Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Spring is a good time to think about models of power - we never celebrate either mothers or fathers without at least the hint of an edge. The edge comes from the power our parents have over us long after we are adults ourselves. Some part of us continues to believe - with small child intensity - that our parents know more than we do, and that their judgments of us are accurate. Long after the conscious mind declares this nonsense and recognizes the limits of our parents' wisdom, some part of us continues to believe in the way they describe us to ourselves.

This, as much as food and shelter, is the most basic thing that our parents do for us. From the time we are born, they define our edges. They are paradoxically closer to us than any other human beings and unimaginably different. Babies know their mothers (from the inside out!) and do not know their mothers at all (cannot possibly understand any element of adult experience). Mothers (and only a little later, fathers) teach us that the world is both intimate and foreign - it is a friendly place and it is a place where we depend on beings we can neither know nor control.

The limits of our power do not change very much as we grow. We influence the world around us knowing that we cannot know or control it any more or less than a baby knows or controls its mother.

And, if we are lucky, we know how much control that baby has. If we are lucky, we have held a baby and marvelled at it, and wondered at its growth. We have let all of our attention wrap around the experience of a small child and felt the world grow wonderful. We have been teased and tormented and focused by our love for a child who cannot know us, a child who has no power, and yet a child who is somehow at the centre of all we are and all we do.

We cannot know or control the world any more or any less than a baby controls its parents.

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