Sunday contemplation: the Meaning of Mother

Posted on May 9, 2010



– Photo by TeeJe via Flickr

I love dictionaries, and, while I use them in the usual way, to check the definition of words I’m unfamiliar with, sometimes I pull them out to check the meaning of familiar words. Sometimes, when you examine the familiar with an open and curious mind, you find the unexpected.  Sometimes you find what you expect, but the familiarity is comforting.  And sometimes the dictionary fails to capture the fullness and richness of the word – but you can savor it on your own.

So, given that it’s Mother’s Day in the US, let us contemplate the meaning of Mother.

Here’s what the dictionary has to say about Mother:

mother |ˈməðər|

  • noun1 a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth
  • a person who provides the care and affection normally associated with a female parent : my adoptive mother
  • a female animal in relation to its offspring : [as adj. ] a mother penguin
  • archaic (esp. as a form of address) an elderly woman
  • Mother, Mother Superior, orReverend Mother (esp. as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community
  • [as adj. ] denoting an institution or organization from which more recently founded institutions of the same type derive: the mother church
  • figurative something that is the origin of or stimulus for something else : the wish was the mother of the deed
  • informal an extreme example or very large specimen of something : I got stuck inthe mother of all traffic jams
  • vulgar slang short for motherf**ker
  • verb [ trans. ]1 [often as n. ] ( mothering) bring up (a child) with care and affection : the art of mothering
  • look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so : she felt mothered by her older sister
  • dated give birth to.

Well – not much surprises me in these definitions.  In fact, the dictionary definition is a little boring, don’t you think? (with the exception of the informal and slang uses, which, strangely enough, appeal to me.  As in, watch out for THIS mother.  I want to be THAT mother.)

What’s missing for me is the emotion and the association of the word mother.  For me,  mother or mom bring up the usual feelings of love, care, warmth, touch.  But ALSO – nagging, demanding, cajoling, persuading, advocating, sweet-talking and badgering.  AND the fashion sense I rebelled against.  AND the love of bargaining that I resisted, then embraced.  AND the Love embodied in delicious food, hand made clothes and home hair cuts.  AND the passion and anger and pride.  I have finally realized that my mother is as imperfect a mother and a human as I.  And the wonder of the realization is that it makes me love her more.

So, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you.

What does Mother mean to You?

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