I was watching a mother hold her son on her lap the other day and I noticed her hands. She had her hands around his torso as she held him on her lap. It was casual and unexceptional. Just a mum holding her son on her lap.
Yet the sight of her hands doing this simple action brought up feelings from my own childhood. The memory of my mother’s hands when I was a child. When I was young, I remember looking at mum’s hands and thinking how beautiful and grown-up they looked. Long slender fingers with defined knuckles and I remember seeing the veins raised on the back of them. I remember how beautiful her wedding and engagement rings made her hand look. While I can recall how her hands looked to me as a child, I actually remember the feeling I felt more.
Safe and secure.
Belonging and Loved.
When we were kids, mum used to put us over her lap and pat our back firmly with her hands, like a drum. My sister and I used to love this and mum and dad would both do it for us all the time. We would make an “aaaahhhh” sound and it would resonate through our body as each pat on the back made our voice jump and waver. Mum’s rings would make a ticking sound that I can remember as clear as day. This has been handed down through the generations as my great-nan did it for nan. Nan did it for mum and mum did it for me. Wade now has three generations of women using his back as a drum. He makes the sound and swings his legs in joy. It’s one of the two very effective methods I use to clear the congestion on his chest when he has a cold. The other, of course, is to tickle him. He laughs so much that it makes him cough and it works a treat.
Mum used to drive a Volkswagon beetle. Mint green with maroon leather interior. No seat belts in the back and a “booster” seat in the early 80s was a wooden box with a green vinyl padded top that we sat on in the front passenger seat. There was only one box and my sister and I would fight mercilessly over it. The vanquished loser of these fights would sulk in the back seat, untethered and rolling around aimlessly. (I really should try and remember the veritable mine field of certain death we grew up in during the 70s and 80s every time I wiggle Wade’s Australian-Safety-Standard-certified-car seat checking for the slightest movement that might compromise his safety by mere millimetres).
I must have been the victor in these fights a lot as I have vivid memories of sitting in the front seat of the “Bug” and watching mum drive. I would watch her hands as she changed gears and thought it was a thing of beauty. The movements were fluid and graceful. Where most people hold a gear stick much like a walking cane, mum would change gears like she was softly moving a duckling out of the way. With her hand open she would push the gear stick up for first gear, turn her hand outward and pull it down for second, nudge it forward into third, again with an open hand then turn her hand inward and bend at the wrist to put it into fourth. I remember these movements as clear as day.
As I grew older I would watch my hands to see if they were becoming like hers. Looking for the maturity and confidence I felt from my her’s but seeing no sign of it in mine. It would appear I inherited the raised veins but none of the elegant fingers or the perfectly shaped nails…. I share the physical characteristic that all the women on this side of our family seem to share, however. The end of our middle finger bends outwards from the top knuckle. My mum, nan, aunt, cousin, sister and I all have it.
While I think happily back on my childhood, I am trying to work out what it is about the way a mother holds their child that elicits these memories. Now that I’m a mother myself, I think I get it.
I think it’s the amount of subconscious knowledge that is there between a mother and their child. A physical representation of nurture…that wonderful balance of firm yet gentle. The sense that the child is yours, came from within you and made of the same stuff as you. An extension of your own body. The sense that when you look at your child, you know everything there is to know about them.
I think the confidence I can see in the way a mother holds her child comes from the intuition that comes with motherhood. It’s like a piece of your brain becomes permanently detached the moment your child is born and remains dedicated to them forever. It’s the only logical explanation as to why I can’t remember people’s names, what I did yesterday or when people’s birthdays are anymore but I know exactly when Wade has crawled out of my sight and is making a beeline to the dog bowl to tip the water all over himself!
Yet it also explains that feeling I get when I see a mother holding their child….
As though the hand is acting independently of conscious thought and that isolated piece of the brain is keeping a strong protective hold whether you know it’s happening or not.
It’s only now I’m a mother myself that I realise…all this time I was seeing the motherhood in my mother’s hands.