气的时候深呼吸,因为我自己也时不时需要深呼吸来控制自己。在我们的故事里,有一天晚上,我们看她最喜欢的电影。雪怪突然在雪山半山腰出现,身形远远大过驯鹿。这时,我感觉她的手朝我伸过来,小小的,暖暖的。

That first night, when we sang songs at bedtime, she scooted over and patted the comforter, in the same bed where her mother spent afternoons resting during the years of her illness, directly below the hole Charles had made — angrily swinging a toy train into the wall — after a telephone call with an insurance company, a hole now hidden behind an alphabet poster. “You lie here,” Lily told me. “You lie in Mommy’s spot.”

那是我们共度的第一晚。临睡前,我俩一起哼着歌的时候,莉莉在床上挪了挪窝,拍了拍被子。正是在这张床上,莉莉的母亲在病重期间每天下午卧床休息。她躺的位置上面的墙上有个查尔斯砸出来的浅坑。那天下午跟保险公司打完电话以后,他在气头上,随手把一个玩具火车砸到了墙上。后来,我们用一张字母贴画挡住了那个坑。“你就躺这儿吧”,莉莉说:“躺在妈妈的地方。”

If the wicked stepmother feels like a ready-made archetype, then its purest, darkest incarnation is the evil queen from “Snow White.” In the Brothers Grimm tale from 1857, she asks a hunter to bring back her stepdaughter’s heart. After this attack fails (the hunter has a bleeding heart of his own), the stepmother’s aggression takes the form of false generosity. She goes to her stepdaughter in disguise, as an old beggar crone, to offer Snow White objects that seem helpful or nourishing: a corset, a comb, an apple. These are objects a mother might give to her daughter — as forms of sustenance, or ways of passing on a female legacy of self-care — but they are actually meant to kill her. They reach Snow White in the folds of her new surrogate family, where the seven dwarves have given her the opportunity to be precisely the kind of “good mother” her stepmother never was. She cooks and cleans and cares for them. Her virtue is manifest in precisely the maternal impulse her stepmother lacks.

如果说邪恶后妈是现成的继母典型,那么其中最邪恶、最黑暗的人物莫过于白雪公主故事里的恶王后。在这则格林兄弟1857年的故事里,她指使猎人挖出继女的心带回来。猎人并没有照办(他的心毕竟也是肉长的),恶王后一计不成反生一计,假意慷慨要赠给白雪公主礼物。她扮成一个又老又丑的乞丐,赠给白雪公主三样东西:一件束腰、一把梳子和一个苹果。这三样东西看起来都很有用或是很好吃,也是真正的母亲会送给女儿的物品。它们要么是日常饮食,要么代表母亲教给女儿自己照顾自己。但恶王后却想借此杀死白雪公主。三件礼物到了白雪公主手上,她此时生活在新的替代家庭里,照顾七个小矮人让白雪公主有机会扮演一位好母亲的角色,这正是她继母难以成为的角色。白雪公主为小矮人们做饭、扫屋,照料他们,这种母性本能彰显了她的贤淑,而恶王后偏偏就缺少这种母性。

The evil stepmother is so integral to our familiar telling of “Snow White” that I was surprised to discover that an earlier version of the story doesn’t feature a stepmother at all. In this version, Snow White has no dead mother, only a living mother who wants her dead. This was a pattern of revision for the Brothers Grimm; they transformed several mothers into stepmothers between the first version of their stories, published in 1812, and the final version, published in 1857. The figure of the stepmother effectively became a vessel for the emotional aspects of motherhood that were too ugly to attribute to mothers directly (ambivalence, jealousy, resentment) and those parts of a child’s experience of her mother (as cruel, aggressive, withholding) that were too difficult to situate directly in the biological parent-child dynamic. The figure of the stepmother — lean, angular, harsh — was like snake venom drawn from an unacknowledged wound, siphoned out in order to keep the maternal body healthy, preserved as an ideal.

在我们家,每讲到白雪公主,必定讲到恶王后。后来我才惊讶地得知,这个故事早先的版本里并没有这么个继母的角色。在这个原始版本中,白雪公主的母亲并没死,但这个活着的亲妈却想白雪公主死。格林兄弟对多个故事进行了同样的修改,1812年出版的格林童话第一版许多故事里的亲生母亲,到1857年出版的最后一版中都变成了继母。实际上,继母形象成为一个载体。母亲与子女的关系中,母亲有时会对子女又爱又恨,或是产生嫉妒或是厌恶的感情,这些情感过于丑恶,无法与母亲这两个字眼直接联系;同样,子女会感到母亲暴戾、强势或是有隔阂感,这些情感无法放置在亲生母亲身上。于是,消瘦、尖刻、严厉的继母成为毒液,从不知名的伤口流出,吸干净后,才保持母亲形象的健康,让她无可指摘。

“It is not only a means of preserving an internal all-good mother when the real mother is not all good,” Bettelheim argues, “but it also permits anger at this bad ‘stepmother’ without endangering the good will of the true mother, who is viewed as a different person.” The psychologist D.W. Winnicott puts it more simply: “If there are two mothers, a real one who has died, and a stepmother, do you see how easily a child gets relief from tension by having one perfect and the other horrid?” In other words, the shadow figure of the fairy-tale stepmother is a predatory archetype reflecting something true of every mother: the complexity of her feelings toward her child, and a child’s feelings toward her.


