I’m reading Robin Hobbs’ Farseer Trilogy. It is a departure from my normal fare, as it is neither paranormal nor urban, but rather straight up fantasy. I’m enjoying its quiet pleasures, the depth of the character development, the slow roll-out of the world building, which is sufficiently original to be interesting but not so alien as to feel like I’m learning a whole new language and way of thinking. There are no vampires to be had, but the zombie apocalypse is imminent, at least in a manner of speaking. So I am content. 

The books focus on a royal bastard named Fitz. We meet him when he is six years old and abandoned at the castle, where his father, the crown prince, resides. He has no real memories of his mother–she is a shadowy figure who smelled good. Essentially, she is completely out of the picture.

I have long noticed the widespread plot device of the missing mother. It is rampant in children’s stories, especially those promulgated by Walt Disney, who I am convinced was a misogynistic SOB with serious mommy issues. Have you ever noticed that pretty much all of the original Disney movies and most of the newer ones rely on the dead mother motif? Let me see, Bambi–dead mother, Cinderella– dead mother, Snow White– dead mother. In the more recent oeuvre, we have The Little Mermaid–dead mother, Finding Nemo–dead mother, and in Brave, the heroine turns her mother into a bear. Nice. But I’ve digressed in order to vent my spleen against the evils of Disney (except for Disneyland–the one in California, not Florida, which I love with an irrational passion borne of happy childhood memories–some of the only ones I have-but I’ve digressed again–back on track we go).

Despite my whining, as well as my personal experience, I understand why this plot device is so rampant. Mothers matter. In a visceral, indisputable way. If, in a story, the mother is MIA, that absence paves the way for all sorts of adventures and misadventures that would never occur under the watchful eyes of mom-which really do exist in the back of her head as well as in her face.

Mothers see all, they know all, even when our kids believe we haven’t the faintest clue. The bond between a mother and child reminds me a bit of that described in Ms. Hobbs’ fantasy novel, where her hero, Fitz, has the magic of the Wit, which allows him to bond completely with an animal, see out of his eyes, hear with his ears, feel his pain, joy and excitement. It can be like that for mothers with their children. We bleed with them, rejoice with them, and their pain–emotional as well as physical–  is magnified in our own hearts and bodies. We would gladly spare our progeny the difficulties of reality, but we don’t. Or, at least, we should not.

Just as escape from reality cripples the addict and stunts the growth necessary for successful living, so too does maternal protection backfire. We must allow our children to fail and to experience the consequences of their actions so that they learn to live with what is, rather than what they wish it would be. It serves no one to participate in delusion and denial. I’ve written about the dangers of that path here.

As we mothers do the right thing, however, and sit on our hands instead of reaching out to help our beloved children, we may wonder what the point of being there is all about. If we allow our kids to trip and fall, why is Disney so bad with all his dead mommies?  What is the proper role of a mother in the unfolding of the life of her child?  

I’m sure it will shock no one that I’ve invested a tremendous amount of thought to these questions. Being a mother is the one role in which I cannot fail. I birthed these children and I owe them the very best effort I can put forth in all of my many, many imperfections. That’s what the therapy jar is for, of course. Seriously, though, I am constantly wondering about the location of the line between serving as a safety net to smooth out the edges of my children’s mistakes, and leaving enough sharpness to teach them what they need to learn.  How much should I allow them to get away with so that they don’t feel like I’m Big Brother, or the NSA, monitoring their every move?  When is it appropriate to soothe their wounds, and when to let them protect their pride?  I’m sure I step over these invisible lines with regularity, but God knows I try hard to avoid the cracks.

Mothers are here to watch and reflect back to our children their triumphs and achievements and to offer nurturing arms to hold damaged ones while the worst of the pain passes. We are the mirrors that show our kids that they are loved no matter what–even if we don’t like their choices or behavior.  That kind of love changes a person. Not having it makes its mark too, as I’ve discussed before once or twice. The security of a mother’s love is the bedrock on which the foundation of a well-adjusted, confident adult is built. Confidence and security, in turn, nurture compassion, kindness and generosity, as well as an ability to trust and experience intimacy without the fear of bad things happening when we acknowledge and expose our vulnerabilities.

So, mothers make magic. Their existence is alchemical and their absence becomes a crucible of transformation as well. There is a reason so many stories rely on the elimination of the maternal influence to explain far-reaching consequences.

I hope you were good to the mothers in your lives on Mother’s Day. Actually, my hope is that we don’t need Hallmark holidays to spur us to right action on any given day. But such reminders are good to help focus our attention on that which we can sometimes take for granted and should not. Have you kissed your mother today?

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