The X-ray Vision Of Mothers

May 11, 2013
Originally published on May 11, 2013 2:10 pm

Mothers have eyes in the back of their heads. They may not show up on X-rays, but they're there.

Like a lot of youngsters, I used to get my mother to turn her head so I could search through her hair for the eyeballs she claimed to have back there, telling her, "No you don't! No you don't!" But when I'd scamper off to another part of the apartment and pick up an ashtray or fiddle with the window blinds, I'd hear my mother's voice ring out, "I can see you! I know what you're up to!"

Mothers seem to see not only what we're up to, but also what a pediatrician may have missed, or what a teacher doesn't understand. I'm not sure that I believe in intuition, but I devoutly believe that mothers have eyes in the back of their heads.

Mothers possess singular vision. They can look at what the rest of the world may see as a sullen, snarling teenager and view them, through some other set of eyes, as the infant they used to carry and cuddle, the child who babbled on their lap and laughed, and the person they're sure we're struggling to become.

Mothers don't always think we're right. In fact, they know better — better than anyone. No one has heard more of our cunning excuses. But mothers are the ones who remember our tears and nightmares. Mothers can always see through to our innocence.

Lots of us look at a child's finger painting and profess to recognize a burgeoning Picasso in the smears and thumbprints (maybe Picasso's mother saw Renoir in young Pablo's pictures). But mothers never stop seeing the Picasso in us — the promise of potential — even if we've disappointed or squandered it. Seeing that promise in their eyes can fortify us when we're disheartened.

To be sure, mothers also see just where they can sting us when they want to. My hair is now more gray — excuse me, silver — than my mother's. I'm not sure how she's managed that. But when I told her not long ago that I was proud of my silvering hair, she asked, "Is it supposed to make me proud, too?" Yeow.

The eyes that mothers have in the back of their head see their children at all ages, all at once. It is the special vision of mothers, and I've never gotten a better bit of advice — about the news business, art or life — then when my mother would see someone panhandling on the street, or unshaven and mumbling on the subway, and tell me, "Remember: They were once a baby that a mother loved."

That special vision makes mothers our advocates for life. Everyone should have one.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Mothers have eyes in the back of their heads. They may not show up on X-rays, but they're there. Like a lot of youngsters, I used to get my mother to turn her head so I could search through her hair for the eyeball she claimed to have back there, telling her, no you don't. No you don't. But when I'd scamper off to another part of the apartment, pick up an ashtray or fiddle with the window blinds, I'd hear my mother's voice ring out: I can see you. I know what you're up to.

Mothers seem to see not only what we're up to but also what a pediatrician may have missed or what a teacher doesn't understand. I'm not sure that I believe in intuition, but I devoutly believe that mothers have eyes in the back of their heads. Mothers possess singular vision. They can look at what the rest of the world may see as a sullen, snarling teenager and view them, through some other set of eyes, as the infant they used to carry and cuddle, the child who babbled on their lap and laughed, and the person they're sure we're struggling to become. Mothers don't always think they're right. In fact, they know better - better than anyone. No one has heard more of our cunning excuses. But mothers are the ones who remember our tears and nightmares. Mothers can always see through to our innocence.

Lots of us look at a child's finger painting and profess to recognize a burgeoning Picasso in the smears and thumbprints - maybe Picasso's mother saw Renoir in young Pablo's pictures. But mothers never stop seeing the Picasso in us - the promise of potential, even if we've disappointed or squandered it. Seeing that promise in their eyes can fortify us when we're disheartened. To be sure, mothers also see just where they can sting us when they want to. My hair is now more gray - excuse me, silver - than my mother's. I'm not sure how she's managed that. But when I told her not long ago that I was proud of my silvering hair, she asked is it supposed to make me proud, too? Yeow. The eyes that mothers have in the back of their head see their children at all ages, all at once. It is the special vision of mothers, and I've never gotten a better bit of advice about the news business, art, or life, then when my mother would see someone panhandling on the street, or unshaven and mumbling on the subway, and tell me, remember, they were once a baby that a mother loved. That special vision makes mothers our advocates for life. Everyone should have one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEING ALIVE")

BERNADETTE PETERS: (Singing) Somebody need me too much. Somebody know me too well. Somebody pull me up short and put me through hell and give me support for being alive. Make me alive, make me alive, make me confused. Mock me with...

SIMON: Of course, that's Bernadette Peters. And Happy Mother's Day. You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.