Finding Shade Under the Canopies of Womanhood: learning from my mother


Originally Published in Farrago Edition Three (2022)

You think you will be spared the fate of your mother. She tells you this: she used to have long hair, silken and black. It tucked under her when she sat down, and it was with her forearm tucked behind her neck, flicking outwards, that she could prevent this from happening. She had slight hips, like yours, and was all bones and bruises for her teenage life: rocky knees, limp wrists, gangly gait. When she laughed, she covered her mouth. And when she spoke, it was seldom, but always good. After school, she would fall asleep with the radio on. The dinner on the tray her dad brought her perched still at the end of her bed. With her friends, everything was funny, and nothing was important. She'd let them cheat off her tests, scrawling the answers on an impossibly folded note. Shared with them her food, her sorrows, her joys, and them, theirs. To be your mother then was to be just a girl, and that was everything.

Your mother married young. Too young, she tells you now. No sooner than when her belly swelled against the fabric of her dresses did she look in the mirror and, for the first time, recognise change She learnt it then: the word Mother. Not in the knowing but in the feeling, being now on the other end of the call. And to each call she followed, Mother Mother Mother. It became her: it still is her. She tells you she didn't know what she was doing. That your brother cried, and she with him, and when you came, she cut her hair short. She tells you it never grew long again. Fair skin turned mottled, and thin hands hardened, and her voice took on the sound of a person who now knows loss.

Did you think, earnestly, you would be spared the fate of your mother?

As time moves, you begin to see it. The way you had thought, had been taught, that those cast aside have a say in their activity. That to be young is to be forever, as is to be old, to be lost, to be just who you are in a singular moment. So that when your Mother, when a woman, tells you this: I was young too once, you hear it the same way you hear the beginning of a fairy-tale or the tail end of someone's midday dream. Something far away and obscure, murky with the sheen of a beauty no one but the speaker can see.

You think, I will Marry Well, not Too Young. I will Bear A Child, Only Once. I will Keep Working, Call My Friends, Take Photos Smiling, Rejoice In My Gangly Gait. You think, I will Stay In Good Health, never knowing Sickness. I will Give, and Be Good, and Forgive, and Follow Truth. I will Not Cut My Hair Too Short, or Miss Anyone Too Long. I will Know How to Cook, like my Mother. I will Know Kindness, like my Mother. I will Be Loyal, and Truthful, and Stand Up For What I Believe In, like my Mother. But I will never, ever, Make The Mistakes of my Mother.

It haunts you, the thought that every woman is a Mother while every man is just a boy. That it's not without reason that the lessons seem to hang heaviest around the neck of one gender alone. When your story ceases, becomes unimportant, insignificant, stereotypical, theirs expands. For a man, there is life after children, and before, and without. There are no mistakes to be made that cannot be rectified with time; that is so kind without the Ticking Clock heard only in the woman's ear. In the pain of every month, you are already made a Mother in the shadow, in the promise. And it is the woman who hurts, and suffers, and burns, made to learn the lessons which men will never need to, for they are just a boy, and you, you, a woman, a Mother.

It begins to consume you: the image of one day, a daughter. She has your eyes but her father's gaze. Though she is loving and gentle, there are things she knows that you don't. She comes from you, a whole person formed, and in this way, she is not yours entirely. But you try still from here, to claim her. To call to her, to tell her stories of how you are now. You wonder if it will disappoint her, what she learns. You know. she will grow far from you, and you must let her. In the hope that she will turn and see, looking back, something she understands, the way you do now.

So; you think you will be spared the fate of your Mother. But look how your hips have already started to grow and how the hair of your temples has thinned. And when you open your mouth to speak, you can hear it. The way you have already taken on the voice of someone who knows things. A voice not unlike your Mother.

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