Analysis: the youngest daughter

In the poem “The youngest Daughter” Cathy Song explores the responsibilities of being the youngest daughter in a particular culture. The narrator spends her life taking care of her ailing mother for many years and never had a life of her own. Her frustration is evident when she states “The sky has been dark for many years” (1), she also talks about “planning her escape” (48).

Even though the daughter spends her life in servitude to her mother, there are poignant moments when the mother does reciprocate the love and care, so it becomes somewhat of a give and take situation, but still remains arduous for the daughter. In my culture, being a girl and especially an only girl is not to be taken lightly, the unwritten rule is; it is a daughter’s responsibility to care for her mother when she is not able to do so for herself. This poem bears a striking parallel to my own experience of taking care of my mother before and during her long illness.

The narrator tells us her skin “tingles with migraine” …. “especially in the evenings” (13) Migraine headaches are debilitating and are stress related, while I didn’t suffer from migraine headaches, I relate strongly to how the narrator feels as the stress of being responsible for an adult, while caring for my own family was at times overwhelming. There were days I wanted to curl up into a ball and not move because I was so exhausted, I felt like my entire body ached from being overexerted.

What made it especially hard for me was the fact that my mother and I were geographically, worlds apart. She had no desire to live in America, and I could not always physically be with her at the times she most needed me to be there. I had to maintain daily contact with her care giver while working 14 hours per day to pay for the round the clock care she needed, her medical bills, and put my son through college. There was also the constant worry that she was not getting the quality care that was required for her to maintain a semblance of quality of life.

Life for me as it related to my mother was not easy. The lines “I was almost tender when I came to the blue bruises that freckle her body, places she had been injecting insulin for thirty years” (30-34). brings back vivid images of my mother’s bruised skin after a bone marrow biopsy, or from having too many needles piercing her smooth caramel skin, giving or taking fluids of one kind or another. Whenever I visited her and saw a new mark on her once flawless skin, it made me weep, and I could almost feel the pain she experienced at the time.

She feared and hated needles. The bruises made me feel irrelevant and useless as there was nothing I could do to stop them, I felt anger and frustration towards the doctors and nurses who attended to her as I thought at the time they were not being careful enough when inserting and removing the needle of choice for that particular time of day. It also brought home the reality of my mother’s vulnerability and mortality, which was especially hard for me, as I always saw my mother, all five feet of her, as this strong, indomitable woman, who would live forever.

The narrator tells us: My skin, aspirin colored, tingles with migraine. Mother has been massaging the left side of my face especially in the evenings when the pain flares up. (12-16) This speaks to the reciprocity of this mother daughter relationship, and to some degree my mother and I had a somewhat similar relationship. Even in her sick state she wanted to take care of me. As soon as I got to the house her first words would be; did you eat, should I make you something? as she tried to get up to go to the kitchen.

The speaker tells us “In the afternoons when she rested, she prepares our ritual of tea and rice (45) This speaks to the afternoons I spent having tea and biscuits with my mother, we would then read from the Bible or from the newspaper, which made me feel especially close to her as that was something I used to do as a child. My mother loved being read to, my father did it when he was alive, and my brothers when they bothered to visit would also read to her. Whenever she was strong enough she loved going to church on Sunday mornings.

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