I smelled dinner cooking downstairs. For a moment, I felt nurtured by the scent and wondered what dinner would be. Then I remembered that I was the one cooking it. Homemade bread and soup. I am the one who fills our home with the scents of home. I make sure the meals are nutritionally balanced. I’m the wardrobe police when the weather turns cold. My husband does some of these things too, but the truth is that I’ve become the matriarch of our family.
I’m pretty much the only matriarch remaining in my extended family. The exception is my step-mom can fill the house with nurturing scents of wonderful meals, sew and preserve garden vegetables by canning. She’s the only other woman (with the possible exception of myself) that can make a house feel like a home.
If you’ve been reading along, you know that I’m a motherless mother. I offer my children self-invented mothering from instinct. As Janis Joplin said: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I’ve found there is a certain freedom in forging one’s own path to motherhood and family.
I think about the matriarchal species, such as elephants, meerkats and bonobos. Imagine a herd comprised primarily of mother and baby elephants with a matriarch elephant leading them all. Did anyone teach the matriarch how to lead her family across the savannah? How was the matriarch chosen? Who does she turn to for comfort and support when she is unsure of the way?
Yet a true matriarchy like in elephant society isn’t what I seek. Really, what I want is something more egalitarian with my spouse but the reality is that I am the head woman of my family. In fact, I am almost the elder woman of my bloodline at only 43 years old.
So what type of matriarch am I? Truth be told, I can’t sew or knit. I’ve crocheted two scarves in my life, both of which emerged from the crochet hook crooked. After many years of practice, I feel I can say I’m a good cook with the exception of a few key items like an entire turkey. Stay tuned. I admit I’m not the best at keeping a house clean. Honestly, I’m somewhat lacking in many traditional women’s roles. Yet, I am still the matriarch. I define the role and lead the way, so let’s forget about expectation, shall we?
My friend Tikki said that “bucking tradition is an art, one every mother needs to learn somewhere along the way. Otherwise we regress and lose ourselves.” Would we want to wear the shoes of our matrilineal predecessors? Sure, I would love to have inherited more of my grandmother’s domestic prowess, but I also think for every skill we gain there is another skill we didn’t master…even for someone like myself who prides in feeling I would have made a fairly good Renaissance man. But let’s break it down a bit:
I am the matriarch of my family. I lead the way for my family in nurturing, listening and affection. I take my children to the river and catch frogs in my hands. Crayfish too. I encourage my children to invent stories and create works of art from their own vision. I praise problem-solving, logical thinking and integrity. I am a matriarch that gets covered with clay and mud and river water. I dreamily look at the clouds. I answer my children’s science and art questions in extraordinary detail. I am a mother who uses larger words and correct terminology knowing that my children are sponging it in like any language. I endorse egalitarian foot massages with my spouse on a nightly basis. I encourage diversity and tolerance. I am a matriarch who believes in treating my children like little people. I lead the way in feeling emotions deeply, from heartbreak to joy, and tell my children to feel their emotions and believe in themselves.
My little herd may not make the same decisions as another herd, and I’m grateful that unlike the elephants I have a patriarch as a partner. We turn to each other when we are unsure of the way.