MAD COURAGE AND BARE HANDS – mother issues

Mothers day edition 2015
Saturday Courier Mail.

Canvas. Page 28.

Kathleen Noonan author

When one of my babies was newborn and had reflux (such a small word for such a huge, screaming-through-the-night-and-day problem), I would walk her in a pram for hours around the river to soothe her.

One day, I looked down at my hands. The night before had been tough – no sleep, a baby in pain – yet I remember thinking, I will do this without hurting this baby, because these hands are my mother’s hands and both my grandmothers’ hand. These gentle, capable hands born of gentle, capable women. And whenever it all becomes too much, these hands will place this crying thing safely back in the cot, leave the room, walk in the backyard, breathe and return when calm.

It’s as Native American writer Linda Hogan writes in Dwelling: A Spiritual History of the Living World: “You are the result of the love of thousands.”

It has taken evolution, many generations, many females with all their strengths and passed-on skills, to end up right now, with you and me and our particular genetic mixture and acquired knowledge.

My ancestors came out of Ireland when being a mother, for any woman of any class in childbirth, was dangerous. Each generation has its threats and difficulties.

Some people are critical of their mothers and blame them for all their woes in life. Oh, if my mother had loved me more, praised me more, given me more, I wouldn’t have divorced, failed at school, gone bankrupt. Spare me!

No matter how intimately we believe we know our mother’s life, we only know the woman she is now, not back then. We can only guess at the pressures on her during her early childhood, during her marriage. Even the stuff she tells you about is only the stuff she chooses to tell you. How dare we be so presumptuous to know and judge?

If she fed you, clothed you, loved you and kept you safe, really, what more do you want? A gold star for breathing? If you judge your mother harshly, how will you be judged?

I’ve tomahawked a teenager’s mobile phone to death, gone on rants that send my girls scurrying for cover and often swear loudly and profusely.

In my defence, your honour, on cold nights I bake warm sticky-date pudding with salted caramel sauce to soothe weary souls. So, in the therapist’s room, will the tomahawk story live on and the sticky-date puds be forever forgotten? Who cares? I love them now as best I can right now. All I can do.

Some people’s lives are laced with anger, bitterness and an inability to forgive their mothers. In a book of essays by 42 male writers, In Our Mothers’ Spirits, some explore Freud’s classic theory that men must reject closeness to their mother to achieve manhood. Yet, many of the essays expose the extent to which psychological and spiritual health in men, especially in the later years of life, depends upon their ability to retrieve the love and closeness they once felt for their mothers. “The journey of return to the mother,” editor Professor Bob Blauner says, “is a man’s midlife task. It can take place either before or after her death.” (I like the fact that he makes it the son’s task rather than hers. Hasn’t she done enough?)

We love our mothers for all kinds of reasons. US writer Robert Fulghum wrote: “one of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was 13 was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands – bare hands – and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage. To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon. Bare hands – a kind of mad courage.”

A man I know grew up in 1970s New Guinea. His mother would go down to the sea on Sundays with a gun for target practice at coconuts that bobbled in the water. Their father worked away a lot and she wanted not only to sharpen her shooting skills but to let everyone know she was a deadeye shot – that she had a gun and was not afraid to use it. Even he, a middle-aged man, was a little in awe of that.

Some women spend their whole lives putting themselves between their children and danger. Sometimes even the father.

There’s a mad courage that comes with motherhood. Maybe it’s some kind of transfusion at birth. You may be a scaredy-cat before children. Yet, once you have small beings in your care and your partner is away, if there is a noise in the house at night that could be an intruder, burglar, murderer, you leap from the bed, a tiger ready to rip apart anyone who comes near your babies.

One night after stalking through the house with a large stick, I remember returning to bed with a new thought: I am now capable of killing someone. Or certainly giving them a bloody good wallop. A mad courage.

When I was little and afraid of tree frogs, we lived in a farmhouse with verandas full of open louvers amid a sea of cane fields in north Queensland – a Taj Mahal for frogs.

As summer storms would roll in from the sea, frogs would find their voice, grow restless and head inside. No matter when we would cry out, no matter how weary she was after a day caring for a family of eight, our mother would come, pick up the intruders and move them outside.

Give her a broom and she could tackle snakes with the same calm. We had plenty up there – big, deadly aggressive browns, sleepy old carpet snakes, green tree snakes and taipans. Her lack of panic amazed me.

Did I mention she’s tiny? To us, scared, tucked in bed watching from under a mosquito net, she was a dragon slayer with a sword.

These and other mother issues can be resolved by attending a Family Constellations and doing your own family constellation. Book into a Family Constellations Workshop to resolve mother issues