I said a regretful goodbye to my mother, promising to come back soon, promising to arrange another European trip for her. What sort of daughter leaves home and stays away? Difficult and disobedient just about sums it up, though the older I get the more I have in common with the women who founded the family.
My most powerful childhood memory is very simple, like all the deepest recollections are: as my mother leaned against the sink of our butter-yellow Minneapolis kitchen, I barreled into her and squashed my face her soft belly. I could have been no older than five, for my head reached no higher than the motherly bulge that bumped out below the high waistband of her 1970s-era jeans. I luxuriated in the warmth that lay there as I wrapped my arms tightly around the back of her legs. I felt at home. I was safe. Did she hold me in return? Did she ruffle my hair? Did she have any idea of the comfort I felt in that moment? I tried to tell her about this feeling much later. I was twenty-eight, and I’d just given birth to my first child. Afterwards, I saw that my body was different. I told her that I had the pooch under my belly button that she had, too. I understood now that the soft place I had loved was the place was proof of her motherhood: we were connected by the physical proof that we’d carried children. When I told her this, she squirmed. “I’m fat,” she moaned. “I’m disgusting. You’re making fun of me.” But I remember hugging you there, I said, and how important you felt to me. I remember how soft you were. You felt good. She looked uncomfortable. I knew then that my hair hadn’t been ruffled. She had a different interpretation of the moment we shared; while I remember the safety of a mother’s body, she felt embarrassment and shame, perhaps blaming me for calling attention to what she saw an imperfection. Soon it would not only be her motherly body that was imperfect: mine would be too.