“这不仅仅是在孩子的真正母亲不再尽善尽美时,可以把美好的母亲保留在心中的一种方式”,贝特尔海姆这样分析道:“而且还可以使孩子宣泄对于坏继母的愤怒,而不损害亲生母亲的慈爱深情,因为这亲生母亲被看作一个不同的人。”心理学家温尼科特的分析则更为直白:“如果有两个母亲,一个已经过世的生母,一个依然活着的继母。生母完美无缺,而继母可怕至极,这种对比却是对孩子内心恐惧最大的疏解。”简单来说,童话里继母的形象实际投射了每个母亲身上都存在的幽微:她对孩子以及孩子对她复杂的情感。


Even if Lily didn’t split her ideas of motherhood into perfect absence and wicked presence, I did — assigning precisely that psychic division of labor. I imagined that her biological mother would have offered everything I couldn’t always manage: patience, pleasure, compassion. She would have been with Lily in her tantrums. She wouldn’t have bribed her with ridiculous amounts of plastic. She wouldn’t get so frustrated when bedtime lasted an hour and a half, or else her frustration would have the counterweight of an unconditional love I was still seeking. I knew these self-flagellations were ridiculous — even “real” parents weren’t perfect — but they offered a certain easy groove of self-deprecation, comforting in its simplicity. A woman mothering another woman’s child, Winnicott observes, “may easily find herself forced by her own imagination into the position of witch rather than fairy godmother.”

虽然莉莉并没有把对母亲形象一分为二,想象成一个不在身边的完美生母和一个无时不在的邪恶继母,但我却这样想,在心里把我和她的生母按照故事里的角色进行了分工。我心目里,孩子的生母必定拥有那些我无法保持的特质,她必定充满耐心、和颜悦色、饱含深情。莉莉发脾气,她必定会相伴左右。她才不会买一堆廉价的玩具去讨好孩子。晚上莉莉上床一个半小时还不睡的时候,她不会不耐烦,或者说她对孩子无条件的爱让她克服了心里的不耐烦,而这种爱,我还在学习。我知道,这种自我责备是荒诞无稽的,因为亲生父母也并非完美,但这种简单化的想象,却在某种程度上给我一种逃避的空间,让我自我放逐。温尼科特曾经说过,一个女人照料另一个女人孩子的时候,很容易因为自己的想象,而变得更像女巫,而不是童话里的教母。


In a study called “The Poisoned Apple,” the psychologist (and stepmother) Elizabeth Church analyzed her interviews with 104 stepmothers through the lens of one particular question: How do these women reckon with the evil archetype they stepped into? “Although their experience was the opposite of the fairy-tale stepmothers,” she reported, insofar as “they felt powerless in the very situation where the fairy-tale stepmothers exerted enormous power,” they still “tended to identify with the image of the wicked stepmother.” She called it their poisoned apple: They felt “wicked” for experiencing feelings of resentment or jealousy, and this fear of their own “wickedness” prompted them to keep these feelings to themselves, which only made them feel more shame for having these feelings in the first place.

在一项名为“毒苹果”的研究中,心理学家伊丽莎白·切琪(她本人也是一位继母)对104位继母进行访谈。她关注一个问题:这些女性怎样面对坏继母这样一个新角色。通过对访谈结果的分析,她得出结论:“虽然这些女性的真实经历和童话里的继母全然不同”,“童话故事里,继母拥有巨大的力量,而在生活中,这些女性却有一种无力感”。这种现象,切琪将之称为“毒苹果”:继母们在感到厌恶、嫉妒时,她们觉得自己很邪恶,从而产生一种恐惧感。这种恐惧感又让她们把自己的真实感受隐藏起来,反而让她们更因自己的厌恶和嫉妒而产生羞耻感。


Folk tales often deploy the stepmother as a token mascot of the dark maternal — a woman rebelling against traditional cultural scripts — but the particular history of the American stepmother is more complicated. As the historian Leslie Lindenauer argues in “I Could Not Call Her Mother: The Stepmother in American Popular Culture, 1750-1960,” the figure of the American stepmother found her origins in the American witch. Lindenauer argues that the 18th-century popular imagination took the same terrible attributes that the Puritans had ascribed to witches — malice, selfishness, coldness, absence of maternal impulse — and started ascribing them to stepmothers instead. “Both were examples of women who, against God and nature, perverted the most essential qualities of the virtuous mother,” Lindenauer observes. “Moreover, witches and stepmothers alike were most often accused of harming other women’s children.”

