Does a butterfly remember when it was a caterpillar? While floating freely among the daisies, does it ever reflect on its early days spent scaling leaves a millimeter at a time? And does it ever feel nostalgic for the dark cocoon that held its dramatic transformation?
It’s hard to say. But like each of us, the butterfly probably didn’t feel anything but whole at every stage of its metamorphosis. And every “me” that you’ve been is still right there in the “you” of today. Yet there’s something that draws us back to the cocoon–to those open arms where we first felt safe and whole. This is our symbolic (if not literal) mother. And so, whether our mothers are physically here or not… or whether they are entirely different from the traditional “mother” figure, we continue to find ourselves through and because of them.
I know this because I was and am these arms, and, on some days, I long for them, too. I was once the little girl relishing her mother’s warm hug. I was the young parent full of hope and uncertainty for the long road of parenting ahead. I was the doting, stretched-too-thin mother raising four children, three of whom are now young adults. And as my parenting role has shifted through all the stages, so did my role with my own mother. Yet through it all, my mom and I continue to support each other through every new chapter, even now.
Rav Ashlag taught that only when we’re able to see the entire transformation of another–through all their stages and ages–are we able to fully comprehend the meaning and beauty of wholeness. How true this is! Our eldest is now in his early twenties, and our youngest is almost 10. Are any of my children the same version of themselves as they were even five years ago? Of course not! We hear about generalizations (the “terrible twos,” the “awkward teenage years,” etc.), but the truth is so much more nuanced. Each child is as unique as a thumbprint or a snowflake. And the best we can do as parents is to nurture that uniqueness and “draw out” the Light that each child is meant to share with the world.
And who has witnessed such transformation in me? Who was there when I was a frightened, insecure child, a teen struggling with an eating disorder, and a young adult finally growing into her confidence and potential? My mother, of course! I remember when we first moved to New York. Our kids were all at home, and Abigail was just a few months old. We lived in a cramped apartment–a huge change from our spacious home in LA. I didn’t understand the city: uptown, downtown, subways and crowds, and so much noise. I was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed.
My mom flew to my rescue at least seven times that year! We laughed. We talked. We cried. We laughed some more. She coaxed me down from my cliff of anxiety and lifted my spirits and hopes for this new adventure. She provided that unconditional love… those comforting arms. The point is, no matter how much we grow and change or how old we become, there are times when we just crave a look or a hug that makes us feel safe and understood.
Our little ones don’t always get this. But how could they? They see us (their parents or elders) as totally self-reliant. WE are the caretakers, after all. I remember one day when Abigail, who was about five then, asked me, “Why do you still have a mommy if you can now do things for yourself?” I think what she meant was, Why do you need a mom if you ARE a mom?
To her, it’s impossible to imagine her parents as anything but larger than life. Yet we moms also felt that same awe for our parents. They were the ones who changed our diapers… who held our hands at the door to an unfamiliar school. They fed us, clothed us, and gave us room to grow. And later, if we were lucky, they became our confidantes and friends–just as I am for my mom (and was for my dad), and just as my own older children have become dear adult companions for Michael and me.
And so does the circularity of life continue. In what seems like a blink, that once helpless infant may one day become the caretaker for the mother who sings her to sleep tonight. That mothering instinct–and the longing for our mothers–really never ends. Whether we have children or cats, dogs, plants, or friends in need… and whether our own parents are still with us or have passed on from this world, we are always seeking to give and to find that unconditional love. After all, we discover ourselves, too, through the mirror of those who know us best.
Now and then, Abigail has been known to declare, “I want to be JUST like my mom!” When I hear that, I’m deeply honored. Yet I also know that her declaration has less to do with specific qualities in me, or for that matter, with anything material at all. I believe that it has much more to do with the way I make her feel. She wants to create for herself what I wanted to create for myself in my own mother’s image: safety, acceptance, and belonging.
Because ultimately, “mother” and “home” are one and the same. Each offers shelter and warmth through life’s storms. Each provides a place where we can feel our completeness, even as we undergo those odd in-between moments in a life of ages and stages. We long for our mothers because they’re key instruments in our becoming. We feel the warmth of their arms across time and distance. And we count on their presence to encourage us to keep growing our wings so that we, too, can fly.
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