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In Your Mother’s Arms

The first home you ever had was inside your mother. Of course, she eventually evicted you, but her uterus was your apartment – complete with psychedelic posters and tapestries.

After you were birthed into to this cold dark world, her arms then became your home (assuming your mom stayed in your life). It was there that you felt safest. As a child we run into our mother’s arms for comfort, we collapse inside her hug for security. To experience this kind of embrace with your child is profound. It makes up for all the complexity of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and the unique pressure women face of living up to the role as “MOTHER.” That moment when your kid melts into for solace is truly priceless.

Yet eventually your child gets to know you more, and realizes how you damaged them in one way or another. Then the arms of the mother are no longer their salvation. There is this thing between you – the mistakes, arguments, resentment, and annoyance that your Mom is always yelling at you about using the last of the toilet paper. The purity you once felt for your mom eventually gets clouded. She is not the goddess you once perceived her to be that was the answer to all your problems, but a flawed person who is doing her best… most of the time.

As a child you want your mom to be a function of you. You assume that she was born onto this planet solely to be there for you. But as an adult understanding motherhood I have to admit that even though The Munch is a priority – she’s not my ONLY priority. Sometimes other things are more important than her. Like wanting to dance, or be with my friends, or work, or be creative, or eating the last cookie I know she was saving.

The relationship we have to the MOTHER is as much personal as much as it is societal. There is an image of THE MOTHER that we are all conditioned to expect from media/stories. We have a tendency to compare our mothers to the narratives we are given. When I was a kid, all I wanted was a suburban stay at home mom. They kind who knitted, did crafts, and baked cupcakes. Instead, the mother I got was ambitious, anti-conventional, and would threaten to pick me up at school wearing her Magnum Condom T-shirt.

Even though my mom wasn’t my ideal, as a grown up I very much like her as a human. She is way more fun than the Joan Cleaver of my childhood fantasies.

Last night my mom came to New Hampshire because her mom has been really sick. There was a scare, and we all thought that this could be the end… but as soon as my grandmother heard everyone was coming, she perked right up and went downstairs to have a roast beef sandwich. My mom and I got into bed with my grandmother that night to keep her company as she slept.

So there we were, 3 generations of mothers all entangled in each other’s arms as my mom and whispered to each other about mothering while my grandmother snored.

My Mom: I know I wasn’t the mother that you wanted, but I was exactly the mother that I wanted!

Toni: Well even though there were these ways you parented that felt traumatizing in the moment, I also think those very same things I wished were different made me a stronger person. I felt abandoned as a kid because you gave me so much independence, but now I’m a really emotionally independent person – and I like that about myself. Even though I may have wished that I were coddled more, I am glad I wasn’t.

We all tend to parent in reaction to our parenting. We become the parents we wish we had rather than the parent our kid necessarily wants.

There are a lot of similarities in the way I parent Munch and the way I was parented by my mom, and there is a lot I do that’s in direct reaction against the way I was parented. I have to constantly remind myself that Munch is not my inner child wanting to be healed, but her own person. I have to constantly observe and adjust my approach to her, and not get lost in trying to re-imagine my past.

I will never the exact parent Munch wants me to be, but I can at least be open to her feedback. I want to build the kind of trust where she always feels at home in my arms, and comforted by my embrace. That way I can be sure that when I am super old she will jump into my bed with her daughter and talk about me behind my back while I sleep.

toni munch painting