传说故事里,继母往往是母亲邪恶一面的化身,她完全背离了传统文化里对母亲的期待。但美国文化里继母形象的嬗变则更为复杂。历史学家莱斯利·林德诺在《我无法称她为母亲:美国大众文化里的继母形象,1750-1960》一书中认为,在美国,继母形象的源头是女巫。林德诺认为,在18世纪大众想象中,开始给继母赋予的种种邪恶特征,完全是清教徒对女巫的描绘:邪恶、自私、冷漠、缺乏母性。林德诺写到,继母和女巫都是违逆神的旨意、悖逆自然天性的角色。她们扭曲了母性中最根本的良善。另外,林德诺写到,在人们的观念里,女巫和继母往往会伤害其他母亲的孩子。

The stepmother became a kind of scapegoat, a new repository for aspects of femininity that felt threatening: female agency, female creativity, female restlessness, maternal ambivalence. By the late 18th century, the stepmother was a stock villain, familiar enough to appear in grammar books. One boy was even injured by his dead stepmother from beyond the grave, when a column above her tombstone fell on his head. The particular villainy of the stepmother — the duplicity of tyranny disguised as care — enabled colonial rhetoric that compared England’s rule to “a stepmother’s severity,” as one 1774 tract put it. In an article that ran in Ladies’ Magazine in 1773, on the eve of the American Revolution, a stepdaughter laments her fate at the hands of her stepmother: “Instead of the tender maternal affection … what do I now see but discontent, ill-nature, and mal-a-pert authority?” The stepmother offers bondage cunningly packaged as devotion.

于是,继母们成为替罪羊,成为女性新的危险特质的化身:自主意识、创造性、不安于现状、对子女情感的两面性。到了18世纪后半叶,继母的反面形象已是家喻户晓,甚至出现在儿童教材里。有个小男孩的继母,死了之后都不放过孩子,她墓碑上的一根短柱倒下砸到了男孩。继母之恶有两面性,她用慈爱掩饰残暴。正因为此,殖民地时期的宣传中,说英国的统治“如继母般残暴”,这一比喻出现在1774年的一首歌谣中。1773年,独立战争前夕,《淑女杂志》刊登了一篇文章,文中一位继女哭诉自己的命运被继母蹂躏,“她哪有半点母亲的柔情?全然是一个不知餍足、生性邪恶、粗鲁无耻的暴君。”继母控制子女命运,却巧扮为关怀。

But the American popular imagination hasn’t always understood the stepmother as a wicked woman. If it was true that she was an 18th-century gold digger — a latter-day witch — then it was also true that she was a mid-19th-century saint, happily prostrate to the surge of her own innate maternal impulse. In the Progressive Era, she was proof that being a good mother was less about saintly instincts and more about reason, observation and rational self-improvement. You didn’t have to have a biological connection — or even an innate caregiving impulse — you just had to apply yourself.

但美国大众想象中的继母却并非一直以邪恶示人。18世纪,继母是贪图钱财而嫁入夫家的恶妇,后来变成女巫。到了19世纪中叶,她又成了圣女,因内心母性召唤,甘愿吃辛受苦,毫无怨言。到了进步运动时代,她更成为事例,证明要成为好母亲,内心神圣的母性本能只是一方面,更重要的是理性、观察学习、刻意自我完善。不需要血肉联系,甚至不需具备关心他人的本能,只要倾注心血就能做到。

When I interviewed Lindenauer about her research, she told me that she was surprised to discover these vacillations, surprised to find the figure of the virtuous stepmother showing up in the very same women’s magazines that had vilified her a few decades earlier. She eventually started to detect a pattern. It seemed as if the stepmother found redemption whenever the nuclear family was under siege: in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, or when divorce emerged as a social pattern in the early 20th century. The stepmother became a kind of “port in the storm,” Lindenauer told me. “It’s better to have a stepmother than no mother at all.”

我采访过林德诺,问及她的研究,她告诉我,历史上的继母形象翻天覆地,她也颇为惊讶,同一本杂志,几十年前还把继母贬得一无是处,几十年后又写成良善典范。林德诺说,她发现了个中奥妙所在。每当核心家庭岌岌可危之时,无论是内战之后的风雨飘摇,还是20世纪初离婚率大幅攀升,继母的形象都得到改善。林德诺把继母比作某种“暴风雨里的港湾”。她对我说:“有个继母总比什么母亲都没有要强得多。”

The golden era of the American stepmother archetype — the summit of her virtue — was the second half of the 19th century, during and after the Civil War, when sentimental novels and women’s magazines were full of saintly stepmothers eager to care for the motherless children who stumbled into their laps. In Charlotte Yonge’s 1862 novel, “The Young Step-Mother; or, a Chronicle of Mistakes,” the young stepmother Albinia is portrayed as a woman with a surplus of good will, just waiting for people with needs — read: grief — deep enough to demand the deployment of her excess goodness. Her siblings worry about her marrying a widower with children, afraid she will become a kind of indentured servant, but the novel reassures us that “her energetic spirit and love of children animated her to embrace joyfully the cares which such a choice must impose on her.” When her new husband brings her home, he apologizes for what he is asking from her. “As I look at you, and the home to which I have brought you, I feel that I have acted selfishly,” he says. But she won’t let him apologize. “Work was always what I wished,” she replies, “if only I could do anything to lighten your grief and care.”

