The ‘other’ in mother
While advertisements for Mother’s Day gifts would imply that all mothers like pink pyjamas and electrical appliances, the reality is that there is more of the ‘other’ in ‘mother’.
There are as many different types of mothers as there are mothers. When I think of all the mothers I know – all different ages and stages – there is a lovely mix of women.
The quotes chosen below illustrate the many different aspects to mothering – losing a child, parenting a child not your own, feeling ambivalent about motherhood. There’s also the perspective from children, of a splendid mother, an absent mother and a mother with superhero powers.
In the quiet by Eliza Henry Jones, 2015. The story is narrated by Cate, a dead mother who watches over her family. She’s remembering a conversation she and her husband had with their fourteen-year-old twin boys about dating girls.
Being a mother is a fullness. Pregnancy gives way to exhaustion, love, anger, weeping, frustration, wonder. The emotions, they fill you up till you think you don’t have room left for anything else.
On the verandah, no longer laughing. It was the first time being a mother had made me feel hollow. For the first time, that tug of emptiness, as my children started to pull away from me.
The eye of the sheep by Sofie Laguna, 2014. Jimmy Flick sees the world a little differently, and his mum, Paula, protects him from that world. Jimmy, the narrator, describes his mother at his specialist appointment.
I watched as the redness moved up over Mum, washing her chin and her cheeks pink. It was a mother’s fury coming up from her core. She had tried to cover it up with chocolate cake and tea from the hospital cafeteria, but it was linked to a vat of mother’s fury that could power the world and she couldn’t hold it down. She bit back her lips and held her own hands tight and swallowed.
Little women by Louisa M. Alcott, 1868. Such a classic! I love this description of Marmee, the four girls’ mother.
She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the girls thought the grey cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world.
The paper house by Anna Spargo-Ryan, 2016. Heather gives birth to her stillborn daughter, and spends the next six months grieving for her. This quote comes from the end of the book, where Heather and her husband Dave celebrate their daughter.
I had read in a book that an unborn baby could recognise its mother’s voice in the fifth month, and from that time on I had spoken to her, sung to her. I’d told her about the world, about the people banging around downstairs, about Mrs Carson in the next apartment, who was seventy-four but still brought home a different man every week. I’d told her about the Indian place around the corner, and how I would take her there for chicken korma, and I’d told her about the dumpling house at the end of the street, and how I would take her there for xiao long bao. I’d told her about the pancakes at Mart180, and how I had decided that was the first place we would go together. I’d told her I would buy her a pretty new dress for the occasion.
The other side of the world by Stephanie Bishop, 2015. Charlotte, with her husband Henry and two small daughters, has moved from England to Australia, and she is struggling to find her place.
If she can just delay for long enough Lucie will find something else to do and forget about the watering can. I don’t mind filling it up once, Charlotte thinks, but it is never once – it is five, ten, twelve times, bending over and standing up and bending over. It should not be so difficult. It should be a joy. I should know how to make it a joy. Today, though, the repulsion overwhelms – this need to be alone, away from the children. She is so tired, and it is so hot, so terribly hot now.
My mum has x-ray vision by Angela McAllister and Alex T. Smith, 2010. This is a gorgeous picture book, which shows Milo trying to work out whether his mum has x-ray vision. She seems so ordinary, yet she always knows what he’s up to. This is a superhero quality I suspect many mothers possess!
Milo’s mum was like all the other mums. She had ordinary hair, ordinary clothes and a nice smile. Milo’s mum was just like all the other mums … Except she could see through things. Milo was pretty sure she had x-ray vision.
The light between oceans by M. L. Stedman, 2012. A lighthouse keeper and his wife, living on a remote Australian island, bury three babies of their own and choose to keep an unknown baby who washes up on a small rowboat on their island. I chose this quote written in a letter from Isabel, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, to Lucy because it reflects how many women who don’t have biological children feel strong ties of love and belonging to other children.
You are a grown woman now. I hope life has been kind to you. I hope that you can forgive me for keeping you. And for letting you go. Know that you have always been beloved.
Anchor Point, Alice Robinson, 2015. The absent mother, Kath, in this book disappears, and only Laura, her daughter, knows the reason why. Laura is a young girl at the beginning of the novel, where this quote is taken from.
Laura loved her mother best like this: scrubbed clean, a raw version of herself. She took the edge of Kath’s silk kimono gingerly, rolling onto her back. Though the room was dark, a wedge of light made a halo of Kath’s hair.
‘Are you asleep?’ said Kath unnecessarily. Laura shook her head. Her mother sighed, touching Laura’s face, stroking her hair. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said softly. ‘I love you very much. I shouldn’t have, you know, hit you.’
Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks, 2013. This is one of my favourite middle-grade novels because it is about a wonderful mother who is also a writer. (Ok, I may be a little biased here!) Tuesday McGillyCuddy has an ordinary mother called Sarah who does tuckshop duty, but her mother is also the famous writer, Serendipity Smith, who has flaming red hair and wears long velvet coats and purple boots. But only Tuesday, her father and her mother’s assistant know that Sarah is also Serendipity. This is a lovely quote about parents checking their children in bed at night.
Perhaps you don’t actually know that long after you have drifted off to sleep, your mother or father or someone else who loves you will invariably tiptoe into your room. They will pull your covers up over your shoulders if it’s cold, or fold them at the bottom of your bed if it’s hot. They will turn your light down, or off, and pick up that pair of shoes you’ve left lying in the middle of the floor. And do you know what they do next? For the briefest moment, they will watch you sleeping. They might stroke your cheek, or kiss your head, or whisper a good dream into your ear. Or perhaps they just stand there and think how lovely you are, and blow you a kiss, and leave you to your sleep.
The secret life of bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 2001. The narrator is fourteen-year-old Lily, whose mother died when she was four, in an accident that was apparently Lily’s fault.
That night I lay in bed and thought about dying and going to be with my mother in paradise. I would meet her saying, ‘Mother, forgive. Please forgive,’ and she would kiss my skin till it grew chapped and tell me I was not to blame. She would tell me this for the first ten thousand years.
The next ten thousand years she would fix my hair. She would brush it into such a tower of beauty, people all over heaven would drop their harps just to admire it. You can tell which girls lack mothers by the look of their hair. My hair was constantly going off in eleven wrong directions ….
Here’s to all the women who are nurturing, kind, funny, strong, courageous – and are doing the best they can to raise their children.
And thank you to everyone who commented on my post last week about raising funds and awareness for ovarian cancer. I’m so grateful to everyone who bought a Witchery white shirt!