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Looking at Your Mother

Looking at Your Mother | Julie Hart | Raising Mothers
Over the rising moon of her breast.

Through the bars of your crib.

In silhouette at your bedroom door.

From below, calmly perched on high heels, putting on her dress coat to go out for the evening.

From behind, her neck rising out of a white beaver collar as she sits in the passenger seat of the car, her skin like alien terrain, the fur a forest.

In repose, when she doesn’t notice you looking at her while she’s reading the newspaper.

Sleeping on the couch when you get home from school.

At a wedding, a glimpse of her adult persona, the one that holds a champagne glass so elegantly, laughs like a movie star, what she would be like if she didn’t have children, didn’t have you.

From the side, the tip of her nose bobbing slightly as she speaks. This becomes the funniest thing you have ever seen in your life.

Down the long, narrow, starkly-lit corridor of adolescence, where she shows up haggard, tense, at the end of her rope, in a pink quilted bathrobe, just before she storms out, leaving behind her a shocked silence, regret.

In the distance behind you, smiling, waving, wishing you good luck as you stride toward your own life. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

In your mind’s eye, when you call on the phone to get a recipe.

With a shock at the airport when she comes to meet you, your mental image has not kept changing and aging as the real person has.

When you tell her you’re pregnant and she lights up, on the inside first and then it spreads to her eyes and mouth and beams out at you.

As you watch her hold your newborn son, eyes locked on his, trying to parse his minutes-old personality, knowing that if you’ll be able to know your son, it will be because you were once there in that baby’s place, communing with that woman by eye contact only. That the way she has known you, everything about you, without rubbing your face in it, or holding it against you, is how you wish to know that little newborn person there.

As she watches you flounder around, trying to find the patience to continue being a mother when you’d rather stomp out the door and never come back. You see her registering compassion for you with a little smidge of “Been there, done that” thrown in on top like sprinkles.

As she visits her mother in the nursing home, trying valiantly to make conversation with a woman who has been reduced to two topics: the Cubs and church basement suppers of 50 years ago. You wonder what you’ll be talking to her about when she is 90.

As she touches her mother’s cheek, pale and powdery-looking, most certainly cold. As she quietly tears up in front of the casket.

As you see her struggle to find a positive spin on aging, or something to look forward to. She knows her physical powers peaked a while back and now it’s compromise, accommodate, retreat, from here on in.

As you realize she’s starting to repeat herself, as you notice that she knows it too and is embarrassed about it.

As you help her up from a fall, the flash of terror and disorientation in her eyes softening into relief at seeing you there.


Originally from Minnesota, Julie Hart has lived in London, Zurich and Tokyo and now in Brooklyn Heights. Her work can be found in Five Quarterly, Denim Skin, PANK Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Floor Plan Journal, Blue Lyra Review, Yellow Chair Review and at juliehartwrites.com.

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