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Our mothers are the first world we know. At 8, or 10, I remember studying old photographs of my mother, devouring her scrapbooks and yearbooks, and scrutinizing them with a wary curiosity. Here I clearly bookmarked my first glimpse into her other life: a time that signified an altered status from the parent badge she now wore, a place that clearly indicated that, at one time, there was a before me. To realize this was a little dizzying to my young self, the idea that at one point, she had interests and activities that defined her as a young woman.
Our motherline is the source of many of our stories, both the personal and the mythical, passed down in various forms. At 12, or 14, I wasn't terribly interested in those stories. But at 16, I must have been a bit more thoughtful, reading between the lines scribbled in those yearbooks and scrapbook pages. I must have thought beyond the edges of those pictures, if only just a little.
"I wanted to go to school and study design and fashion," my mother reminded me.
Had I known that my mother was a person with plans for a future, my still-young self wondered?
Possibly. Probably. But at the age, even, of 18, at 20, this didn't resonate with me, wasn't meaningful in a way with which I could identify.
My mother was simply my mother-solidly and always there for me.
It wasn't until I veered further into my own adult life and had a daughter of my own that the realization came to me, startling and immediate.
I quickly understood that even when this strange but beautiful little being deposited into my care was not with me, my concerns about her would be a constant. This would require me to put on my own parent badge, to try and tap immediately into my own inner mother. Other pursuits, at least for a time, might need to be negotiated, repositioned.
Listening to our mother's stories is often the beginning of understanding our own.
As an overwhelmed new mother, however, I often found it difficult to digest the wisdom of my own mother-to listen to anyone's words of advice.
It seemed far easier to reach into myth, where I drew on the story of Demeter and Persephone.
While I remembered very clearly Demeter's pain of separation from her daughter, what I considered and identified with in these later readings was that present-day Persephones are faced with similar growing pains in the need to leave their mothers.
It felt painful and difficult to make that mythical shift in roles, to move from being only a daughter to now finding my place in the strange world of motherhood.
As my own daughter is beginning to touch down into the teen years, she wants-and maybe needs-the stories of my life from the old pictures. She wants her grandmother's stories and photos, and the stories of other mother-and-daughter duos, both those of the present day and of myth.
Sometimes, as we ride in the car together or are out for a walk, I'm struck momentarily by the idea of the role of Demeter, a true mother goddess, who enjoyed, above all else, the company of her daughter Persephone. And maybe, I think, those roles don't have to be as separate and distinct as I once believed them to be written. Maybe that's a myth in and of itself. Perhaps, I tell myself, there's room to allow for the dual aspects of our inner maiden and our inner mother, both.
Tami Mohamed Brown
lives in Bloomington with her family.
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