Nesting Dolls

A few days before my daughter was born, I had an epiphany. A little girl who had fallen wandered into our staffroom crying. She was comforted by kind adults but remained inconsolable, “I want my Mamma…” Luckily, her mother, my colleague, could be summoned from the school dining hall where she was having lunch. As soon as she put her arms around her child, the sobbing subsided and we felt a collective sense of relief. It struck me that this was a repeating motif… When children are hurt or heartbroken, they want their mothers. Quite magically, they find solace in their mother’s presence. Why simply children? I feel the same myself.

But how do mothers know what to do? How would I know what to do? As my colleague retreated with her daughter in her arms, I couldn’t resist asking… “What did you do? How did you comfort her? We all tried…” She smiled, “I didn’t do anything. I just came.” I felt unsettled by the mysteriousness of it all. I went home that afternoon and sought out my own mother. “How will I know what to do, Mamma?” I asked. “All you have to do is be there,” she said. So that is how I have spent the last three years… Being with my daughter. It’s been a time of retrospection and reflection, a return to the long afternoons of my own childhood. It’s been a time for curiosity and wonder, a chance to learn about each other and ourselves. It’s been a time to pause and be quiet, where every word and every moment feels somehow borrowed from her.

A few months ago, my daughter was not feeling very well. I asked if there was anything I could do to make her feel better. She said simply, “Just be with me, Mamma….” As my daughter finds her own words and way around the world, I’m tempted to take a step back and look at what I’ve learnt. I suppose, after being caught up in the impressionistic blur of early motherhood, I am surprised it’s turned out to be a process of self-discovery and meaning-making. As a parent and an educator, I have often been fascinated by how contemporary evidence-based research corroborates what I know to be true in my heart. Maybe if we want our children to grow and bloom in love and freedom, all we have to do is grow alongside them ourselves?

Indus Chadha believes we cannot exist or be understood without stories and spends much of her time reading and writing them. She earned a BA in Women’s Studies and English Literature from Smith College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Arts at Columbia University.

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