Writers featured so far: Summer Kinard, Elizabeth Hein, Stefanie Gunning, Julia Osborne, Sydney Avey, Densie Webb, PJ Reece, Deborah Hining.
My mother believed in love. It could fix any problem, cure any ill, face any challenge. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. If you encounter a problem—any problem at all—you can find a way to fix it if you have enough love.
Imagine being raised in the light of this worldview. Mama loved her family, and also needy strangers who wandered into her life. Her brand of love was not the cuddly kind—no, Mama’s love was meant to encourage people, especially her children, to rise to whatever challenge we faced. We were told that we could do or be anything, and with her example, we got the message that we should do and be everything. Such love was very tough. It meant we were responsible to the world.
She fed people. She gave all her money away. She visited jails and mental hospitals, and brought home a strange assortment of hurting folks. I grew up with mentally challenged children, troubled teens, old ladies, and foreign refugees. Having a crowd of misfits around our table and in our beds was our normal. This was not easy on my father’s skilled laborer wages, but Mama made the dollars stretch, cheerfully serving up beans and cornbread for supper most nights so that she could feed us all.
It was a good childhood. I learned that everyone (including me) was worth loving. I learned the importance of generosity and kindness, that God protects and provides for those who give to others. I also learned a few things that I had to unlearn later in life in order to preserve my sanity and in order to help people in a healthier way.
Eventually, I realized that Mama’s rosy picture of the world was deeply flawed. In this imperfect world, full of imperfect people, not everyone or everything responds to love. Many people are suspicious, even resentful, of those who throw love out there with abandon. More than once, someone has said to me, their eyes narrowed, their forehead furrowed: “What are you up to? What game are you playing? I don’t get you.” It took me a long time to realize that I cannot be responsible for the happiness of others and that some people will never like me no matter how loveable and charming I think I am.
Marynell Wells Griffitts at age 35
Slowly, I came to realize that while love goes a long way, it does not solve every problem. It does not stop abusive husbands from being cruel, and to tell a battered woman that it does is dangerous. Love does not take the place of therapy and medication for mentally ill children. Love does not always reunite broken families or put broken children completely back together again. Love does not bring alcoholics back into the land of the sober and sane. Love does not always overcome ingratitude, selfishness, corruption, arrogance, or criminal intent. No matter how much Mama insisted to the contrary, she was ultimately was faced with the cruel truth that the world is a broken place.
She was still a young woman when my father died, leaving her open and vulnerable. Six months later, she married a man she had known for a few weeks. Not long after, she divorced him. Then she married again and divorced again. Five times she went to the altar and five times she penned her name on a divorce or annulment decree. Five more times her heart was broken. She would not admit that love was failing her, and she resorted to lying about its failure. She covered the bruises, both emotional and physical, to make her children think she was happy when she was not, to keep the illusion that her worldview was still accurate. I look back and grieve that I did not see what was happening to her and find a way to save her from herself.
Hmm. I see a pattern here.
I have no other regrets. How could one regret a childhood full of love, of a mother who poured out her heart to everyone she met? I am more than grateful for all of it, even the burdens, sometimes especially the burdens. Carrying them, and ultimately letting go of a few of them has made me stronger. It has made me more me.
We become who we are not only because our parents’ visions and their labors on our behalf shaped us, but also because we are intrinsically who we are from the beginning. Sometimes the actions of the parents reflect little in the life of the child. Not every soul flourishes after a life of coddling; not everyone who has been unloved grows up unloving. My parents’ dotage might have turned me into a brat. Many of my friends suffered through the skimpy, nonexistent, or destructive, love of their mothers, yet, they are strong, resourceful, kind, generous, loving people. Mama was one of those. Where did she get those rose-colored glasses? She was born with them, and she refused to let them be stolen from her. They looked mighty good on her, and they allowed her to make a happy place for herself and for everyone who knew her.
She left them to me as a part of her legacy, but they do not fit me as well. I like looking through them from time to time and remembering what it was like to live in the shelter of so much exuberant, generous love that I felt that the world could, indeed be made perfect. I can wear them for brief periods, but they will never be permanently welded to my face, as they were to hers. I am not my mother, but I hold pieces of her very close.
Deborah Hining is an award winning author and playwright, wife, mother, grandmother, actress, theatrical director, college instructor, and Certified Financial Planner (or as she calls it, Financial Fairy Godmother).
Her first novel, A Sinner in Paradise won The Bronze for INDIEFAB AWARDS as well as The Silver Benjamin Franklin award. Her most recent book, A Saint in Graceland was published by Light Messages Publishing and has received many 5 star reviews on Amazon.
