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The Enduring Legacy of Motherhood

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In this world of thousands of how-to books, chattering experts on television, and workshops on how to raise a secure child, sometimes the most profound and fundamental aspects of the meaningful ways that mother and child communicate non-verbally are not emphasized. In fact, it's the primitive nature of our sensory connection that form our deepest memories.

For example, I remember my mother's touch. It's one of my most soothing memories. I would lean against her, and she would gently smooth my hair. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel that feeling.

In the same way, my mother's goodnight kiss meant the world to me. One night when I was very young, she kissed my brother and sister, but forgot to kiss me. I cried and cried softly to myself until finally she came back in to check on us. I'll never forget how it seemed to melt her heart when she saw how much her kiss meant to me, and how she then held me for a very long time.

Then there was my mother's smile. It was like sunshine, and could light up a room. Though, to be truthful, I always felt that she had another very special smile that was reserved just for me.

Another important and especially evocative sensory experience is smell. I remember one in particular from my childhood. My mother wore one, and only one, scent her whole life. It was White Lilac, and was discontinued after she died. Oh, how I wish I could still have a bottle of that familiar smell that would envelop me with a sense of "home."

Sounds are another particularly poignant reminder of childhood. My mother's voice was soft and reassuring, one I can call up in memory easily. I have a recollection from high school, when I had a difficult English test coming up that required huge amounts of memorization. My mother had read an article that said that if a student has to do a lot of memory work, if another person reads the assignment to the student while they are asleep, it'll help the student to remember. So sure enough, on the night before the test, I woke up a little bit to see my mother sitting by my bed with a flashlight, softly going over and over the material. As I went back to sleep, lulled by her reassuring voice, I knew how lucky I was.

And so, for those of you expecting a new baby in your family, if you are feeling anxious about being the ideal parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, or special family friend, I urge you to try to forget those requirements for perfection, and allow yourselves to feel the intimacy of those sensory experiences. Feel the joy, and help build a lifetime of sweet memories.