I handed my little granddaughter one black bra and told her to put it down the laundry chute. Then called to her, “Hey, take this one, too.” She waited for me to toss it. “Today is the day we wash all the black bras.”
“Ok,” she said, opening and slamming the little laundry chute door. I love seven-year old girls. They’re so obedient and unquestioning.
I have the power to create the Black Bra Washing Day tradition. I could do it, just like that. By declaring it. I have that power. It’s awesome. I’m a mother and grandmother. She could be thirty before she figures out that not everyone is washing their black bras on Mother’s Day.
The power is incredible, long-lasting and mostly plied unconsciously.
Years ago at the State Fair, my young daughter, maybe eight or nine years old, kept eyeing the double Ferris Wheel. She looked at me with big eyes, “could we go on that?” I shuddered. Told her how high it was, how being really high made my knees feel funny, that I couldn’t possibly go on it. The man I was with looked at me, shook his head a tiny bit and leaned over to whisper.
“You’re making her afraid.”
I was. In that moment, I had passed on my fear of heights to her as surely as if I’d unraveled her genetic code and scribbled RUN AWAY on it. I used my power to limit her options.
What else was I passing on?
So much of being a mother is unconscious. The tiniest touches. Holding hands. The view of mom’s head from the backseat of the car. The constancy. There is refuge and comfort there that never ends or fails. It’s not the heroic, the climbed mountains, the rescues that define us as mothers. It’s not our words, the lectures, advice, or solutions. It’s just being steady and true. Always. That’s the power.
A long time ago, in a time of terrible trouble, a therapist asked me what would help me get through the day.
“Making a pot of soup,” I said, wanting to have the smell of simmering soup in my apartment, that normal smell, that comfort.
“And calling my mother.”