Jewish World Review
May 12, 2000 /7 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Forget the flowers, chocolates, and diamonds. Try something new this Mother's Day: Reach out and hold your mother's hand. There are hidden stories in her grasp. If you don't take the time to discover these buried tales now, it will be too late one day for her to open up and share her secrets with you herself.
As a child, I never noticed that my mother favored her left hand to feed me, dress me, and spank me. On the surface, there seemed nothing wrong with the other hand. Only much later did I learn that when she was twelve, she caught the ring finger of her right hand in a rice grinder.
Mom had been working in my grandparents' convenience store, a humble, home-based enterprise. Her small hands were always busy -- mixing iced coconut drinks, batting flies away from dried fish, wrapping sweet rice desserts in banana leaves. The income from the store would help pay for the college education of six children whose parents had never made it past the third grade.
It was my mother's responsibility to operate a hand-cranked grinder that produced a fine powder for rice flour -- "mochi" -- a staple ingredient of the store's popular snacks. She poured the rice through a funnel with her right hand, cranked with her left, and occasionally checked the consistency of the ground rice with her right in swift, steady motions: Pour. Crank. Check. Pour. Crank. Check.
In a girlish moment of inattention, the rhythm broke. Carpal, metacarpal, and knuckle crumbled. The grinder had completely crushed the bones of my mother's fourth finger on her right hand. Her family could not afford the luxury of fixing it.
Mom never drew attention to the disabled finger. She never complained about pain. Her skin hangs soft and loose around what's left of the mangled digit. It curls inward and hides in her palm when she writes, or cooks, or holds the phone. She has not been able to straighten out that finger for forty-three years.
You don't realize the significance of these sepia-tinted details about your parents in the self-absorbed years of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I was not there for my mom when her own mother died. I was not there to hold her hand. Too wrapped up in my career and my own needs, I forgot that she was a daughter, too. Only now that I am expecting my first child have I come to truly appreciate my mother's struggles and sacrifices, her heartache and hopes, and her life story before she became a mother.
The online magazine, Salon.com, published an extraordinary series of essays this week reflecting on Mother's Day. The holiday, Salon's editors note, "is, in theory, a legal timeout to indulge in universal joy and sentimental reflection. After all, everybody has -- or had -- a mother. Gratitude, at minimum, would seem to rule the day. But that assumes so much -- too much -- about so many. It can be hard to be thankful without also being furious or miserable or full of regret. And then there is guilt, divvied in uneven portions, consumed in reflexive gulps -- the coin of the motherhood realm."
"We love them and leave them," the introductory essay continues. "We hate them and bring them our laundry. We only wish they were different. We don't even know who they are..."
Storebought gifts are convenient. They require no sweat, no pain, no curiosity, no reconciliation, no effort to discover who our mothers were and are. It's the Mother's Day messages that don't fit on Hallmark cards -- the ones delivered best through look and touch -- that are most worth giving and getting. So reach out this weekend and hold your mother's hands when they are warm and busy, weary from work, fragrant from cooking or gardening.
They won't stay that way
05/08/00: Focus on the real Waco