aunties, cheryl strayed, disney princesses, douglas fairbanks, godmothers, lady sylvia ashley, maleficent, mother's love, sleeping beauty, snow white, special relationship, the little mermaid, timothy bleck, wild
Lady Sylvia Ashley with Douglas Fairbanks and her nephew, Timothy Bleck, 1937
I have noticed a trend of late that both pleases and surprises me. Our popular culture has begun to acknowledge the power, velocity and validity of a mother’s love. Not that you need to tell any parent this fact—they already know. But to see this particular relationship get equal billing with romantic love is quite something.
A mom’s influence is vast and all encompassing. It’s true that a mother’s love can bolster you up and support you, but equally true that an uncaring or neglectful parent can also seriously fuck you up. It’s a crucial role and a character-shaping relationship unlike any other. In the past, sensitive males have been derogatorily called “Mama’s boys” and deemed immature or fragile while young women who are close to their mommies suffer teasing and accusations that they aren’t independent enough. Naturally, for eons it has been the norm to blame the maters—predominantly the main caregivers—for all personality flaws, weaknesses and neurosis. So it’s refreshing to see the true blue mums get their due credit.
I first noticed this shift when I saw Disney’s Maleficent. Say what you will about the Magic Corporation, but they introduced femme fatales with backbones (The Little Mermaid, 1989) only about fifty years after their first docile princess in 1937, Snow White. And now they’re recognizing the phenomenon of the nurturer with a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty where the awakening “true love’s kiss” comes from a maternal figure instead of the prince.
Last week I saw Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography, Wild, in which she announces after the death of her momma (and much grief-induced self-destructive behavior), “She was the love of my life.” It was a revelation.
I suppose I’ve noticed these subtle shifts because I’ve come to learn that my grandmother–whom I lost in September—was the love of my life. And my mommy was a steadfast pillar in my childhood along with godmothers, aunties…and Silky. These strong women, each in their own way, shaped the woman I am today and provided a ferocious, unwavering love that I have not encountered since. I wonder how many others feel the way I do? Perhaps it’s more popular than I imagine.
Despite the naysayers, I dare you to show me an example of a more enduring, potent, selfless force that runs on sleep deprivation and sheer instinct. You have to remind mothers to put on their own oxygen masks in an airplane emergency because their first impulse is to protect their children. How many stories have we heard about mothers defying the laws of nature and gravity to lift a car off a trapped child? Or the many examples of interspecies nurturing where a mama dog nurses an orphaned squirrel or a cat risks its life to save a human baby? A mother’s love can move mountains.
Why is it that romantic love is the goal? How did the “special relationship” get to be limited to a sexual partnership and elevated to the barometer of adulthood? In my experience, romance is overrated, inconsistent and mercurial. Just look at the divorce rate. A connection begun in appearance and based on sexual attraction can’t possibly stand the test of time—it’s far too fickle and changeable. My money’s on the mothers (and grandmothers, the aunties and some of the fathers). They make the world go ‘round.