Drawing by Diana Vorona
I saw, on the tube, a girl scratching the itch from her Burberry scarf at the nape of her neck and I thought to myself I don’t think Burberry makes scarves as warm as the ones my mom wraps in brown paper and string every Christmas.
I have 5 now—scarves from my mum, that is. Every winter, I wear a kaleidoscope of moments from my mother’s life:
the loop she missed on the bottom left corner of my 2021 purple scarf while she was watching the geese swim across the town lake;
the tightness of the 2022 gray one hugging me in extra warmth and protection as if personally shielding me from COVID;
and the little bit of turquoise at the end of the 2018 blue one when the craft store ran out of blue yarn.
These are all moments during which I existed in a different place than my mom did. And yet I wear them around my neck like a photo album from my mom screaming “Look! You’ve been here the whole time! I’ve been there the whole time! We’ve been connected in the little loops of yarn this entire time!!”
Maya Angelou, in her poem “Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me,” wrote,
“You thought you know me,
But I did know you,
You thought you were watching me,
But I did hold you securely in my sight,
Recording every moment,
Memorising your smiles, tracing your frowns.
In your absence I rehearsed you,”
In the redundancy of her “you thought…but” pattern in the first few lines, she gently flips the narrative of mother/daughter dynamics to assert that being a daughter includes just as much watching as it does being watched. There is the trope that as we grow older, we become parents to our parents. As Angelou notes, we are now the ones watching, memorizing, rehearsing, and honoring our parents.
I wear my mother’s song around my neck and it’s considerably more comfortable than a Burberry.
On the same tube ride, I saw a child scream so loudly that her little neck became distended as if she were a toad that had just swallowed the largest fly in a swamp (I don’t want kids, in case that was in any way unclear). Anyhow, the family’s stop was coming up soon and this little miniature human was utterly appalled at the fact that her mother wasn’t letting her out of her stroller. I imagined what would become of her little feet among the 5 pm post-work crowd if she were unfastened from her little pink ribbony pram prison. Is that what childhood is? Little bouts of desired freedom?
My grandma told me when we were young that she would never just say “yes” to me if I was wrong. I was maybe 8, and thought that she was making a mountain out of a mole hill when I’d asked to let go of her hand in some bazaar. Looking back, I think this was her way of saying “I’m not going to let you leave the stroller at rush hour.” She stayed true to her word: she’s always told me when I’m wrong. In retrospect, we also hear those lovely lines on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, when teenagers emphatically thank their parents for supporting them “even when I’m wrong!”
I think what all of this has shown me is that there is love in realness. There is support in moments of honesty. There is love in the moment of a “no, you can’t have candy before dinner," or a “no, we’re not leaving until you wear your winter coat.” It is a more beautiful love than an unconditional “yes” because it demonstrates a notion of I don’t care if you hate me for this, I love you enough to tolerate your resulting tantrum.
And oh, did I throw tantrums. But what kid doesn’t? We’ve all been the child begging to run out of the strollers into the streets on little pudgy toddler legs. We’ve all been the child begging to have dessert before dinner, and we’ve all pined for the outrageously expensive stuffed animal that we just had to have. And while it didn’t seem like it at the time, those resounding “no’s” were really maybe just our parents and guardians trying to teach us something about life. And what is love if not the sharing of wisdom, safety, and care?
Cheers to family and to the occasional “no—"!
If you’d like to share one of your tiny moments that revealed a big idea about love, feel free to contribute to the “Nothing like the Sun” column by emailing email@example.com .
Edited by Noor Hatimy, Sex and Relationships Editor