Wednesday May 4, 2011
Mum’s the word
By NITHYA SIDHHU
Words related to the person who gave each of us life.
MY reading tells me that, as far back as time has been known, the word for mother, woman and sister has been one expression. Every woman is or can be a mother and every mother is a woman. Biologically, only a woman can be a mother.
Some men today, would, of course, like to challenge this traditional truth for they believe that they can “mother” better than a woman! But, to me, even if they step into a mother’s shoes, they are technically still fathers. As women, let’s leave it at that, shall we?
I wonder if you know that we didn’t get the word mother from Latin or French, but from Old English? According to an online dictionary, all languages from Latin to Gaelic, and from Greek to Russian share this maternal commonality. (www.yourdictionary.com/mother)
The Indo-European root for mother was mater. Apparently, we only started inserting the letters “th” in mother back in the early 1500s.
In American sign language, the word mother is indicated by placing the thumb of the right hand on the right cheek or the right chin.
Years ago, when I was expecting my first child, a gyneacologist told me that if a mother strokes the baby’s cheek with her finger, the baby will reflexively turn to the opposite side. Thus, if a baby is in his mother’s arms and his right cheek is stroked, the baby will turn to the mother’s left breast and if the left cheek is stroked, then the baby will automatically turn to nuzzle against the right breast. I found this to be personally true when I was breastfeeding my two girls when they were babies!
As a mother, if you are positive, encouraging, warm, accepting, kind and compassionate with your children, they will respond in kind. Outside the home, children turn easily to adults who exhibit the maternal quality of being nurturing individuals.
Meanwhile, growing up, children appreciate mothers who give them some personal space to develop and grow. I have found that teenagers, in particular, are averse to mothers who control them too much or tell them what they ought to be doing all the time. These types of mothers, who dictate and control a child’s life, are smothering the child.
The best of mothers are firm and supportive, but let their children develop their own interests. They also allow their children some freedom to make their own choices.
A mother should not worry too much about the child. Like sunflowers, the young always turn to face the direction of love and warmth. So, if your child is in trouble, don’t worry – he will still come to you, provided you are the kind of person whom they feel comfortable talking their problems over with! Mother or smother – the choice is yours. One brings closeness, the other creates a gap between mother and child.
Even at the workplace, younger colleagues favour older personnel who are willing to help, coach and guide them with kindness and understanding rather than those who keep accusing them of not measuring up!
By the way, here are a couple of interesting facts for you. In the Turkish language, the words used for mother are anne or ana. Guess what? Both mean “food”! Very telling!
Meanwhile, in the African Swahili language, the word is mama or mzazi and refers to a woman’s birthing abilities – so, a mother is one who produces offspring.
As for Latin, the word mamma means “breast” while the Spanish word mammar means to “suck” or “devour food”. For the Hawaiians, the word mama means “to chew but not to swallow”. Obviously the connection between mothers and food (or milk) is common to all societies.
Culturally and biologically, mothers are indeed the source of nutrition. Ever notice how mothers will trail after children with a bowl of rice just to make sure they eat even as they run around? Fathers may be the providers of food, but it is the mothers who traditionally do the feeding.
It is no wonder that the derivation from “mama” has also given us the English word used for a particular group of animals known as mammals. Mammals (meaning “breast-feeder”) are animals which feed milk to its young.
I also found it intriguing that the Aryan root word mater is the source of the word “mother”. In this context, I can understand now why the word “alma mater” refers to the school, college or university that one has attended.
Meanwhile, all medical students know that the word “dura mater” is used in reference to the tough, fibrous membrane surrounding our brain. What’s more – the spinal cord – the most important nerve running down our backs – means “hard mother” in Latin.
To sum up, I notice that all words associated with mother describe her true role in life – “feeder” and “protector”.
From time immemorial, mothers have been feeding, protecting and nurturing their children from young.
Last year, both my mother and mother-in-law passed away. In my eyes, they were both strong, stoic women who brought up a large brood of children without complaint but with unstinting devotion.
Today, when my husband talks about his mother, he remembers how the first question she would ask him when he went home was, “Have you eaten?”
So, this Mother’s Day, think of how much a mother actually does for you and what she truly represents in your life.
Don’t take her love, warmth, hard work and protective instincts for granted. Show her you appreciate her. A phone call, a card, a dinner, a hug, a gift, a simple get-together – do whatever it takes but do let her know you love her.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone.