One of my blogging friends posted observations about motherhood a couple of days ago and this prompted very touching discussion on the “mama and child” phenomena, And what a beautiful sight that is, to watch a “mama and child” do their thing together at school, or at Wal-Mart, or church. They are beautiful, a lovely dyad for at first the separateness that we see is not really there.
And I often think of my dear mother who struggled so hard to raise six children in Arkansas poverty in the Fifties and Sixties. My heart is deeply troubled as I reflect back on those years and I so wish I could have offered her more compassion in her later years than I did. She was a “mother hen” and indeed often used that image to describe how she would like to keep her “brood” underneath her wings and protect us from what I would later hear described as those “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
I remember one vivid image from my childhood which reveals the attachment issues I had with her, issues which will never completely leave me. I was about two and a half and we were in a department store doing what mother loved to do when we “went to town”, walk through the bolts of cloth at West Brothers Department store and pine for the brightly colored patterned cloth. I was very much in tow, almost literally hanging on her skirt hem, but I must have been distracted because I suddenly looked up…and then around…and there was no mother! I vividly remember that moment because it must have been sheer terror and revealed how I would handle difficult emotion throughout my life—-I kept perfectly calm, rational, and under control to size the situation up and did so in a matter of a few seconds. I knew that I could not make it without a mother so, I looked to my side and saw a woman who would do and reached my hand toward her to ask her to be my mother when my dear mother came around the corner. In that split second of time “a plank in reason (had) broke(n)” and terror gripped my soul but I “categorized” the experience and was about to make a “good” decision though one that spoke, and does speak, volumes about me. In that moment of terror I experienced what Jacque Lacan was describing in France at the time as “the lost object.” And, I can today discourse at great length about that subject but I don’t know much about the experience.
But, I offer a poem from another man who I think does know something about the experience or he could not have written such a powerful poem about the maternal connection.
Taung Child by Alan Shapiro
What led you down, first mother, from the good
dark of the canopy, and then beyond it?
What scarcity or new scent drew you out
that day into the vertical-hating flatness
of the bright veldt, alone, or too far from
the fringes of the group of other mothers
following the fathers out among the herds
and solitary grazers, the child clinging to your back
when the noiseless wing flash lifted him
away into the shocked light as the others ran?
Two million years ago, and yet what comes
to me, in time lapse through cascading chains
of changing bodies, is not the tiny skull
I’m holding, not the clawed out eye sockets,
his fractured jaw, but you, old mother, just then
in that Ur-moment of his being gone,
what I’ve felt too, on crowded streets, in malls,
if only briefly, in the instant when
the child beside me who was just there
before he is again, that shock, that panic,
that chemical echo of your screaming voice.