Cecilia Rosales Ph.D.

Reflections on mothering

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Last month, as we started planning this issue, my colleagues and I were discussing working titles for our cover story (read it on p. 20). I suggested “Mothers on Mothering,” as I envisioned a profile piece about local women who have exceptional relationships with their adult children. I wanted to know if they had any practical advice or anecdotes on how they built that special relationship with their grown kids.

My suggestion wasn’t well received, though. I was reminded that the word mothering has a negative connotation: nagging, lecturing, stifling. I’m interested in mothering partly because I live away from my mother and I miss her dearly, and also to inform my experience raising two kindergartners. (Just this morning one told me, “If you let me play with your iPad, I’ll be your friend.”)

In the end, we settled on a different title, but I kept thinking about the subject and the many examples, in different cultures, of how language is used to reinforce gender norms or devaluate women’s experience. That reminded me of Liza Bakewell’s book Madre (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010).

In Madre, Bakewell, a linguistic anthropologist at Brown University, describes her years-long quest to fully comprehend why the use of the Spanish word madre is so complicated; especially in Mexican slang phraseology.

It’s a delightful read. The author’s journey through Mexico and its culture is narrated in a humorous and inquisitive tone; especially funny are her reflections as she ponders why vale madre means worthless while ¡qué padre! means fabulous. The text is peppered with personal anecdotes and amusing conversations with taxi-cab drivers, store clerks, and amateur sociolinguists talking about the subject. Of course, she frequently refers to Nobel laureate Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude and to colonial Latin American history to make sense of a vast list of terms within the madre semantic sphere:

Mamacita; mamazota; madrazo; madriza; desmadre; vale madre; esta madre; tu madre; poca madre; ni madre; en la madre; a la madre, and a toda madre or ATM. Phew!

This month, we honor mothers and mothering in their multiple, loving manifestations. The tiger moms, the grizzly mammas, the jefitas; the overindulgent, the guilt-ridden, the ones who bring the bacon home, and the ones who cook it, too. A special thanks to Norma Morales, Cecilia Perez, Heradia Sanders and Frances Sanchez for sharing their stories with us.

My love and appreciation goes to my mom and the fabulous women in my life who have mothered and taught me so much; even the lessons I have yet to master. I borrow the words of masterful Cuban playwright Dolores Prida to celebrate the great mujeres who
with immense love and patience
hand-sewed the seams of my life
with ever-so careful and sturdy stitches
that have kept me whole
through so much bending and stretching
through so much wear and tear
… so far from home …

Feliz día de las madres!

See this story in print here:

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