十九世纪下半叶,美国内战期间及战后,继母形象在美国迎来了黄金时期,人人称颂继母的美德。流行小说、女性杂志无一不充斥圣母般的继母形象。对于意外来到自己身边的继子女,继母们毫无保留倾注关爱。夏洛特·杨格1862年的小说《年轻的继母,或错误的记录》中,年轻的继母阿尔比尼娅充满爱心,随时愿意帮助别人,无论是帮别人读书,还是安抚他人的哀痛。她满满的爱心简直无从安放。当她要嫁给一个带着孩子的鳏夫时,她的兄弟都担心阿尔比尼娅日后会变成家里的佣人。但小说告诉我们,“她天生热心肠,又打心眼里爱孩子,因此,对于嫁入夫家后的辛苦,她毫无怨言。”当丈夫带她回家时,他对将给她带来的生活负担感到抱歉。“我看着你,再看看你来到的这个新家,我觉得自己很自私。”他说,但被她打断了:“我忙惯了,只要你高兴点、不那么辛苦,我怎么都愿意。”


With the children, Albinia says everything right: She is sorry they have her in place of their mother. They can call her Mother, but they don’t have to. Although the novel is subtitled “A Chronicle of Mistakes,” Albinia doesn’t seem to make many. When I read in the novel’s epigraph, “Fail — yet rejoice,” it felt like a lie and an impossible imperative at once. In fact, the entire voice of the saintly stepmother felt like an elaborate humblebrag. She knew she would always be second — or third! or fifth! or 10th! — but she didn’t care. Not one bit. She just wanted to be useful.

对继子女,阿尔比尼娅说话也很周全:她说自己很抱歉要代替他们的母亲。他们可以叫他妈妈,但如果不愿意也没关系。小说题为《错误的记录》,但阿尔比尼娅却没犯什么错。小说题记里有这么句话:“失败了,却享受着。”读到这句话,我感觉没有半点道理,而且完全不可能做到。事实上,全书里这位圣母般的继母,谈吐间感觉甚是虚伪。她知道自己永远排在第二位,也可能是第三位、第五位,甚至第十位,但她不在乎,只要能帮助别人,她一点都不在乎。

I thought I would be glad to discover these virtuous stepmothers, but instead I found them nearly impossible to accept — much harder to stomach than the wicked stepmothers in fairy tales. My poisoned apple wasn’t the wicked stepmother but her archetypal opposite, the saint, whose innate virtue felt like the harshest possible mirror. It would always show me someone more selfless than I was. These stories forgot everything that was structurally difficult about this kind of bond, or else they insisted that virtue would overcome all. This is why fairy tales are more forgiving than sentimental novels: They let darkness into the frame. Finding darkness in another story is so much less lonely than fearing the darkness is yours alone.

一开始,我以为发现历史上这些贤良继母会让我轻松,但我却无法接受这样的角色设定,甚至远比童话里那些坏继母还难接受。我的“毒苹果”不是那些坏继母,而是她的对立面,那些圣母般的继母,她们天生贤良淑德,对我来说却是最难以接受的镜子,镜中永远在提醒我,别人比我更加无私忘我。这种情感联系天然难以存在,但这类故事却忽视了这点,或者坚称品德能够克服一切。正因为这一点,童话比这种流行小说更加宽容,童话里容许黑暗的存在。在别的故事里看到黑暗,会让你在自身经历的黑暗中感到慰藉。

I punished myself when I lost patience, when I bribed, when I wanted to flee. I punished myself for resenting Lily when she came into our bed, night after night, which wasn’t actually a bed but a futon we pulled out in the living room. Every feeling I had, I wondered: Would a real mother feel this? It wasn’t the certainty that she wouldn’t, but the uncertainty itself: How could I know?

当我失去耐心时,我自责;当我用礼物收买孩子时,我惭愧;当我想逃避时,我内疚。莉莉每晚跑到我跟查尔斯的床上(其实算不上床,只是我们在客厅里支起的沙发床),我心生厌倦时,我责备自己。我每每问自己:亲生母亲这时应该有什么感觉?我内心不安,并不是因为我知道亲生母亲不会跟我一样,而恰恰是因为我不知道亲生母亲应该怎样:我怎么才能知道呢?

I had imagined that I might feel most like a mother among strangers, who had no reason to believe I wasn’t one, but it was actually among strangers that I felt most like a fraud. One day early in our relationship, Lily and I went to a Mister Softee, one of the ice cream trucks parked like land mines all over the city. I asked Lily what she wanted, and she pointed to the double cone of soft serve, the biggest one, covered in rainbow sprinkles. I said, Great! I was still at the Disney Store, still thrilled to find the sled set, still ready and willing to pass as mother by whatever means necessary, whatever reindeer necessary, whatever soft-serve necessary.

我曾以为,在陌生人面前,我会感觉更像一个母亲,因为他们不清楚我的底细。但实际上,在陌生人面前,我更感觉自己是个冒牌货。我跟莉莉相处不久的时候,一天,我和莉莉去一家“富豪雪糕”店,这样的雪糕店像地雷一样,全城到处都有。我问莉莉要什么口味的,她指了指双筒软冰淇淋,这是店里卖的最大的一款,上头还撒了彩虹米。我说,没问题!我的心态还留在迪斯尼专卖店,为找到雪橇兴奋,只要让我过了当妈这一关,什么办法都行,那种驯鹿都可以买,多大的冰淇淋都能让她吃。

The double cone was so huge that Lily could barely hold it. Two hands, I would have known to say a few months later, but I didn’t know to say it then. I heard a woman behind me ask her friend, “What kind of parent gets her child that much ice cream?”I felt myself go hot with shame. This parent. Which is to say: not a parent at all. I was afraid to turn around. I also wanted to turn around. I wanted to make the stranger feel ashamed, to speak back to the maternal superego she represented, to say: What kind of mother? A mother trying to replace a dead one. Instead I grabbed a wad of napkins and offered to carry Lily’s cone back to our table so she wouldn’t drop it on the way.

