I had no idea how profoundly motherhood would change my interpretation of the world.
I can look back and pinpoint each perception shift. As a young nurse: collecting and assimilating individual bits of data into a comprehensive whole. As an aid worker: breaking down the comprehensive whole into its individual parts. As a well cared for, well supported, economically stable young woman: realizing for the first time that I could be treated unequally just because of my gender.
But motherhood? Shoot.
About a year after Karel was born, Bjørn and I and some good friends ran a half-marathon. I remember thinking I wished I had a t-shirt saying: ‘You think this is hard? Try birthing a baby.’ I felt stronger than ever. More connected to women throughout the ages. Your vision becomes simultaneously broader and more concentrated. I talk all the time about the constant ticker-line of risk analysis running through my head. (‘how much damage would a fall from that height do? how likely is it that he’s going to fall? How have similar situations turned out? He’s got pretty good balance i mean he’s been hopping on one foot since he was two ohmygoodness i can’t take it ‘GET DOWN FROM THERE!!!”)
Now the motherview manifests itself in ridiculous ways. Most ridiculously in the compulsion to pinch cheeks and smotheringly embrace half-grown men.
For example, one evening before Christmas Bjørn and I were sitting in a bar in Trondheim. Seriously, every time a group of nervous looking 18 year old boys walked into the bar with their button up shirts and huge scarves, I felt my maternal spirit actually leave my body in order to hold their hands and ask them about their lives. What are you really interested in? I thought-stared at each of them. Besides wondering if you smell okay? Eye roll. Ridiculous, right? Do not even get me started on the young men we know here in Steinkjer, that live continents away from their mothers. Every time they bust out a silly grin my heart melts like it does for naughty toddlers, and in my head these men who have survived the worst of the world suddenly look like 2-year-olds. I want to pinch their stubbly cheeks.
Deep breath. Let’s say it together, now: RIDICULOUS.
I have to remind myself that I’m not nearly as big as I feel. That what I intend as a matronly, bosomy, comforting Greek grandmother hug would probably actually feel like being accosted by a crazy chicken.
But is it so ridiculous, really? Seeing random strangers through their mothers’ eyes? I mean, the effect of sending one’s flesh and blood into the world is fairly profound. For the past year I’ve worked part time at a nursing home. Many of the residents had some degree of dementia. The majority of them are women. When I was new, they’d tell me about their families. Again and again. About their children, how many they had and — before anything else — how many had died. Sixty five years later, the memory of the baby son that couldn’t be saved because the doctor couldn’t get through the snow storm lives strong. Or forty years later, the daughter who died of cancer in her twenties. One woman had two sons, both of whom were alive and well and lived nearby. She’s aphasic, and I’d never understood anything she said, until her grown son came to visit one day. She attached herself to his arm, beamed to everyone around her and said, ‘MOR‘ (Mother), clear as day.
I just about cried.
When it all falls away — all the things we’ve done, seen said, won, lost — the red thread stringing our hearts together in a line, or web, of human connection shines through in its beautiful simplicity. Not a new story. A story intended from the beginning of time, intended with the impression of His image stamped upon us.