My Mother in the Light


I had a parental epiphany this morning.  I finally understood why my mother sometimes did the things she did.  I also realized (a double epiphany yay!) why very small animal mothers don’t hesitate to take on predators ten times their size.  It’s all about that primal instinct to protect their young.  With humans, this instinct goes into double overdrive when the young become teens maybe because the mothers realize how much harder it becomes to corral the teens and identify the foes.

Before anyone has disturbing images of an urban mother wrestling an alligator while her horrified teens look on, texting their friends or making a YouTube video of said wrestling match, I’ll explain.

For many years I believed my mother to be unnecessarily protective of my much older siblings.  My brother and sister didn’t need to stay in the nest; rather, they seemed to need a big push to leave said nest.  To make more room for me, of course. My mother refused to push.

My mother knew things about my brother and sister that no one else knew.  She felt them at a primal level, perhaps.  Her protective instincts were on high alert all the time.  It was only as I got older that I realized why.  Her methods may have been unorthodox.  Her solutions might have been flawed.  But her aim is now clear to me:  protect, protect, protect.  At any cost.

Today a debate rages somewhere in the background about attachment parenting vs. the Tiger Mother.  Personally, I’m a fan of the middle ground; however, I can understand the rationale for both methods.  When women become mothers, some sort of power switch is flipped.  Admittedly, some mothers current is stronger than others and yes, other mothers do seem to have circuitry issues.  But I believe when something threatens our young, be it illness predator or stress, we all react in the same way.  Bare the fangs, extend the claws, circle the SUVs, whatever it takes.  Protect.

I watched one of those wildlife programs recently where there was, inevitably, an injured gazelle mother trying to protect her baby from a pack of hyenas.  The mother tried everything she could think of to save her child – she threw herself in the path of those hyenas over and over again.  Take me.  Take me.  Leave the little one alone.  My heart ached for her.  She knew what the outcome must be but she never gave up.

My mother never (to my knowledge) had to battle hyenas. She may not have known the true nature of the foe but she knew instinctively that it was there, lurking in the shadows.  I think she died feeling that she had done her best for her kids.  She did what came naturally.  I can’t fault her for that.


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