As Juliet once asked, albeit rhetorically, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I bring this up because I’m pondering my long-term nickname, “Mom.” I’m considering who I really am, just below the surface of my wilting petals and persistent thorns, and whether I smell any less sweet after now that September is ending (metaphorically speaking, of course).
On Sept., 12 my oldest child turned 39. On Sept. 14, my youngest turned 21.
It feels like the end of something. They have been the bookends to my maternal story, which included two equally lovable sons in the middle.
My oldest was born to an adventurous teenager who hadn’t even begun to bloom as a human being. My youngest was born to a middle-aged woman with laugh lines and gray hairs, her hands quite full already as she transitioned from part-time to full-time working journalist, for the first time in her career.
Now, after four decades of motherly rituals, fait accompli.
I prefer the French phrase, which implies something done that can’t be undone, rather than “mission accomplished,” which reminds me of George W. Bush declaring the official end to something that had no end in sight.
I know I will always be Mom. However, what’s done is done.
In the simplest terms, mother – as an action word – ends here. The hovering over a nest of chicks, waiting for them to hatch, delivering worms on demand, sleeping with one eye open, fighting off predators, perching on a nearby wire to watch as aforementioned chicks fall from the nest before they understand the aerodynamics of flight, and then hoping to see them again, occasionally, before nature runs its course.
The kids tell me I’m dramatic. And I’ll admit that I do cry at the drop of a sentimental anecdote, because I tend to think in universal truths.
Like this one: Why, of all the words in the world, does mom, or some version of it, sound universally the same – words like maman, amma, mama, em, mum, mamma, mutter, mare, maty, ana and so on?
Linguists seem to agree that “mother” is one of a handful of words that qualify as a “cognate” – an ancient word that has retained its meaning and is understood universally, almost by instinct. More recently, the theory of an ancient common language, Proto-Indo-European, has been embraced – a mother tongue, if you will – that binds all of humanity together.
It’s just a theory, but me and my big thoughts like the idea that “mom” comes from “om,” which as we all know is the primordial sound of the universe, and that mom – mama, mum, etc. – is likely the first “word” uttered by babies because it sounds like a baby suckling, as in the life-or-death sustenance that, by nature, can only be found at a mother’s life-giving breast.
I’m not special. My foremothers have all traveled this road. I have no idea if my ancestral matriarchs thought big thoughts – or felt the loss of something intangible the moment their children all finally crossed over into adulthood.
I’m just another sojourner rounding an unfamiliar but expected corner on this thing called life. Motherhood has been my dwelling place. I have loved and nurtured four beautiful babies. I have answered their universal cry the best I could.
I could have done better, in some cases.
As each takes flight from the metaphorical nest, I feel joy and pride, melancholy and resolve.
For whatever it is that I have given them of lasting value – wisdom, insight, truth, laughter, genetics, compassion – I want them to know that it is they who have defined me.
And for that I am a grateful mom, in the truest and deepest sense of the word.