Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The fierce face of motherhood

She might look sweet.  But don't be fooled.

"Though she be but little, she is fierce." -- William Shakespeare

 It was a fairly typical evening in my house that night.  I was nine years old, I think.  Jenny, my big sister, was in her first year of band that year, and she had chosen to play the trombone.  She was practicing right in the middle of the house, and it was, of course, loud.  Dad was out for run, and Jackie and I were playing in the living room.  Our cook* was making dinner, and Mom was busy feeding Jenny's science experiment/ pet mice.

It was loud.  (Oh, wait, did I say that already?)  And then, because we needed a few more decibels, the dog started barking.

Jackie and I were in the living room, facing Mom, who in turn faced the side door to the house as she reached into the mouse cage.  All of a sudden, we heard her say, "Heeeeeyyyyy!!"  And it wasn't in her happy voice.  We looked up to see if she was talking to us, but she wasn't.  She was staring into the hall. "Hey!" She said again, in English though she was fluent in Bengali.  "You! Get! Out! Of! My! House!"  Her hands were on her hips.  Jackie and I looked at each other in wonder... and not just a little fear.  "Get!  Out!  Right! Now!"  

She moved into the hall, and as she walked, she slipped off her shoe.  This was not a big shoe, but a flimsy leather flip-flop that she wielded fiercely over her head.  Over the noise of the barking and the trombone, she yelled for the cook, and said in Bengali to come right now.  He came running, carrying the large metal spoon he'd been using, and when he saw whoever or whatever she saw, he brandished it like a club.

Together, we learned a few moments later, they chased a man out of our house.  Mom even got him to stand against the wall while the cook frisked him before she allowed him to leave.  

[The man hadn't stolen anything, but probably his plan was to hide in the stairwell that led to our roof (many Bengali houses have flat roofs to allow for adding on someday, and also because they make a pleasant place to go in the evenings when the heat of the day tapers) until we were asleep.  Then he would rob us.  He probably figured it was loud enough to get away with a plan like this.]  

Mom is 5'1".  Nothing about her stature is particularly intimidating.  But when she needs to, when the safety of her babies is at stake, there is something awesome and powerful... and not just a little bit scary.

I believe it's called motherhood.

Our first dog was a very sweet gentle Tibetan Spaniel that everyone loved.  When I was growing up, she had a few litters of puppies.  It was amazing to witness.  She always let my family close by and allowed even us children to reach in and hold the puppies at will.  But whenever anyone else came over?  She was just plain mean.  

When I had Jayna, I began to understand why.  Coming home from the hospital, I wondered at how many idiot drivers had been given licenses.  I wanted to take all their keys from them.  If anyone made comments about her crying, which to my understanding was what babies just do sometimes, I could almost feel my eyes start glowing red and my cheeks getting hot.  

Then one day I was walking her around the neighborhood.  It was a crisp fall afternoon, and she was in one of those "travel system" strollers -- big / infant carrier, clipped into a stroller.  The sun was shining, and the sky was blue, and it seemed that nothing  could go wrong on such a lovely day.

Until, as I passed one house, a giant German Shepherd came racing out, barking with his teeth bared.  Oh no, he didn't.  Without even a moment's thought, something in me snapped.  It could have only been a split second, but I bent over and hoisted the entire stroller/ car seat combo high above my head and let out this strange and rather amazing guttural roar.  

Everyone froze momentarily, and it was a strange tableau.  There was the dog, looking at me in awe, wonder, maybe even respect; his owners, their mouths somewhat agape; and me, holding my baby as far as I could from danger, not even feeling the weight as I kept it there, as the sound of my roar echoed through the neighborhood.

Sometimes I start singing to my kids, "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low..." and they know it's true. When you are given responsibility for a child, something crazy happens inside you, and you will do crazy things for that small person.  My mom didn't -- not even for a split second -- consider the unlikelyhood of chasing someone out of the house with a flip-flop.  She had all the force of motherly instinct within her, and sometimes, that's a little scary.  

*In Bangladesh, if you could afford it, you were expected to have household help.  It's sort of a welfare program -- helping others by giving them jobs.  We didn't have a lot of money by American standards, but there, we were considered "haves" rather than "have nots".  We treated them like family.  Our cook, in particular, keeps a special place in my heart even now, so many years after the last time I saw him.


  1. Wow, what a brave woman your mom is! I aspire to be like the amazing mothers I've met-- thanks for the inspiration today, Joy!

  2. She really is so brave -- there are many more stories to tell!! So glad you enjoyed it, Daisy!

  3. onlinetherapyandcoachingMay 7, 2015 at 7:51 PM

    You gotta watch out for Mother Bear--and I think we all have been that fierce at some time!

  4. Very true! It's almost gotten me in trouble sometimes! ;-)


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