双筒冰淇淋个头实在太大,莉莉都快抓不住了。如果再过几个月,我会告诉她用两个手拿。但当时我不知道该说什么。我听到背后女人跟朋友悄悄议论:“这人是怎么当妈的,让孩子这么大的冰淇淋。”我感觉面红耳赤。“怎么当妈的”,意思就是“根本不是当妈的”。我不敢回头,心里却想回头,好好跟这个不认识的女人说道说道,告诉她所代表的母性超我:“怎么当妈的?我在尽力替别人当妈。”但我终究没说出口,而是拿了一叠纸巾,帮莉莉把甜筒拿回桌上,坐着吃,免得她半路掉了。

As a stepparent, I often felt like an impostor — or else I felt the particular loneliness of dwelling outside the bounds of the most familiar story line. I hadn’t been pregnant, given birth, felt my body surge with the hormones of attachment. I woke up every morning to a daughter who called me Mommy but also missed her mother. I often called our situation “singular,” but as with so many kinds of singularity, it was a double-edged blade — a source of loneliness and pride at once — and its singularity was also, ultimately, a delusion. “Lots of people are stepparents,” my mother told me once, and of course she was right. A Pew Research Center survey found that four in 10 Americans say they have at least one step relationship. Twelve percent of women are stepmothers. I can guarantee you that almost all these women sometimes feel like frauds or failures.

身为继母,我经常感觉自己是在冒名顶替,或者说,我无法融入那个家庭熟悉的过往,这让我尤为孤单。我没有怀胎十月,一朝分娩。我没有感受过体内激素分泌带来的母子连心。我每天面对的是一个虽然管我叫妈,却依然思念生母的孩子。我常说,这样的母女关系独一无二,但每个独一无二其实都有两面,既让我孤单,也让我骄傲。况且,所谓的独一无二也并非真的无二。“当继父母的多得是”,我母亲告诉过我。她说得对。皮尤研究中心的一项调查中发现,40%的美国人都有当继父母或是继子女的经历。12%的美国女性是继母。我敢确定地说,所有这些继母都曾感觉自己是个冒牌货,或者不称职。

In an essay about stepparents, Winnicott argues for the value of “unsuccess stories.” He even imagines the benefits of gathering a group of “unsuccessful stepparents” in a room together. “I think such a meeting might be fruitful,” he writes. “It would be composed of ordinary men and women.” When I read that passage, it stopped me dead with longing. I wanted to be in that meeting, sitting with those ordinary men and women — hearing about their ice-cream bribes, their everyday impatience, their frustration and felt fraudulence, their desperate sleds.

在一篇研究继父母的文章里,温尼考特认为虽然有些继父母当得不成功,但这样的事例也自有其价值。他甚至还想过,召集一些这样不成功的继父母到一起。“我认为这样的见面会很有好处”,他写道:“参加这一活动的都是些普通的父母。”读到这一段,我心里无比向往。我希望参加这样一次活动,跟这样的普通父母促膝长谈,聊聊他们怎么买冰淇淋哄孩子,他们怎么没耐心,怎么感觉受挫、感觉自己是冒牌货,他们怎么为买礼物黔驴技穷,最后找到了小雪橇。

In the methodology portion of her “Poisoned Apple” study, Church admits that she disclosed to her subjects that she was also a stepmother before interviewing them. After an interview was finished, she sometimes described her own experiences. Many of her subjects confessed that they had told her things during their interviews that they had never told anyone. I could understand that — that they somehow would feel, by virtue of being in the presence of another stepmother, as if they had been granted permission to speak. It was something like the imagined gathering of unsuccessful stepparents, as if they were at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a church basement, taking earned solace in the minor triumphs and frequent failures of their kind: a kind of kin.

在“毒苹果”研究论文的方法论部分,切琪曾透露,在采访之前,她会告诉受访者她本人也是继母。而访谈结束后,她有时会讲述自己的经历。很多受访者承认,在访谈里告诉切琪的一切她们从没告诉过别人。我完全理解这种心理,因为在另一个继母的面前,她们会感觉似乎受到许可,能敞开心扉。这是一种想象里的“失败继父母恳谈会”,就像那些在教堂地下室举办的“匿名戒酒会”一样。无论是小小进步,还是他人同样的失败经历,都会让参加者感到些许安慰,形成一种归属感。

The decision to call the stepmother Mother, or the decision not to call her Mother, is often a dramatic hinge in stories about stepmothers, a climactic moment of acceptance or refusal. In a story called “My Step-Mother,” published in The Decatur Republican in 1870, a young girl regards her new stepmother with skepticism. When her stepmother asks her to play a song on the piano, trying to earn her trust and affection, the girl decides to play “I Sit and Weep by My Mother’s Grave.” But lo! The stepmother is undeterred. She not only compliments the girl on her moving performance; she shares that she also lost her mother when she was young and also used to love that song. The story ends on a triumphant note, with the daughter finally calling her Mother, an inverted christening — child naming the parent — that inaugurates the “most perfect confidence” that grows between them.

