Friday, May 7, 2010

Mothers and Daughters: A Bird’s Eye View

This is dawn./Believe me/This is your season, little daughter./
The moment daisies open,/The hour mercurial rainwater/
Makes a mirror for sparrows./ Its time we drowned our sorrows.
--From Dawn by Eavan Boland

I must have been six or seven. We’d just moved from upstate New York to an Illinois farmhouse. Early spring, the cold air evident on the palm of my hand pressed to the window, eclipsed for the moment by the sun’s heat, its blinding swath across the pages on my lap. I pored over page after page of muted watercolor paintings of mothers in long flowing gowns with their hair pinned up, escaped tendrils curling about the throat and pearl earrings as they leaned over the child on their lap.

Other images: mother and child kneeling side by side along the cream border of sand by the sea, the pastel ribbons of their hats streaming behind them as they gazed at sea stars. Or sitting nestled against tree trunks, oblivious to the wind rustling the marsh flowers and weeping willows framing their togetherness. Who were these soft, sweet pairs? And so awoke in me a longing for symbiotic, sacred quiet.

Back to reality: Dad in the pantry grinding up soybeans for pancakes in the silver flute of the meat grinder, my brother shrieking, “Batman” from the top of the cellar stairs before launching his way to a broken ankle. The kittens--unbelievably adorable by day--attacking our ankles with miniscule razor claws in the tangle of blankets at the foot of our beds at night. The goldfish--so vibrant an orange his one day of glory, found floating eye to eye with the lid of his world—for my little sister to bury.

Time for breakfast around the spool table my father scored from his job at GE, the many melted candles forming a lava mound centerpiece. Then a game of hide and seek, my mother in the kitchen washing dishes at the sink, stopping to whisper places for me to hide.

Now, forty years later, I stand in the electrified field of my own kitchen: raising a daughter. She stomps before me, enraged with me for saying no to an overnight with a family I have only just recently come to know. I could easily spend her childhood lamenting how odd to find her so deeply wrapped around my heart, embedded in my subconscious, how uncomfortable to feel her groping around in there for the edges of her own self, unable to accept the simple yes or no answers my sons tend to accept.

I’m not alone—other mothers too talk about their daughters’ relentless hunt for full attention: daughters engage until they get your anger, or your apathy, or the pushing away when they won’t accept no. I’m guessing because we arrive here more than not lately (my daughter and I), she must be honing a skill she needs. So many buttons get pushed, it takes Herculean effort to remain patient--a lifetime effort: getting a better grip on how I respond. One friend, speaking on her own relationship with her daughter and the exhausting go-arounds said wryly, “Oh my God, is this the kind of garbage we [women] drag men through?!”

And now as I muck through the day, and pray for a tiny pocket of sacred time with each kid, I realize it is what it is….My daughter hunts me down tonight in the bathtub, where I’ve managed to submerge myself, half-clothed, in order to lure in the 4 year old son (mollified, or shocked I’ve plopped in, finally submitting to the “tick check” after the hour of scrambling through downed trees and brush). She stands in the doorway, tucking her violin under her chin. One string mercilessly tuned an octave low, she perseveres to show me the first bar of “Ruben and Rachel”. She’ll wait til the boys are asleep to fill me in on her heart-life. Phew…at nine, she still cares to talk to me.

When she finally drifts off to sleep, I think about all the mothers and daughters I know. I have friends still angry at their mothers, friends abandoned by their mothers at birth, friends who ignore their mothers, friends who crave more time with their mothers, friends writing letters to their mothers who have since passed on. None of us can be where we are not…I know mending the hurts of a lifetime has its’ own timeline. But I do wish for reconciliation where possible for my friends and their mothers.

And maybe that shared symbiotic quiet I experienced as a kid, looking with longing at those perfect images of perfect mothers and daughters had more to do with a craving for god/source/connection, which I mistook to be my mother. But not really—I wasn’t mistaken—for she housed my first experiences of love. And was as busy as I now find myself to be, and yet took the time to whisper “hide behind the water heater” to me before my brother belted out, “Ready or not, here I come,” read countless bedtime stories, put on countless band-aids, listened to countless complaints and continues to surround not only me, but my children with love.

Thank you, Mom.


Deborah Siegel said...

What a beautiful and moving tribute, Tania, truly. I'm so glad you shared this with me -- and with She Writes. I feel lucky to have read it. Very evocative, and I can relate on so many levels at once -- though my daughter is only 6 mo old, so I can't say I yet know what our own mother-daughter dynamic will be! Happy Mother's Day to you and to your mama!

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thanks Deborah. I had fun perusing the "Letters to Mother" posting on She Writes as well. Enjoy your 6 month old daughter; what a beautiful time. I wish you all the best.

Jeannette said...

A bird's eye view is said to be elevated...overarching...but your bird has also swooped in very close and there is such a beating heart in the feathered breast.
You move gracefully between universal and personal memory images and I hear a generousity in your longings for those you love.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


thanks for that reflection. You know how myopic one can get, writing, so it is sweet to have you track/delineate an aspect I didn't realize was coming through (the generosity of longing). Thank you.

Rachel Federman said...

this is lovely. thank you.