ON A RECENT WEEKDAY MORNING, I was showering before work when my 4-year-old daughter stormed into the bathroom.
“You hurt my feelings!” she yelled. “I’m mad at you!!”
Having no idea how I could have made anyone so angry so early, I asked, “What? How?”
“Because I wanted to snuggle with you in your bed while you were in your pajammies!” she raged.
“Sweetie,” I responded, “once I get out of the shower I’ll come snuggle with you for a few minutes in my towel, OK?”
“No!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “IN YOUR PAJAMMIES!”
This episode got me thinking about the ownership children feel for their mothers, and more specifically their mothers’ bodies. Parenting a young child is such a physical endeavor. When they are babies, there is endless holding, rocking, snuggling to sleep. With both my daughters, there were many nights when they slept with me in bed because I was too exhausted to rock them any longer. One of my daughters was happiest in the baby carrier, strapped to me — it was often the only thing that would comfort her.
As they get bigger, we are hunched over helping them to walk, then suddenly we are chasing them — everywhere. In each of these stages, they seek comfort in our arms, throwing themselves at us, toppling us to the ground, giving us the universal “pick me up” sign — arms held high, pleading looks on their faces.
Once verbal, both of my girls trained an observant eye on my daily physical state. “Your hair looks pretty this morning, Mom — like an owl,” said my older daughter one morning. Another time: “Your bum looks weird in those pants.” Or my 2½-year-old’s observation that I looked “ree-wee pwitee” one day in men’s sweat pants and a ratty T-shirt.
I had this same level of familiarity with my own mother’s body. I still remember the way her cheek felt against mine, her warm, wrinkled hands, her particular smell — a mix of the shampoo she liked, whatever soap was on sale, and Shalimar. I remember being enveloped by her body when I was upset, crying tears on her shoulder — a vague sense memory from when I was young, and a more distinct one as I got older.
It wasn’t just her body, but her things I commandeered. I played for hours in her closet, trying on her shoes, clothes, and purses, experimenting with her makeup, sampling her perfumes, rooting through her drawers to see what else I could find. What was hers was mine, in my mind.
I was at my mother’s bedside when she passed away. I was 27 and she was 56. She had courageously fought a six-year battle with cancer, but the disease had overpowered her. My dad, my brother, and I spent the last few days of her life talking with her, touching her face, holding her hands, saying our goodbyes. She spent most of her last day in an agitated state as a result of the pain medication she was on. As her final moments elapsed, something changed. A peace came over her, and she raised her arms up in front of her. A look of recognition crossed her face as she called out what would be her last word, “Mummy!”
As a mom, I’ve seen that gesture probably thousands of times, but at the time I hadn’t had children yet, so it wasn’t familiar to me. In retrospect, it is quite clear to me that she was raising her arms to be picked up and carried, taken home by the woman who had been hers from the start.
Laura Shea Souza is a communications professional and writer in Stow. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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