叫不叫继母“妈妈”,这是继母经历中最重要的转折点,这一刻决定了孩子到底接不接受她。1870年《迪卡特共和报》刊登过一篇《我的继母》,文中的女孩始终对继母心存疑虑。继母为了取得她的信任和爱,有一次让她在钢琴上弹首曲子,她弹的是《母亲坟前的啜泣》。但好一位继母!她继续勇往直前,不但夸女孩琴声动人,而且告诉她自己也是幼时丧母,因此以前也喜欢这首曲子。故事最后迎来了欢喜的结局,女孩终于开口叫她“妈妈”。这是一种倒转的洗礼,孩子为母亲命名。这一声“妈妈”带来了两人之间“最深的信任”。

For Lily, calling me Mother wasn’t the end of anything. The day after Charles and I married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel — just before midnight on a Saturday, while Lily was having a sleepover with her cousin — Lily asked almost immediately if she could call me Mommy. It was clear she had been waiting to ask. I remember feeling moved, as if we had landed in the credits at the end of a movie, the soundtrack crescendoing all around us.

我和莉莉的故事里,她叫我妈妈并不是结局。我跟查尔斯在拉斯维加斯的一所结婚教堂结成夫妇,时间是个周六半夜零点之前,那天莉莉在表姐家过夜。结婚第二天,莉莉就问我能不能叫我妈妈。显然,她已经想了好久。我记得自己当时很感动,感觉就像电影迎来大结局,片尾曲起,演职员名单开始在屏幕上滚动。

But we weren’t in the credits. We were just getting started. I was terrified. What would happen next? What happened next was pulling into a 7-Eleven for snacks and feeling Lily tug on my sleeve to tell me she had an “adult drink” at the laser-tag birthday party and now felt funny. She didn’t want me to tell her dad. It was like the universe had sent its first maternal test. Was she drunk? What should I do? If I was going to let myself be called Mommy, I had to be prepared to deal with the fallout from the laser-tag birthday party. Charles eventually deduced that she had had a few sips of iced tea.

但我们还没到片尾,其实刚刚开始片头。我紧张得要死。下面该怎么办?接下来发生的是,我们一起开到一家7-Eleven买零食,莉莉拉了拉我的袖子,告诉我她刚参加完朋友的生日聚会,大家一起去玩激光对战,后来她喝了点“大人喝的东西”,现在感觉有点飘飘然。她告诉我要保密,不能告诉爸爸。这是上天给我的第一份考卷,看我是不是个合格的母亲。她喝多了?我该怎么办?如果我准备好让莉莉叫我“妈妈”,我就得想好怎么给激光对战生日聚会的结果善后。不过,查尔斯最后推断,莉莉肯定是抿了几口长岛冰茶。

It felt less as if I had “earned” the title of mother — the way it has figured in so many sentimental stories, as a reward for behaving the right way and defying the old archetypes — and more as if I had landed in the 1900 story called “Making Mamma,” in which 6-year-old Samantha layers a dressmaker’s dummy with old fabric in order to make a surrogate mother for herself. It was as if Lily had bestowed a deep and immediate trust in me — unearned, born of need — and now I had to figure out how to live inside that trust without betraying it.

我感觉,自己并不是“赢得”母亲的称号,不像流行小说里的情节,我用所作所为打破了陈旧观念,最终得到奖赏。我感觉自己来到了1900年的一个名为《制造母亲》的故事里,讲的是六岁的萨曼莎给裁缝店的人偶穿上旧衣服,给自己做个一个假妈妈。莉莉给我的似乎是一种无条件的深刻信任,是她的情感需求,并非是我赢得的。接下来,我得学会怎样不辜负这份信任。

Once I stepped into the costume of a well-worn cultural archetype, I got used to hearing other people’s theories about my life. Everyone had ideas about our family without knowing anything about our family. One woman said our situation was easier than if I had a terrible ex to compete with; another woman said I would be competing with the memory of Lily’s perfect biological mother forever. When I wrote about a family vacation for a travel magazine, the editor wanted a bit more pathos: “Has it been bumpy?” she wrote in the margins of my draft. “What are you hoping for from this trip? A tighter family bond? A chance to let go of the sadness? Or … ?? Tug at our heartstrings a bit.”

一旦我成为传统刻板观念里的角色,我就习惯了别人对我生活的各种猜测。虽然完全不了解我们家庭的情况,但人人都能评头论足。一个女人说,比起有个前妻跟我竞争,我的情况实在是好得多。另一个女人说,我一辈子都要跟莉莉记忆中的完美生母比高下了。我给旅游杂志写家庭度假,编辑问我能不能加些感情料,“一路顺利吗?”她在我稿件上批注:“通过旅行你想达到什么目的?家庭更亲密?找个机会释放哀伤?等等…挑动挑动读者的心弦。”


I realized that when this editor imagined our family, she envisioned us saturated by sadness, or else contoured by resistance. More than anything, I liked her “Or … ??” It rang true. It wasn’t that every theory offered by a stranger about our family felt wrong; it was more that most of them felt right, or at least held a grain of truth that resonated. Which felt even more alarming, somehow, to be so knowable to strangers.

我意识到,这位编辑的想象里,我们家必定是忧伤挥之不去,要么就是母女间罅隙丛生。其实,我最喜欢她写的那个“等等…”。这个“等等”颇有几分道理。并不是说别人对我们家的想象都是错的,其实大多数都对,或者至少有几分道理。让我警醒的是,外人是怎么看出来的?

