This post is inspired by The Toast’s moving and hilarious “If X Were Your Y” series. Thanks for the laughs, guys.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, the first word you would learn would be “no”, and the second would be “archly”. You would do everything archly. You would sing the alphabet song archly, with light traces of irony in your little voice. You would learn to use the toilet archly, with one eyebrow raised in amusement when your successes were applauded. You would attend nursery school archly, fingerpainting animals with your tongue firmly in your cheek.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, you’d attend rallies and protests from the time you could walk. At the age of three, you’d proudly announce your status as a feminist to strangers, and Emma Thompson would look back at you just as proudly. As you got older, Emma Thompson would invite you to activism events and on service trips, but would never let you forget that you were there to do good, not to participate in “voluntourism”. She’d forbid you from posting anything about your trip on social media, except for a single photo of an excited-looking marmoset you’d managed to take at the right moment.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d tease you mercilessly whenever you’d been naughty. On one memorable occasion, she’d put on her full Nanny McPhee garb, fake warts and all, and woke you up at the crack of dawn the next morning. She’d crack a grin as you screamed in terror. “When you need me but do not want me,” she’d whisper, “then I must stay.” She’d refuse to take the costume off until nightfall.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d disappear for an hour after you came home from school crying because some girls in your class called you bossy. When she returned, she’d be holding a cake almost twice your size, specially iced by her favorite bakery to say “CONGRATS ON NOT BEING A DOORMAT!” You, your dad, and Emma Thompson would eat the whole thing for dinner that night. You’d spend the rest of the evening exchanging every controversial opinion you can think of, from your taste in vegetables to who the next Prime Minister should be and end up devolving into giggles when Emma Thompson launches into an impassioned treatise against cauliflower and Theresa May.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, you’d never quite trust anybody not to be joking unless they promised you they weren’t. You’d have grown up with too many deadpan little one-liners, apparently in earnest until you thought about it for a few seconds, and burst into laughter.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, movie sets of period dramas would become your second home. You’d be brought along when filming took place on old country estates, and the directors would all know and trust you. While the actors filmed in the garden, you’d be free to amble around the private woods, reading Jane Austen on crumbling stone benches when you got tired.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, you’d tease her from time to time about the oddly-placed frills on her costumes, and the lacy, Little Bo Peep bonnets she has to wear. She’d laugh, and for a while you’d think that was the end of it. But then she’d buy you an identical bonnet in revenge, and make you wear it for the rest of the week.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d never make assumptions about your life after leaving school. Chats about marriage would be open and theoretical, leaving room for a male partner, a female partner, or no partner. She’d never assume she’d have grandchildren; she’d offer a variety of possibilities in the imagined narratives of your growing-up. University would be a choice that was entirely up to you, although if you didn’t go, she’d encourage you to pursue your passions in ways that would also benefit other people. She’d remain fascinated by each of your choices, and even after leaving home, you’d have long phone conversations that stretched late into the night, because the two of you always have something to learn from each other.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she wouldn’t have quite the reaction you hoped for when you entered your goth phase in high school. She’d beam from ear to ear on the day you pierced your left eyebrow, and say a bunch of embarrassing things about how proud she was the next time she was on Jonathan Ross. “Why?!” you’d ask, hoping she might at least find the chains you were wearing a bit rebellious. “Well,” she’d say, smiling vaguely, “there’s nothing wrong with raging against the machine. It’s not like you’ve joined UKIP, is it?”
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d encourage you to read everything and anything you wanted, especially if it was “too old for you” or something from the banned books list. In order to encourage this, she’d hide subversive literature into your room while you were at school, though she always claimed she had nothing to do with it. Finding Naked Lunch under your bed at age nine was the last straw. As a result, you read nothing but Enid Blyton for several years.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d notice when the worst, most awkward time of your adolescence began, and she’d greet you in the foyer of your school with a mulish look on her face. “I’ve decided I’m taking a year off acting,” she’d begin. “We’re getting out of here. We’re seeing the world. Let’s go to your teachers and tell them.” And for twelve months, it would be just you and Emma Thompson, traveling from continent to continent, talking to people from every walk of life, seeking out the road less traveled.
If Emma Thompson were your mother, she’d be the best empathizer in the world when you were upset. But after a rib-crushing hug and a long, revelatory heart-to-heart, she’d start encouraging you to see the humor in the situation, cracking just enough jokes to draw you out of self-pity and into proactivity. And that would be a skill that would see you through the rest of your life, in travel and at home—and on frequent visits to your parents, where Emma Thompson would make you a hot cup of tea, tell you all the recent anecdotes, and send liquid shooting through your nose.