Mothering

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Yesterday was my oldest daughter’s birthday and the day before was the third anniversary of the death of my mother. It wasn’t always like this of course. It’s a bittersweet couple of days and now, for the rest of my life, there’s no way I can ever forget the date my mother died, August 22 and my oldest daughter’s birthday, August 23. The days are forever linked, like bittersweet twins. My daughter decided to die her hair today, she wanted to for her birthday. I sat in the small lobby of the salon, waiting, reading, my face in Joan Didion’s Let Me Tell You What I Mean, listening to stylists and their clients talk life. I think it rare a man finds himself in a salon, availed with no filter to the conversations and observations from women. The reading didn’t take, my mind picked up the text but also snippets of the conversations, a woman telling another she’s hormonal, her client responding with an admission of menopause and another woman talking of the joys of homeschooling her children. My daughter was there for four hours, she said, “Daddy, I heard a lot of juicy gossip today!” Two days ago, I thought of my mother and how she used to wash my ears when I was a boy — her nails would scrape and scratch, like knives doing cartwheels against the walls of my ears. It’s difficult to reflect on a person’s life and pick everything that meant something because we want to confess that all of it mattered, but I don’t know if we believe that. Once she curled my hair with a curling iron, fluffing my straight hair, burning my forehead a few times. I’m now forever convinced that straight hair should never be fluffed out, especially for a boy of eight or nine; a picture of this has survived, perhaps in a plastic bag with other pictures somewhere in my sister’s garage. I still see my mother’s coffee cups in the bathroom when she’d get ready for work, or the kitchen filled with the aroma of pozole cooking, the cars she used to drive, the clothes she used to wear, the long held stare she’d sometimes have in her eyes for something I could never see. I never asked her what she thought of in those moments. You don’t know you can ask when you’re a kid, it simply becomes something to catalog, an important notation in the life of someone you loved. In Resilient by John Eldredge, he writes, “From our earliest memories our mother is the source of all comfort, security, nourishment, and help. Mother is mercy. In terms of child development, mother comes first, before father.” I think it natural as we grow older to try to understand and piece together how we have become who we have become. We start at childhood. Eldredge writes, “In the first moments after birth we were placed upon our mother’s chest, and our first experience of attachment is with her. We are lifted to her breast, and from her we receive everything we need for our flourishing.” I cannot speak of mothering, to know the depth of primal attachment, to smile, to hold a long, piercing gaze upon a life one’s created with their life, the nourishing with one’s body, etc. It’s amazing, divinely magical. Still, nobody survives childhood unscathed. One can mark where they did not flourish, where something was missed, where confidence was not instilled, where a gaze was not given or attachment made. We may lament these deficiencies and speculate where to put the blame. And if I were a betting man, I’m going to say we think about this more than we’d like to admit. But is it an exercise in futility? What does it matter? What’s the point? The point is the sting of neglect is stubborn and lasting. It bullies directly, “You were neglected. Remember?” Eldredge writes about a friend whose mother was “bright, intelligent…with loads of energy. She put herself through grad school while he was a young boy, which meant she was gone a great deal of the time” (81). She offered, “vacations, gourmet meals, and good books, what she did not offer was simply herself. She withheld the fundamental attachment and nourishment he craved as a boy” (81). There are a lot of dangerous things in life that carry great risk. I do not ride rollercoasters, I don’t care what’s over a cliff and I will never skydive but one of the most dangerous thing I could ever do as a human, as a father, as a man, is to withhold myself from my children and to sabotage my attachment to them. Now that’s a midlife crisis. Too often as parents we forget that we are still in a level of development, as if reaching a certain age compels us to stop learning and growing as parents. As I think of my children and the attachments with them I want to strengthen, especially with two teenagers now, I’m learning to be an active listener, to ask questions more, to hold my disagreements a little bit longer to understand, to judge less and to be close if things go sideways. At the end of her days, my mother was a support during a very difficult time in my life. She too had learned to listen, to sit and hear from far away, to attach with me from far away in order for me to hope that I could flourish through the storm. I’ll remember that because it was perfect.

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Zeke Soza

California native, Idaho resident. English and Creative Writing Teacher. Father, Christian, Ex-Marine, Introvert, Reader, Writer.