On Becoming My Mother – What the Hell?

I don’t know exactly what it was that caught my eye, but I started staring at my hands while I was typing the other day.  My fingers were flying over the keys, as usual, and I was in the middle of a brainstorming draft session, and my attention suddenly shifted away from my thoughts and settled on what my hands looked like.  It took me a few seconds, and then I came to a startling realization: I was staring at my mother’s hands.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not up to speed on anatomy and physiology – probably because I’ve never taken an A&P course – but there certainly are some similar structures and looks to our hands.  I won’t describe them very well at all, due to my lack of knowledge about the technical terms for body parts, so please forgive me.  I just know that when I reach for the space bar, there is something about that bottom knuckle in my left-hand thumb that reeks of my mother’s thumb.  If I hadn’t fallen back into that old terrible habit of chewing my fingernails while thinking and writing, my thumb would look exactly like hers.

I don’t think my mom and I look alike at all.  I have had some people tell me that they can tell I am my mother’s daughter, just from our physical appearance, but I don’t see it.  Other people have told me that we have the same laugh, but I don’t hear it.  I think that’s why it struck me as so unusual that I saw her hands in mine.  The way the skin scrunches under my pinky when I extend my fingers.  The way there are four straight, raised lines branching out from my fingers and into my hand when I spread out my fingers to stretch them.  The way my rings never fit my finger the right way; they always seem to be turned to the side.  The way my knuckles, when my fingers are fully extended, look like my boys’ bellybuttons a few days after they were born.  The way we have deep crisscrosses all over the tops of our hands and fingers.  I got it all from my mom.

Most people say with a great deal of derision that they don’t want to become their mothers.  I’ve heard my mom say it about becoming my grandmother, and my brother and I tease her about how her driving is pushing her ever nearer to being Nana.  My dad used to tease me about becoming my mom, and I always shot back: “That will NEVER happen!”

But then I became a mom.  I needed my mom from the very second we brought that first precious little life home; with all of his eating issues and food allergies and my “touch of” postpartum depression (as the midwife so kindly described it), we needed her more than any of us ever could have imagined.  I watched her soothe my screaming baby who violently vomited after every feeding by wrapping him in a blanket and carrying him outside to show him the world.  Those hands pointed to the trees and the sky and clouds and my baby calmed down and slept.  Those hands helped me bathe the baby after my husband had to go back to work and some nights had to work until closing time, leaving me feeling alone and scared and helpless until my mom showed up and saved the day and the night.  Those hands took care of things when mine couldn’t.

I don’t simply see physical similarities in our hands; I see active similarities in our hands.  These two sets of hands have cared for both of my children.  They have changed diapers, felt for fevers, dried tears, applied bandages, and held little boys.  They have put battle gear onto Ninja Turtles and made Thomas the Tank and Friends go down the hill without tipping over.  They have stirred macaroni and cheese while getting milk into a sippy cup and not letting fish sticks burn.

I’ve learned so much about being a mother from my mom, and it’s funny how most of that learning happened through watching her hands.  I guess I have become my mom.  Or at least my hands have become her hands.  And I could not be happier about that.  What the Hell?

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