Mother and Child

It was a happy decision, but not too many people saw it that way


Mother and Child
by siamak vossoughi

One summer I worked at a summer school. It was a good job, because there were kids. There was also a young mother of one of the boys who had to stay in the class in the morning otherwise the boy would feel too terrible.

The boy was five. His name was Benny. He was a great man when his mother stayed in the class. He never got in anybody's way and he could join in with what anybody was doing. He didn't draw any distinctions, between boys and girls, between the boys who played sports outside and the ones who looked for ants. The world was a good adventure when his mother stayed in the class, but he knew that it was niceness that held it together. He knew because he could look over at his mother and she looked very nice. I knew the right thing to do was to help him find that on his own, but it was awfully difficult to cut him off from the source of that kind of generosity of spirit.

I watched his mother and she had a sad look about her.

"I don't know," she said. "He cries when I leave." It was true. He would cry and it was a very inward crying. It wasn't demonstrative. It made it worse."

"He's a great man," I said.

"Thank you," she said. She smiled and still looked sad. It was sad to see how much a boy loved his mother. She was young and she presumably had all kinds of dreams of her own, but when all of the other mothers left in the morning, she had to stay, otherwise a kid whom everybody liked and nobody wanted to see fall apart would fall apart.

Sometimes when he was listening to a story or playing a game outside, he would look over at his mother and smile as if to say "Isn't this something?", and she would let him know without saying anything that it certainly was. I could see the logic of it. If there was someone in the world who could confirm your happiness like that, why wouldn't you want them around? I have a mother, he figured, and from everything I've seen, she would be a great part of this thing too. I could see the logic of it.

The head teacher explained to me that it was separation anxiety. She was absolutely, one-hundred-percent right. She came up with a plan where we would ask the mother to leave a little earlier each day. I knew that she was absolutely, one-hundred-percent right about that too. It was just that you didn't often get to see somebody look so glad and sure about his place in the world as Benny did when his mother stayed. It extended past him and the other kids began to see that a lot of the little troubles and disagreements that happened in a day were unnecessary when they saw Benny take that approach.

"It's going to be tough," I said. "Everybody acts better when Benny's mother is around."

"I know," she said. "But it's the best thing for Benny's sake. He can't be having his mother stay in the classroom when he goes to first grade."

For a second first grade seemed like no kind of place I would want to be. I felt a sudden importance to it if this was going to be the last time that Benny was going to be able to have his mother stay in the classroom.

We told her about it and she was perfectly agreeable. Even when she was perfectly agreeable, she looked a little sad. I had had enough jobs with kids that I had seen a lot of excitement in their mothers and I liked seeing that there were some other feelings as well. I thought about her on the train going home and I thought how everybody wanted me to go ahead and be a teacher and write on the side if I wanted to write and get married and have a family and go along like that, and I thought I could understand the appeal if it meant seeing the sadness of a young mother from close up. It seemed like as good a reason as any.

I didn't think I could do it though. I was on the side of the head teacher's plan and I was even on the side of Benny not being able to have his mother stay in the classroom in first grade, but I was also on the side of his sadness when she left and her sadness when she stayed. That was the thing I didn't know how to tell anybody - that I wasn't choosing against anything else when I was deciding to become a writer. I wasn't choosing against becoming a teacher. I just had to write in addition to it, in addition to everything. But that was the thing about writing - when it went with everything, it became the only thing.

It was really a happy decision, if it had a chance to be itself. It was a happy decision, but not too many people saw it that way. You know how if you become a teacher, you might have a boy in your class who feels terrible when his mother leaves the classroom?, I wanted to ask them. Your job would be to be sympathetic but purposeful about it. Well, how about it you could be sympathetic but purposeful and also dreaming? I didn't have anything against sympathy and purpose. I just had something very much for dreaming.

I had something for dreaming of when I was five and my mother was a young mother with a little boy. I didn't remember crying when she would leave my classroom, but I remembered when we were the only people that each other could speak to, because we had left Iran for England and neither of us knew English yet. Somebody should say something about that stuff, I thought. It might have to be me.

I could try to be a teacher and write on the side, but there would always be a fight in me. There would always be a fight in me anyway, but that was the fight that I had chosen at least. That was the one I had chosen when I had declined the notion that a boy's job was to become a man and forget all about having been a boy. I knew plenty of teachers who were engaged in that fight too, but I couldn't have another fight in me over how to fight it.

I thought Benny and his mother were fighting it too. We were all on the same side. So was the head teacher who'd made the plan for his separation anxiety. So was my mother, worried about me becoming a writer. If I thought about her worried like that when I looked at Benny and his mother, then by rights I ought to feel terrible. But I didn't feel terrible. There were too many people on my side.