July 27, 2015
“Mother love” … an expression we hear spoken lightly and full of love, or used with derision, sarcasm, such as Smother love. The love of mothers encompasses a world of ideas and feelings – definitely powerful and defining, in whichever context it’s used.
My mother’s love shone in many ways: a perfectly run household with effort made to cook delicious meals; always cakes and biscuits in the tin. She held afternoon tea parties for her women friends and after school I helped to pass around plates. Mum always said later, ‘Oh, I forgot the caramel tart,’ and I knew she’d made an extra one for our dessert that evening. She magically stretched the house-keeping money, and sewed most of our clothes – a skill I passed on to my daughters.
My mother had grown up in decades of Australian conservatism, inheriting the ‘stiff upper lip’ of her English ancestry. Deep down, I felt there was a thread of sadness. I knew this from small things she said to me over many years. Once she told me, ‘we’ve never hugged in our family’, and I felt saddened. ‘I’m not like that,’ I responded. ‘I always hug my girls.’
I grew up missing this warm contact, not realizing of course, what was missing – only aware that I lacked something and made up for it with affection for my soft toys, wearing out the wool on my little lamb, and the fur on my koala’s ears.
‘Mother love’ shines in many ways. After my marriage we moved to the countryside, and my two daughters did their chores without question. We kept hens and if a broody hen grew tired of hatching all her chickens, we would hatch them ourselves, letting the chickens sit on our shoulders beneath our long hair. We swam in creeks, rode horses, and in the evening I read stories to the girls, until they chose to read by themselves. It was the companionship we loved, especially in winter, cuddled together on the couch by the fireside. I watched them growing up and away and finally leaving home. Long after they’d left, I heard their voices around the house.
Eventually I moved to the city for work. When my mother at the age of 88 travelled from her country town to visit me, we ventured to the department stores – roads so congested with traffic as she hadn’t seen for decades. Her fingers sought mine, and hand in hand, together we crossed the road. I hugged her with all my love whenever we met or parted; and I knew that she loved it too.
The highest compliment I could ever have imagined recently came from my daughter, now a mother of two small children: ‘I hope that I can be like you as my children grow up … I’ve been blessed.’ And I am blessed too, with my lovely grown-up girls and their families.
Now I’m older, I realize with clarity how much my mother sacrificed for her family. She’d wanted to draw and paint, and when I gave her a set of oils and an easel, at the age of 75, she created many small, exquisite pictures. Every day I wake to her painting on my bedroom wall – a golden field, the sun slanting through eucalyptus, and I’m grateful for her love, no matter how she managed to express it, and I count my own blessings.
Julia Osborne is a published author of short stories – to read several on line, see http://juliamaryosborne.com/. Her latest publication is The Midnight Pianist, a YA novel recently released in a 2nd edition by ETT Imprint and available as eBook and paperback via the usual sources.
Set in Australia in 1960 it also has a growing readership among baby boomers. Updates on Julia’s novel and coming sequels are on Julia’s website and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/themidnightpianistbook.
July 12, 2015 – Today is Densie’s birthday
I was a terrible daughter.
I know that now. But my mother, bless her heart, is not here for me to share this belated revelation. Better late than never?
I became a mother late in life. I kept procrastinating because well, I was a terrible daughter, and I thought, you know, karma is a bitch. But it didn’t work out that way. At all. My daughter just turned 20 and she’s everything I should have been—she shares, she cares, she compliments me, tells me I’m the best mom ever, walks over to me just to get or give a hug. There has never been a single shouting match, no name calling, no slamming of doors, no emotional meltdowns. (No throwing of wet sponges, of which I was once the target.)
On my last birthday, I was having coffee with a friend to chat about another year passing, when my daughter called me. “When are you coming home, Mom?” She was home for the summer and, I thought, I can’t even have coffee with a friend without the “mom call”? So, I cut out early and when I walked in the door, a banner she had created hung in the kitchen—“Happy Birthday!” Two neatly wrapped presents sat on the kitchen table. What more could a mom ask for?
And yet, it made me think back to my own mother with regret. Our relationship was often contentious, especially in my teen years. I was not the delicate Louisiana Magnolia she had expected. I had a mind of my own and being a sweet southern belle was not a part of it. I remember her being shocked at many of the things I said, the things I did. Some of it was intended to provoke, but some was just me being me.
When my daughter turned 14, we went to New York together. We shopped, we saw a play, we ate out, we rode the subway, walked around Times Square. I took her to the apartment I lived in on the Upper West Side. She was born in New York, but was too young when we moved to remember living in Brooklyn on 7th Avenue.
