Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who and Where We Come From

Knowing who we are is a hard thing. I always try to help my kids define themselves because I know how hard it has been for me to figure who I am. A little help is always appreciated and I am, as their mother, a keen observer of their little selves, watching and absorbing what motivates them, why they do what they do, so I can figure them, help them figure them.

It's funny. Whenever I point things out to them that I've noticed, like that Eli gets evil when he's hungry, or that Oscar gets his feelings hurt, deeply, easily, they usually look at me hard, then hug me, or tell me that they love me. It feels amazing to be understood, to have someone tell you what you already suspect about yourself but don't feel sure about.

Gold stars give that to people in a way, give them the external OK to reward themselves for whatever it is they did that they might be proud of, that their moms might not be around to notice or maybe just never noticed, that no one has ever noticed. Why we need an external OK I'm never quite clear on, but we, many of us, seem to. I know I definitely do, all the time, much as I like to pretend I can get to self-confidence all on my own.

Maybe it stems right from the beginning, right from the birth canal. If my older son, Eli, is any indication, right from that moment of entry into the outside world, out of the womb, we look to our mothers. I remember that moment so clearly. I had waited to meet this person inside me for a seemingly interminable stretch. He, apparently, felt it too, that desire to meet me. I remember he came out crying, as one would being ripped from a warm wet place into the cold dry air. As I stretched my head up to see him, finally, I was amazed.

"He is so beautiful!" I said. The moment I spoke, he stopped crying and, I swear despite what I know about babies' lack of neck strength, turned his head quickly to see me, looked straight at me as if to say, "There she is, the woman behind that voice, that woman who will never shut up."

I was with someone yesterday, a new friend, for whom years stretched between that initial meeting and the chance to meet his biological mother again. It is a hard road, the relationship with one's mother, a hard road, too, without it. But he is a thinker, this man, his experiences, even difficult ones, obviously serving to inspire him to learn more, to understand more about the world and his relationship to it.

He told me of an experience, a rare one, not offered up to most, in which he was shown a picture of a sculpture of his biological mother, after he had re-met her. It was a nude sculpture, one in which her most private of parts was exposed rather openly. He commissioned it, the piece in the picture, the one that had been sold, from the sculptor, in bronze rather than in its original plaster, but otherwise the same. He has it in his house. I wanted to see it.

He took me to where it was and pointed. I surveyed it in all its beauty. The human form is the highest art. He stared as well. After a few moments, he spoke.

"That is the hole from which I sprung..." he said, lost in thought.

"Wow," I said, shaking my head. "That's amazing."

We are so afraid, most of us, to recognize where we came from, to peg it so directly to the hole that, in adolescence, in adulthood, seems to come to represent something else entirely, something you don't want to associate at all with your mother. On further inspection, Freudian theories taken into consideration, seeing the connection, understanding it, is crucial.

Gold star for my new friend.

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