The next day I told Benny's mother that she could try to leave at eleven, so at that time she went to Benny and told him that all the other mothers had left, so she was going to leave too.

He began to feel bad. I could see that he didn't know what all the other mothers had to do with anything. None of those other kids was him and none of their mothers was his.

She told him that she would be back soon and she told him about what they would do together in the afternoon. None of it worked. He looked lost and close to crying. We knew one of these days we were just going to have to let him cry, but we decided to try again tomorrow, since it was almost time for lunch and he went home after that.

"I don't know," Benny's mother said. "I know I shouldn't feel special. But I do. I would rather I could go home like everybody else, but I do feel special." It was something she wouldn't have told the head teacher, but she told me. It was almost like she knew I didn't know what you were supposed to do with feelings either.

What was the matter with me, I thought. Why couldn't I just get married and have a wife and a child to give a chance to a woman to look as lost and beautiful as Benny's mother? To be as unsure what to do with her feelings as she was, and I could come home unsure what to do with my feelings, and then we'd know something together because that much unsureness had to add up to some kind of sureness, more than we found out in the world at least.

Well, I knew the answer. It was because my unsureness wouldn't wait till then. It was asking for something right away. It was asking for a sureness when I saw Benny and his mother, and the only thing I was sure of was that I loved watching them like that. It was hard to convince anyone that I could be a writer because I loved things like that. My mother would ask me if I was at least reading about the lives of Charles Dickens and Honore de Balzac and I would have to say no. But there was a beauty you knew and a beauty you didn't know, and the one you knew prepared you for the one you didn't know. I didn't know that the beauty of a job with kids was preparing me for that of a young mother who didn't know what to do with her feelings. But I couldn't wait for a mother and child because a mother and child were too urgent for me. I didn't know how to explain to my mother that I had to do something about them today.

I didn't know what to do with what Benny's mother told me except to not tell the head teacher about it. She was a very nice person, but there was a chance that she might see it as something for us to smile and roll our eyes about. It was something that teachers did, and I had to think about what writers did. They didn't tell anybody, for one. And then they walked home with it, and they let the world act upon it how it would, holding it out unguarded and keeping it closely protected at the same time, and they hoped that when it came out, it came out in the way they meant it to.


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Good work.

by comments on

I usually don't read long articles in IC, but I liked the title and gave a shot.  I finished it in a minute.  Siamack: it was great.  Thank you.  I also liked all the comments.  

Ryszard Antolak

How refreshing to read

by Ryszard Antolak on

How refreshing to read something so human, written in such a delicate and direct way. Writing simply about a complicated issue such as this is very difficult. It’s a real art. And so is this piece.

I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t even care if it reached any conclusion at the end (why should it?) I just wanted to be bathed in all the delicious and painful contradictions, sentiments and dilemmas it outlined. At the end, I emerged no wiser, but somehow more human for it all. Isn’t that what all good writing should do?

Thank you.

Anahid Hojjati

Siamak jan, this was one of your best

by Anahid Hojjati on

So dreamy and the language is poetic. Many paragraphs are musical. Dear Siamak, I like how you share with your readers about importance of writing in your life. Loved it. thanks for sharing.

Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

I agree ....... it is more difficult for a mom to let it go than a child ....... that becomes so much more unbearable when a child leaves for college .......  may be we want them to be depended on us and once they are not anymore we break down to tears ... or may be we just miss them and their full time presence in our lives .......

I wish there was a treatment for separation anxiety for the parents ......... they need that more than the kids  ......  


Separation Anxiety

by radius-of-the-persian-cat on

Hi Siamak,

Am I wrong assuming it was much more you, the writer and teacher, who suffered from this separation anxiety ? I guess you projected your love for this young mother onto her son Benny, right ?  One does not even need Freud to read this between the lines of your story.


But there is also a more complex aspect of the relation between mother and son (or general between a parent and the child), which I"d like to describe´you from my own experience:  I use to bring our son to the school bus every morning, and usually I wait for the bus to leave and wave my hand for a last "farewell"  untill the bus disappeares behind the next junction. One morning a while ago I got distracted by a neighbour, who started to talk to me after our son entered the bus. After a minute or so talking some irrelevant issues with him I suddenly realized that I had forgotted to wave my hand to our son in the bus. Feeling a bid guilty I turned around and just saw the bus turning around the corner:  Our son inside the bus was making jokes with a friend of him !!!  I was chocked: How could he forget to wave "Farewell" to me. So I recognized suddenly that it was much more myself fearing the departure of our son to the "wild world outside", rather than himself feeling sad about leaving home.  

In your story it might have been a similar constellation:  I guess it was much more the mother who could not bear to leave her little son alone in the morning. Usually the kids socialize much easier than do their parents, in particular in a new environment .