But every theory also felt incomplete. There was so much more truth around it, or else something close to its opposite felt true as well. I rarely felt like saying, No, it’s nothing like that. I usually wanted to say: Yes, it is like that. And also like this, and like this, and like this. Sometimes the fact of those assumptions, the way I felt them churning inside everyone we encountered, made stepmotherhood feel like an operating theater full of strangers. I was convinced that I was constantly being dissected for how fully or compassionately I had assumed my maternal role.

但外人的想象都不全面。背后还有很多故事,或者有时候想象与事实几乎完全相反。但我不太愿意驳斥别人,说:完全没有这回事。我一般都说:没错,就是这样!就是那样!你说的对!他说的对!有时候,这些纷纷扰扰的猜测,或是我感到的每个陌生人强烈的好奇,让继母们好像是在一个满是陌生观众的剧场里演出。我确信,我有没有履行好母亲义务,有没有体现母爱关怀,这些早被别人分析了个透。

I only ever found two fairy tales with good stepmothers, and they were both from Iceland. One stars a woman named Himinbjorg, who helps her stepson through his mourning by helping him fulfill the prophecy his mother delivered to him in a dream: that he will free a princess from a spell that had turned her into an ogre. By the time he returns from his mission victorious, the royal court is ready to burn Himinbjorg at the stake, because everyone is convinced that she is responsible for his disappearance. What I read as her selflessness moved me. She is willing to look terrible in order to help her son pursue a necessary freedom. I worried that I cared too much about proving I was a good stepmother, that wanting to seem like a good stepmother might get in the way of actually being a good stepmother. Perhaps I wanted credit for mothering more than I wanted to mother. Himinbjorg, on the other hand, is willing to look like a witch just to help her stepson break the spell he needs to break.

那么多继母童话里,我只找到两篇关于好继母的,两篇都来自冰岛。一篇里的女主角叫希敏约格。她继子的生母托梦给他,说他将帮一位公主摆脱咒语,从怪物变回常人。希敏约格帮助继子实现这一预言。当男孩凯旋归来之时,朝廷正打算把希敏约格火刑处死,因为大家都相信,男孩失踪是她搞的鬼。故事里女主角的无私忘我感动了我。为了帮继子获得必要的自由,她不顾自己在他人眼中的形象。我有时担心,自己是不是太在意别人的眼光,想证明自己是个好继母。是不是比起当好母亲,我更在乎别人对我的认可?希敏约格就不是这样。为了让继子打破魔咒,她情愿背负巫婆的骂名。


Then there was Hildur. Hildur’s husband had vowed never to marry after the death of his first queen, because he was worried that his daughter would be mistreated. “All stepmothers are evil,” he tells his brother, “and I don’t wish to harm Ingibjorg.” He is a fairy-tale king who has already absorbed the wisdom of fairy tales. He knows the deal with stepmoms.

另一篇的主角叫希尔杜。希尔杜的丈夫在第一任王后去世后,曾发愿不再另娶,因为怕女儿被后妈虐待。“后妈没一个好的”,他对弟弟说:“我不愿让英吉约格受一点委屈。”这是位已经在童话里学到智慧的童话国王。他清楚后妈们的面目。

But he falls in love with Hildur anyway. She says she won’t marry him, though — not unless he lets her live alone with his daughter for three years before the wedding. Their marriage is made possible by her willingness to invest in a relationship with his daughter that exists apart from him, as its own fierce flame.

但他还是爱上了希尔杜。希尔杜却不愿嫁给他,除非自己先跟公主共度三年,之后才能跟国王成婚。正因为她愿意独立于夫妻之外,培育和继女的感情,这才点燃了婚姻的火焰,让这段婚姻得以实现。

The closest thing Lily and I ever had to an Icelandic castle was a series of bathrooms across Lower Manhattan. Bathrooms were the spaces where it was just the two of us: the one with wallpaper made from old newspapers, the one where she insisted that people used to have braids instead of hands, the one at a Subway with a concrete mop sink she loved because it was “cool and simple.”

我和莉莉最接近这些冰岛城堡故事的经历,发生在曼哈顿下城的几个卫生间里。卫生间是我们两人的空间,一间墙上贴着旧报纸做的墙纸,在另一间里,她非说过去的人不长手光长辫子,第三间是地铁卫生间,莉莉说她喜欢里面的水泥拖把池,因为设计“很简单很酷”。

Bathrooms were our space, just as Wednesdays were our day, when I picked her up from school and took her to the Dunkin’ Donuts full of cops at Third Avenue and 20th before I rushed her to ballet, got her suited in her rhinestone-studded leotard and knelt before her tights like a supplicant, fitting bobby pins into her bun. At first, I expected an Olympic medal for getting her there only two minutes late. Eventually I realized that I was surrounded by mothers who had done exactly what I’d just done, only they had done it two minutes faster, and their buns were neater. Everything that felt like rocket science to me was just the stuff regular parents did every day of the week.

