Sunday, May 8, 2005


When I was in the fourth grade...

...I went through a period of telling my mother, every night at bedtime, in a childish voice nasty with fright, "I hate you!" after which I'd pull the covers over my head.
    My mother would respond, "That's all right. I love you," kiss my head through my hastily fashioned shroud and finish me off with a gentle, "Good night, Gail." I'd simmer in confused fury for several minutes after she left the room.
    Many years later I received a frantic call from a friend whose young daughter acted out the need for separation from parental protection in the very same way and scared the living shit out of her. "What have I done?!?" my friend cried. "Have I been a terrible mother? How could she hate me?"
    I couldn't help it. I laughed. "No," I assured her, suddenly remembering my own childhood, "you haven't been a terrible mother. It's a sign that you're an excellent mother. She doesn't hate you, she's growing up, crawling out of her need for protection. It isn't you she hates, it's herself, for sensing her growing autonomy but knowing that she still wants some of the protection she thinks she should no longer need. Just tell her you love her anyway. It'll drive her crazy at the time but it'll also reassure her that you're looking out for her and no matter how far she decides to explore outside the boundaries of your protection you'll be there for her when she needs you, whether or not she can tell you she needs you."
    When the conversation with my friend ended I realized I would never have remembered my own awkward episode in the necessary serial of childhood separation from parents, nor would I have become consciously aware of its meaning and been able to use it to diagnose, prescribe and prognosticate my friend back into parental confidence if my mother hadn't had the wit and wisdom, when I was a child, to know exactly what I'd told my friend.
    My mother nurtured with a light, easy touch. She still does. She is the world's most unobtrusive mother-in-law: Not only her married daughters gratefully acknowledge this but so do her sons-in-law. When I think of her style of mothering I think of animal mothers; wolves, bears, cougars, who, without nonsense or unnecessary sentimentality, take the neophyte beings in their charge along with them as they live their lives, show them the world, carefully, at first, then less protectively as time passes, and finally release them into the world to add to its bounty under their own steam.
    She was and remains incapable of playing favorites. Each of her daughters was a wonder unto themselves. I remember her responding to our occasional questions about who she loved best by telling us, with absolute veracity which we all understood, that the love of one's children isn't apportioned, it expands and differentiates to include everyone.
    I remember times when I've thought she made mistakes:    What do I now believe? I believe that my mother not only did the best she could under the circumstances, I believe she did much, much better than many parents ever hope to do. I believe, far from dooming any of us, she did us some tremendous favors:    There is one way in which my mother's style of mothering differs from the mothering of many other animals (as far as we as a species understand): She considers her children simultaneously miracles of reproduction in their own right and extensions of herself. Years ago she talked often about how, when she became old she wanted to live in the middle of a multi-home courtyard surrounded by her children and their families. Sometimes I ache that this didn't happen, especially when I think about how, when I am old, I would like to live in a similar set-up with my sisters. The catch, though, that snags me out of my ache is one final quality with which my mother imbued me: I have never missed anyone I love from whom I've been or am separated by distance, or time, or even lack of communication, because as those I know and love pursue their separate adventures, be those adventures exhilarating or terrifying, I feel as though their adventures enhance my life and my adventures enhance theirs.
    Only a person with a fundamental sense of and thirst for existence as a magnificent, beckoning, ultimately unifying mystery could have passed this quality on to me. That person, I am pleased and grateful to say, is my mother.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home
All material copyright at time of posting by Gail Rae Hudson

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?