Whenever I visited my rural home a few years ago, my mother, while shaking my hand, would look at my face and ask me if my eye is sick.
“No, why,” I would respond, least bothered about it as I never had any problem with my eyes. This was about eight years ago.
When she asked me for the third time, I looked hard at myself in the mirror. I saw no difference in my eyes nor could my close friends.
I let it go but still harboured a residual curiosity about what my mum was seeing in me. At almost 90 and without formal education, what was this she was insisting on seeing that escaped younger people with stronger eyesight?
Two years ago, I developed an itchy eyelid forcing me, for the first time in my life, to visit an eye clinic.
A visual acuity test was profound: that my right eye was defective. As a heavy reader and writer, I could not have imagined that I use only one eye.
I had taken the same test in the 90s during a medical examination for my first employment. Then, my eyes were perfect, implying the problem is a recent development.
The itching was easily treated with an eye drop. But the defect in the right eye required the attention of a specialist. As I pursued treatment, I couldn’t help thinking about my mother and her incessant prodding of my eyes. Could she indeed have seen something incriminating?
When I told her that I have been diagnosed with an eye sickness, she felt vindicated. “I saw it a long time ago,” she said.
After all the scepticism, here was mum having the last laugh!
From my reflections on fatherhood, I now understand how this could happen.
If indeed I have been reading with one eye for a while, my face must have been compensating for the weakness of the right eye through instinctive movements of facial muscles.
But these changes must have been so subtle; one can only notice if you understand the person very well and has studied their face thoroughly. And only a mother has those qualifications.
My experience with Nathan has taught me that taking care of a baby is a bonding expedition.
From feeding and toilet habits, to emotional feelings and moods, a child becomes a mother’s book to read. That is how mothers detect illnesses from minor behavioural nuances.
It follows that while a mother’s intimacy with children may be sowed in the womb, the actual bond is consummated after birth in the course of all that “dirty work” that motherhood entails.
That is how my mother could detect such obscure changes in my eyes. After all, she is an expert on my face.
This is the journey that mothers follow to the special place they occupy in our lives.
There is a lot of banter on social media as men decry isolation from their families in old age as mothers visit children abroad. They advise each other on how to save wisely because “we are on our own.”
If we are to understand a mother’s sacredness, we must go back to the formative years. That time when they are cleaning our poop and bathing us is when this irreversible bonding happens.
The mother gives the baby her emotions and the baby develops a reciprocal emotional connection with her. This affection is deeply stencilled in the children’s minds for the rest of their lives.
Until fathers can penetrate the sanctum of our emotions when we are most vulnerable and dirty, they will never compete with mothers for that special status that mothers enjoy in people’s lives.
That is perhaps the missing link.
A popular proverb in Kikuyu states that once a lamb rebels against the mother, it never survives. Suppose I took my mother’s concern seriously and went for a medical check-up, the retina issue that is taking me from one specialist to another would most likely have been detected earlier and nipped in the bud.
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