卫生间是我们两人的空间,每周三则是我们两人的时间。每到这天,我去学校接她放学,之后去第三大街或是第二十大街经常见到警察光顾的“唐恩都乐”甜甜圈店,之后赶着送她学芭蕾,跪着帮她换上镶着水钻的连衣裤,活像个女仆,给她发髻戴上发卡。刚开始,我做到只让她迟到两分钟时,感觉应该给自己颁块奥运金牌。后来才发现,周围这些妈妈们全都能做到,而且比我快两分钟,而且她们女儿的发髻更利索。这些对我来说难如天书的事,其实只是这些普通家长们每天的日常。

But those afternoons mattered, because they belonged to me and Lily. One day, in a cupcake-shop bathroom in SoHo — a few months before Lily, Charles and I moved into a new apartment, the first one we would rent together — Lily pointed at the walls: pink and brown, decorated with a lacy pattern. She told me she wanted our new room to look like this. Ours. She had it all planned out. In the new place, Daddy would live in one room, and we would live in the other. Our room would be so dainty, she said. She wasn’t even sure boys would be allowed. This was what Hildur knew: We needed something that was only for the two of us.

虽然如此,但这些下午却很重要,因为这是我和莉莉的独处时光。一天,在苏豪区一家蛋糕店的卫生间里(当时莉莉、查尔斯和我还没搬进新公寓,我们全家第一次租公寓还是几个月之后的事),莉莉指着墙,墙粉色褐色装饰,还有蕾丝花纹。她告诉我,以后我们的新房间也要这样装修。我们的。她心里已经计划好了。到了新家,爸爸住一间,我和妈妈住一间。我俩的房间一定要装得最漂亮,她说。她都没想好能不能让男的进去。这就是希尔杜的智慧:我们要有两人独有的生活。

A few months later, reading Dr. Seuss’s “Horton Hatches the Egg” to Lily in that new apartment, I felt my throat constricting. Horton agrees to sit on an egg while Mayzie the bird, a flighty mother, takes a vacation to Palm Beach. Mayzie doesn’t come back, but Horton doesn’t give up. He sits on a stranger’s egg for days, then weeks, then months. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant,” he repeats. “An elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent!”

几个月后,我们搬进了新家。一天,我给她读苏斯博士的《霍顿孵蛋》。读着读着,我感到嗓子有点发紧。懒鸟梅吉,这个长翅膀的妈妈去棕榈滩度假,霍顿同意帮她孵蛋。梅吉一直不回家,但霍顿却坚持,在别人下的蛋上孵了好几天、好几个星期、最后好几个月。“我不说则已,说到就要做到。”他一直说:“大象最守信用,百分百守信。”


When the egg finally hatches, the creature that emerges is an elephant-bird: a bright-eyed baby with a small, curled trunk and red-tipped wings. Her tiny trunk made me think of Lily’s hand gesticulations — how big and senseless they got, like mine — and how she had started to make to-do lists, as I did, just so she could cross things off. But she also had a poster of the planets in her bedroom, because her mom had loved outer space, and she was proud to say she always had her “nose in a book,” just as her grandmother told her that her mother always had. She has two mothers, and she always will.

蛋终于孵出来了,出来的是一只小象鸟:眼睛亮晶晶,长着根小小卷卷的象鼻子,还有一对红色尖尖的翅膀。小象鸟的小鼻子让我想到莉莉舞动的手,这双手慢慢变得和我的手一样大,却一样不再敏感。这双手也开始列待办清单了,也会划掉清单里的条目了。但莉莉在卧室里贴了张行星贴图,因为她亲生母亲喜欢宇宙。她的亲生母亲“总是埋在书里”,这是姥姥告诉她的,每次说到这个,莉莉总是自豪的不得了。她有两个母亲,永远都会有。

For me, the stakes of thinking about what it means to be a stepmother don’t live in statistical relevance — slightly more than 10 percent of American women might relate! — but in the way stepparenting asks us to question our assumptions about the nature of love and the boundaries of family. Family is so much more than biology, and love is so much more than instinct. Love is effort and desire — not a sentimental story line about easy or immediate attachment, but the complicated bliss of joined lives: ham-and-guacamole sandwiches, growing pains at midnight, car seats covered in vomit. It’s the days of showing up. The trunks we inherit and the stories we step into, they make their way into us — by womb or shell or presence, by sheer force of will. But what hatches from the egg is hardly ever what we expect: the child that emerges, or the parent that is born. That mother is not a saint. She’s not a witch. She’s just an ordinary woman. She found a sled one day, after she was told there weren’t any left. That was how it began.

对我来说,思考怎样当好继母,意义并不在统计数字里,毕竟只有百分之十多一点的美国女性和我感同身受。但通过思考这个问题,促使我们去思考到底什么是爱,家的界限到底在哪儿。家庭的概念远远超过生物学的联系,爱远远不止是本能。爱是乐于奉献、甘于奉献。爱不是流行小说故事里从天而降、凭空而来的情感联系,而是苦乐交织的共同生活带来的:火腿鳄梨三明治、孩子发育期半夜的疼痛、汽车座椅上的呕吐。爱是在她身边。我们共同拥有的皮卡车,我们一起经历的故事,这些塑造了我们,无论是子宫孕育、蛋壳孵出,还是不离不弃、矢志不渝。但蛋里孵出的雏鸟却超乎我们想象:一个孩子的诞生、一个母亲的成熟。母亲不是圣人,也不是女巫,她只是一个普通的女人。别人告诉她什么礼品都不剩了,她还能找出一台小雪橇。这就是故事的开始。

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