You’ve seen those nature documentaries that feature wild baby animals, following them from birth to independence. Furry and wide-eyed at first, they pull at your heartstrings because you know that they are entirely dependent on their dutiful mothers for survival. Fuzzy little cheetah heads and open, hungry eagle beaks, all desperate and competing for food and safety. We watch from the couch while the story unfolds, capturing important, triumphant moments of the young animals as they learn their lessons of survival and life. We know that some of them will tragically fail while others live to struggle another day. The lessons of each generation are not learned in a vacuum, but are taught so the offspring will someday be able to live on their own, contribute to the tribe, or simply perpetuate the species. This is the natural goal of parenting, to teach the young to survive, ultimately without the parents.
We all start out as these hungry baby birds, these squawking, needy suckling babies, who in our first laborious day will transform our mother into a role of great responsibility to the social order, that of provider, teacher, martyr. Fortunately for us, nature makes children adorable enough that our mothers – at least most of them – do not abandon us immediately! Instead, they dedicate themselves to teaching us to walk and talk, and eventually to be able to feed ourselves, out of love to us, and perhaps duty to the world. This is the equivalent of teaching us to hunt.
Some of us will make it and others may not. Like our animal brothers and sisters, we grieve our profound losses and move on. As humans we honor those lost in our hearts and keep alive the memories they’ve given us, so that their lives were not in vain.
In my own journey as a child, I was jealous of the other kids who seemed to have had more of a childhood, who were encouraged to enjoy their youth and not think too much about survival. They got to go camping and to Disneyland and had lots of sleepovers. Most were sheltered from bills and death and conflict. In contrast, I was most definitely not sheltered, and in fact probably exposed to the seedier side of life earlier than many. Make no mistake, my mom was loving and supportive if I showed any sign of faltering, but she would quickly challenge me to buck up, dust off, and move on. I liken her to a mare nudging me to rise and stand; she knew that my survival would depend on it. Only now can I fully appreciate the gifts of independence won through courage, of strength built on strife, and of wisdom from failure. Of course at the time I thought she was a complete witch.
So, now. It has been eight years since my mother has passed, and every day I hear her voice nudging me, teaching me, reminding me how to hunt. It is painful and yet beautiful, an honor to her life, and the life she has given me. Thank you mom; you have not raised a child, you have raised an adult.