Mother, Smother

When I was a little girl, like all little girls, I had a special doll. I held her, I kissed her, and I made her doll clothes from scraps of my old flannel nightgowns. I used a piece of my mother’s crocheting as her bed, and I covered her securely at night with an old pillowcase. This solicitous behavior lasted a long time, perhaps three weeks, which as a portion of one’s childhood is quite a generous chunk.

In thinking back on those early days of motherhood, I recall that what made my heart full was being close to my doll: kissing her, hugging her, tucking her in, feeding her. Proximity. That’s what felt so good. I think I smothered the little cutie with my love.

Then I had my baby, Stephanie. Human babies are designed to be proximal. They need their mommies close by, and we are happy to oblige. Maybe that’s why it’s such a successful relationship; it’s win-win. The sophisticated young woman  becomes content to have a chubby-thighed little person sitting on her lap and eating from her plate. As a mother, I lost all sense of a boundary between me and my baby. Whose saliva was that? Who cares?

When little Stephanie was sick, I think I experienced the closest replication of my precious doll-love days. As she lay feverish on the couch, taking up less than one half its width, I would sit at her feet and tuck the cool sheet in around her, offer her sips of cool water, and take her temperature. Stephanie ran very high fevers as a child, which made her ripe for extra TLC. I think I smothered the little cutie with my love.

Now that my doll is in a big box with Stephanie’s dolls and now that Stephanie is as long as the couch, I have no little ones to (s)mother with obsessive care. Stephanie and I have boundaries now, created and sustained by her ever-growing sense of self and my acknowledgement and respect of that. Occasionally, though, the boundaries almost blur—when one of us is very sad or very tired—and then I feel it again. The love I had for that doll. The love born in proximity. The love that proclaims complete commitment in the all-too-fleeting present.

On Mother’s Day, remember the one who smothered you with her love. And smother the ones entrusted to your arms. Smothering doesn’t have to be suffocating. It can be pure unadulterated envelopment, just for a moment, just long enough to communicate that your love is boundless and timeless and as pure as the love of a little girl for a dirty-faced plastic baby doll with scraggly hair and the sorriest looking dress a seven-year-old mama ever made.

We grow and we change, but love is always the same. Happy Mother’s Day.


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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Laura Weldon said,

    I love that you’ve redefined a word so thoroughly abused. Smothering can indeed be “pure unadulterated envelopment, just for a moment, just long enough to communicate that your love is boundless and timeless..” Too many never got that all encompassing attention in those earliest years and that, I think, it the root of so much trouble in the world today.

  2. 3

    Rana said,

    I know what you mean. I was sitting on the couch one quiet morning and my son came out of his bedroom and I just grabbed him and hugged and rocked him like I used to when he was a baby. He thought I was being silly because he said “Mom I’m a big boy now ya know?” I said that I knew, but sometimes Mommy’s just need to hold their babies.

    Glad to see you back Susan!

  3. 5

    Cristina said,

    Beautiful! I hope your day was filled with lots of mother smothering. It’s one of the things I enjoy about having older kids. They can give as much as they get!

    Peace and Laughter!


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