It’ll sound like a cheeky battle in semantics but to me, “mother” is more of a verb than a noun. I was watching a documentary on ring-tailed lemurs a few days back when the idea really crystallized. A mother lemur had a baby that simply couldn’t hold on with its weak little claws. She’d try to walk and the little thing with its indistinctly ringed tail would fall off and whine for assistance. I don’t know why creatures with opposable thumbs and strong jaws can’t carry their young, but I guess that’s not an option open to a mother lemur.
If an adult lemur is separated from the pack for too long, the others will attack it as an outsider. Usually the will of the pack serves the greater good of the group, but I can’t see the logic in this behavior; maybe it’s simply the result of a short attention span. Anyway, the mother lemur was falling further and further behind the others in her pack and her baby kept falling off. A quandary. She could abandon her offspring to a slow death by way of starvation (or a quick one via predator). She could stay behind with her love and mother’s milk and hope strength eventually came to her baby’s arms. She sat in the middle of her torture looking back and forth between her options with beady eyes that had a calculative look. The narrator said that scientists used the moment to prove that primates have emotional hurtles like we do; that they have ingrained maternal instincts. It was proof that all mammals love.
The mother lemur stuck her ringed tail in the air like Pepe Le Pew and left her child in the dirt. She walked away to the wailing of her baby as she chose inclusion over the next generation. I’ve seen worse on the nightly news so don’t judge our primate too harshly. Babies both with and without fur have been left to nature’s stoic mercy. My point is that mothers don’t always mother; sometimes they reproduce and turn away. That makes them something else, something separate and not necessarily worthy of the honorific “Mother”.
Moving from one place to another is frightening; the familiar is infinitely more preferable to a creature of habit. When my wife snapped and decided that we’d be moving to the lower forty-eight, to say I was hesitant doesn’t quite cover it. But her mother started packing. I loved Alaska, but my mother-in-law had lived it. She was born there. She survived the quake of ’64, and a statement like that just sounds momentous. That’s the type of thing toothless old men say with reverence. Alaska was her home in every meaning of the word, but when her daughter wanted to leave it behind for the Land of Enchantment (barren desert), my mother-in-law followed; she Mothered.
Vicki has been there through it all and lent her hand. She’s seven miles away from her daughter but three thousand miles away from home, from the rest of her pack. Through the tough times that nearly tore Terra and I apart, she gave support when Terra wanted it and played devil’s advocate when she didn’t. When our absolutely lovely daughters were digging in our souls for blood, she stepped in as a sitter and tried to match her energy to theirs. It’s like fighting the sun with a flashlight. When Terra has been down and crying in the dirt, Vicki never weighed the options like a lemur on a forest path. She’d sit and wait and let the rest of the pack be damned because her child was in need. It’s a different level of love, really, its self sacrificial, and scientific proof isn’t necessary. I’m not quite sure why some women have it and others don’t. I’d hate to think that it’s genetic or inborn or a result of environment because that would cheapen it. There’s something mystic with that level of devotion, but either way, Vicki is more than deserving of the title. She’s truly a Mother because that’s what she does.
Both of my brothers-in-law with Terra and Vicki:
Mother’s Day Blog