Monkey Business

Cinse Bonino
3 min readJun 9, 2024

I’ve never been loved the way I had hoped I would be. I remained in the hospital’s nursery for two weeks after my birth while my mother recovered from post-toxemia eclampsia. Shortly after my birth my sister contracted Guillain-Barré and became paralyzed from the neck down for a year. She recovered but my mother’s hope never did. My mother wasn’t hugged as a child and neither were we. My mother would sometimes tell me I was a good kid but only if I was quiet and didn’t need her for anything. Her love for me seemed to be based on my willingness to be blindly obedient and to show appreciation for her beauty and her artistic and culinary talents. My role was to be a mini maid and a cheerleader, or otherwise invisible. My mother never said I love you when I was growing up. She never read to me. She did buy me gorgeous, expensive clothes. She taught me how to arrange flowers and to draw a tree. She was also audacious in many ways. She gave me confidence that I could cook and clean and be artistic. She refused to allow me to buy conditioner for my waist-long hair, claiming it was too expensive. Then she’d arrive home with a brand new maxi coat for me. When I told her I had grown out of my pajamas, I got another coat. I started sleeping in the nude. I could tell my dad loved me. But I grew up in the 50s and the 60s. Dads left childrearing to their wives. I learned to self soothe. I grabbed joy where I could. My sister and I could have been close, but she was suspicious of my moments of happiness, believing it meant I was loved move than she was. She turned sibling rivalry into an art form. The happy family stories I found in the library became my fantasy novels. In college I learned about Harry Harlow’s monkey experiment. Baby monkeys were taken from their mothers and placed with two “dummy” monkeys. One was terrycloth. The other was made of wire with an attached baby bottle of formula. The baby monkeys drank from the wire monkey’s bottle but spent most of their time hugging the softer monkey. I realized that my mother had been like the wire monkey. I’ve met many people who had wire monkey mothers. Some of them are even more distant than their mothers were. It’s how they choose to keep themselves safe. Some attack first, seeing rejection everywhere. Others overcompensate and become doormats attempting to earn love. Others have learned to love in better ways than their mothers did. I made it to that last category, but let me tell you, it takes work. Those of us who had wire monkey mothers have had to learn to love ourselves, to believe we are worthy of love. Most of all, we’ve had to become responsible for our own happiness. These are healthy things for anyone to do, but they are the emotional insulin wire monkey mothers’ children need to survive.

Cinse Bonino
2024

--

--

Cinse Bonino

Cinse, a former professor with a background in the psychology of human learning, writes nonstop, and is addicted to capturing the human experience in words.