Monday, April 29, 2013

In Advance of Mother's Day

Mothers and neediness are much on my mind these days.

Yesterday I met my adult daughter for a little lunch and a little shopping.  I bought her a blouse.  As I did so, I realized that I haven’t bought her anything for a while.  She works, pays her own bills (including payments on the student loans she incurred in college), and is extremely independent.  She doesn’t need me to buy her much of anything.

My 93-year-old mother with worsening dementia needs me desperately.  But she doesn’t like me much these days and meets any of my attempts to help her with disdain and a supreme lack of graciousness.  (Recently, I bought her a new phone, but I had to let her think my ex-husband bought it for her in order for her to accept it.)  I do what I need to do behind the scenes and without thanks of any kind.

There is a dove nesting in an old clay pot outside my laundry-room window.  She hasn’t left her perch in three days.  I think her hubby brings her food at odd hours, when I haven’t been looking.  Sometimes we stare at each other (or, at least, I assume we are staring at each other: it has occurred to me once or twice that maybe she’s dead).  I imagine that she is warming eggs beneath her, that soon there will be babies.  I tell her that she is a good and devoted mother.  Yes, I really whisper it out loud (and then hope to God I’m not talking to a dead bird).

It occurs to me that we tend to think of children needing their mothers (and fathers), and of elderly mothers (and fathers) needing care and comfort, which almost always falls to their children.  But we don’t tend to think about young (or middle-age) mothers needing their children.  Or, more specifically, needing to be needed.

But we do.  Or I do, anyway.

Last night, I was reading Alice Munro’s great story, “Gravel.”  In it, the main character, now an adult woman, says, “All the eviscerating that is done in families these days strikes me as a mistake.”  Of course, the woman who is saying this did something terrible as a small child: she depends on being able to smooth over misery in order to live with herself.

I don’t know how to do that.  (And neither, thank God, does Alice Munro.)

I was going to write something flip about being a bird, how you just lay the eggs and shove worms down your babies’ gullets and then die when they fly away.  But I see from Wikipedia that doves feed their babies—called squabs—dove milk, and that they may raise up to six broods in a season.

That’s a lot of being needed.
And a lot of eviscerating, if you’re a disgruntled squab who’s into that sort of thing.

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