Simply having children does not make mothers: John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic
Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children: Thackeray, Vanity Fair
God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers: Unknown; a Jewish Proverb
I would leave you a song, my mother ...
Yours the tender hand upon my breast;
Yours the voice sounding ever in my ears: Madeleine Mason-Manheim, To My Mother
Who ran to help me, when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or Kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother : Ann Taylor, My Mother
I tell you there isn't a thing under the sun that needs to be done at all, but what a man can do better than a woman, unless it's bearing children, and they do that in a poor make-shift way; it had better ha' been left to the men: George Elliot, Adam Bede
I arose a mother in Israel: Old Testament: Judges, v, 7
Her children arise and call her blessed: Old Testament, Proverbs, xxxi, 28
Do you expect, forsooth, that a mother will hand down to her children principles which differ from her own? (Scilicet expectas ut tradat mater honestos Atque alios mores quam quos habet?) : Juvenal, Satires
Every living creature had a mother, a natural source from which newness was brought into the world of the living. Genetics hand on from mother (and father) to child endowments peculiar to their source, yet universal in character, reflecting their place in the animal kingdom, or that of the plants that succour the animals living on this Earth. We are helpless beings at birth, dependent on the tender love of a mother to nurture us to infancy. With good fortune, our mothers will endow us with a memory of her emotional investment in us, as she guided us toward maturity and prepared us to take our place in the society we inhabit.
Having said which, the quality of motherhood is as diverse and unforeseeable as is the diversity of human character, behaviour and personality. There are mothers completely devoted to the welfare of their children, who understand their needs and undertake to give them the direction and support they require at each and every signpost on the journey to becoming independent members of society. Conversely there are more than enough mothers for whom motherhood is a casual matter, leaving their children to fend for themselves, void of the encouragement, stimulation and emotional investment they need to be mentally and physically healthy specimens of society.
We all have our ideas about what it takes to be a good parent. Most people are fairly clear that a child needs unfiltered love, discipline when and as required, and the firmly fixed subconscious assurance that they are loved and valued, their presence esteemed and respected, that within their family they are assured the constancy of devotion and the needed security that will enable them to be curious about the world around them, and to learn by patterning to familial experiences; by an extension exposure into the world outside the family, the opportunities to discover for themselves the place they aspire to for their futures.
My mother was born in Europe, she lived with her family in Russia, in the Pale of Settlement, where Jews were sent to populate the land, and keep them out of the way, as a nuisance population whose presence engendered resentment and ever-surging anti-Semitic responses. She had a brother and two sisters. The brother was killed when their home was bombed by the "whites" before the Russian Revolution, since he was an advocate for the "reds". Her father was seriously injured, one of her sisters had shrapnel in a leg, and my mother in an eye.
The sisters emigrated to Canada, following in the lead of some members of their extended family; uncles and aunts. The oldest sister; a decade older than her siblings had married, and emigrated with her husband, the two younger ones following soon afterward, the passage loaned by earlier emigrant family-members. A photograph I have of the two younger sisters, standing side by side professionally photographed, is that of two physically mature and attractive young women ready to face the world, their visages open and expectantly aware of free will and opportunities awaiting them.
My father was born in Poland, orphaned as a young boy, placed in the village poor house, when he fled from the small town of Mezrich to Warsaw in search of his older brother whom he never found. He lived on the street as a homeless urchin, along with many other children in similar circumstances. A society of philanthropic benefactors swooped many of these young boys off the streets and sent them to North America, as indentured farm workers. They worked on the farms they were assigned to until their transit debt was paid, and they became free agents.
My parents, then in their early 20s, met in Toronto, where both were involved as secular Jews, in labour movements and the socialist-political movement. I was born when my mother was 24 years old. A sister followed four years later, a brother two years afterward, and a second brother with thirteen years between the oldest and the youngest. I helped my mother in practical ways to look after my baby brother. A year later, when I was 14, I met my future husband. Neither of my parents approved of the family my future husband came from; his father had an unsavoury reputation as a bit of a wastrel among Jews, a drinker, hustler, gambler.
My childhood years were not particularly happy ones. I was a lonely child. I was not very emotionally or socially nourished. My mother was never demonstrative, either physically or emotionally. I took to reading and devouring books at an early age; they provided a respite for me from the monotone of my life, delivering me to a world of exciting possibilities. I read sobering books as well, those describing the lives of Jews in Europe, a literature of a people despised and haunted by the past, the present - and a future none could quite envision in its brutal viciousness, ridding the world of a large portion of its Jewish presence.
My mother was involved as a social activist throughout her life. She was a peace-marcher, a strong advocate of socialism, of union activism, of peace and understanding between peoples. She was a principled woman who sought justice and freedoms, who felt that her activities would help to bring about a better world of kindness and compassion, defeating the scourges of racism, poverty and human rights abuse. While she was busy battling the forces of evil, she raised her four children, and maintained a traditional relationship with her husband. The family never did prosper economically, but was able to live fairly well.
My mother's personality was an oppressive one to her husband and toward her children. Maledictions fell easily from her lips. Accusations, recriminations, demands, lectures, were all rained down without end on our heads. There was never any knowing what might set off a verbal conflagration and we all cowered before her mighty anger, before the blustering, blistering heat of her aggrieved and unchallenged assaults on us. It is the memory of treading lightly, of hoping to avert anger and screaming imprecations that most reflected my life with my mother.
There were no ameliorating memories of a mother's hugs and reassurances, encouragement or appreciation. There were expectations and denunciations, loud, shrilly ear-piercing, confusing and demeaning. There are those people who are quite simply incapable of disciplining themselves, of emotional introspection, of realizing how their unbridled ire impacts on those around them. The outlet for their frustrations is to target the emotional sensibilities of others, to breach their emotional defences, and in so doing, somehow alleviate the strain of their own stresses.
As I grew older and my mother commensurately older, it was I who offered a kiss on greeting or parting, and she accepted that. The emotional attachment that children feel for their mother was a slender one between us, although I don't doubt for one moment that in her own strained and stressed way she loved her children. There was simply no communication of any kind, no touch, no spoken word that would assure her children that love was there. The obligation to respect and honour one's mother carries the day.
She died, at age 84, of frontal lobe dementia. Not Alzheimer's disease, but something quite like it. Gradually, as her dementia progressed, her bodily functions became increasingly impaired. I'm sure she had a fairly strong constitution; she had previously suffered two episodes of colon cancer, and before that, when in her 50s, a hysterectomy. The dementia captured her mind, her memory, she became docile and mildly pleasant. Finally, she could not recognize her children, her actions and reactions repetitive mechanical ones. She could no longer control her physical functions, just as once she was unable to control her emotional outbursts.
She was my mother, and for that I give thanks.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot : New Testament, Revelations, iii, 15.
Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song : Unknown, Old Ballad
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales;
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn. Edna St.Vincent Millay, Sonnets
Labels: Family, Personally Dedicated