The scene is one that I would be able to call up based on memory, if not from current exposure: It’s an elementary school setting and the final bell rang, marking the end of the day. Children ran and scuttled and trudged down the hall, making their way towards the door.
Somehow, in spite of the chaos, a single word was uttered that made its way above the rest of the noise, a call that floated down the corridor, turning several heads simultaneously-“Mom!”
It jolted me, too, although I knew it wasn’t the voice of my own child. I quickly looked in the direction of the voice, as did both the women standing next to me. Even the waiting dad, whose daughter had already handed off her backpack and jacket and was now halfway out the door for a few minutes on the playground, looked.
“I heard that word and I thought my spouse was being summoned,” he laughed.
Later that evening, my daughter and I waited in back of an older couple in the checkout line at the grocery store. The balding gentleman smiled at my daughter, noticed the single item in my basket.
“You two go ahead,” he said, inching his cart over a bit to let us get by. “Mother and I don’t mind, do we now, Mother? We know what it’s like when you have a young one with you.”
“Is she really his mother?” whispered my daughter once we were out of earshot, clearly confused. While appearances can sometimes be deceiving, I’ll admit, I was stopped short as well, but for another reason. I wondered momentarily if this couple had perhaps been conditioned by years of hearing that plaintive call of “Mom” within their household. What if, even after the children had grown, the woman had simply become the embodiment of the role she had played for so many years and somehow lost her name-now, always and forever “Mother,” not only to her children, but even to her husband.
I thought about her into the evening and throughout the next day. During the pick-up rush at school, I scrutinized the faces of the women who lined the entryway, waiting for their children. I wondered not only about what they are called at home and by whom, but about the identities of these women, about their passions and their talents, their views on the world-all things that, as a child, I never would have dreamed to imagine about the mothers of my friends, or my own mom, for that matter, as they patiently waited for our childhood schooldays to end.
I remember studying my mother’s high school yearbook at 16, fascinated to suddenly discover that she, too, had been a young woman who may have experienced many of the same things I was experiencing.
At 20, I began to ask her questions, to read between the lines just a little bit, to understand that my mom was a person in her own right before she gave birth to me, and that while I may have been the most important part of her life (or so I was told many times), there was much more to her than that.
At 20, though, this scene contained a twinge of realization I didn’t yet identify with. In truth, the very idea that my mother had an identity and dreams that were separate and distinct from her daily all-important job as my mom meant nothing to me at 20, even at 25.
From the depths of my 30s, however, I’ve started to consider the workings of her inner life with frequency as my own pursuits bubble and gurgle greedily around my identity as someone who responds to that call of mom.
There must be other mothers-other parents for that matter-who want to be able to step away from that role of nurturer, sometimes, and be cared for and nurtured in return, to be known and recognized as something other-than-mother, as simply a friend, a woman, an individual.
My own mother, when asked, told me she didn’t remember feeling this way, reminding me that as your child gets older, your roles evolve, constantly shifting as things change. As a grandmother, she no longer turns her head if she hears those drawn out calls of “Mom!” when she’s picking my daughter up from school, or out at the grocery store. And although she may no longer turn, she says, she’s still listening, still there for me.
Tami Mohamed Brown lives in Bloomington with her family.
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