When she was applying to colleges, we took a road trip to Arizona and Colorado from Texas. It’s a trip we’ll both remember—the unexpected snow storm, the lovely campuses, the exhausted late nights after long days of driving, the silliness. We travel well together. She remembers it as our epic road trip. I can’t imagine that my mother and I would have survived unscathed on a trip even half that length. My daughter and I are already planning a trip (maybe Paris?) when she graduates college in 2 years.
My mother and I did take a couple of organized tours to Europe when I was grown and on my second marriage, before I had kids. She had never been out of the country, so I’m glad we did it, but it wasn’t the same camaraderie I have with my daughter—the banter, the weird observations, the laughs, the common interests.
It’s funny, despite my daughter and I getting along so well and despite the differences between my mother and me, I think the two of them would have gotten along famously. I’m sorry we’ll never have the opportunity to find out.
If my mother were alive today, I think I would try to be more accommodating, more understanding, have more empathy, acknowledge our differences and work around them. I would tell her how much she meant to me and how much I appreciated all the sacrifices she made for me and my brothers as a single mom of three.
And that, despite everything I did, everything I said, I didn’t mean to be a terrible daughter.
And now, for reasons I will never understand, the fates have blessed me—or maybe they’re taunting me—with the daughter I wish I had been.
Her debut novel “You’ll be thinking of me” is about a celebrity stalker and has nothing to do with mother/daughter relationships. However, one of her current works-in-progress is all about the mother/daughter dance.
On my mother’s 92nd birthday she pulled me aside and said: “If I’m still alive in two years… shoot me.” And I thought, when I’m 92, put me out of my misery, please. Look at my mother—dialing long distance wears her out. Anyway, when my mother turned 94 she said the same thing. “Son, shoot me.” And this time she meant it.
“Honour Thy Parents,” it’s the Fifth Commandment, but wait a minute! I can’t shoot my mother.
Logically, we should shoot everyone over 80. Not only do old people wish they were dead but they can’t afford longevity.
George Burns knew a thing or two about old age: “First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up, and finally you forget to pull it down.”
The Guardian newspaper interviewed centenarians, none of whom wanted to live to see another birthday. Everything hurt. And what didn’t hurt, didn’t work. They couldn’t make it across the street to the pharmacy to buy diapers. Likewise my mother; she can’t stand up without her walker. Cross the street to that pharmacy? Forget about it. It takes her all day to get dressed, then it’s time to get undressed. What’s worse she has all her marbles! She knows how miserable she is.
How miserable is my mother? The doctor made her quit smoking, quit drinking, quit cholesterol, sugar and caffeine. She’s going to make it to 100 because she’s given up every pleasure a person looks forward to enjoying until they reach 100. You can see that I’ve researched this subject to death and I’m wondering now if I should just, you know, go ahead and shoot her.
And yet, just this summer my mother bought a new fan and insisted on taking out the extended warranty. Excuse me? And whatever you do, don’t mention the longevity pill to my mother. Oh, yes, there’s a lunatic out there developing a longevity pill. When it’s for sale, my mother is across that street to the pharmacy, no problem.
Should I shoot her? I am so confused.
Three out of five middle-class retirees will outlive their money, did you know that? The experts at The Urban Institute suggest: “The best thing would be…if we all lived healthy lives to the age of 75 and then got hit by a truck.” Wow! I probably should shoot my mother. Before that guy invents that longevity pill and my mother rushes across that street to the pharmacy and gets nailed by that truck. I’d feel guilty for not killing her.
If I did decide to plead the Fifth Commandment and shoot her, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ve never fired a gun; never touched a gun. Where do I get a licence? Do they even have licences for killing old people? Anyway, this biblical business is complicated because honouring parents is a guarantee for our own long life.
But I don’t want to live to 100! So that settles it—I won’t shoot her.
I read in the Globe and Mail today that people who sleep with a mate actually live longer. Hmm, I wonder who my beloved mother is sleeping with. Maybe I should shoot him.
PJ Reece has been a writer for film and television for 25 years. Along the way he published two Y.A. novels and ghosted a memoir of escape from Iran. His Story Structure to Die For and Story Structure Expedition are available as eBooks on Amazon. Reece’s blog is an examination of how fiction really works. It’s sometimes quite funny, as well!
Mother love is a tough subject for those of us whose mothers were not the kind who poured milk and plated fresh-from-the-oven cookies for our afternoon snack. The kind who, if they had the internet to guide them, would have tucked daily affirmation messages into our Mickey and Pluto lunch boxes.
My mother’s idea of love was to express her honest opinion of what she thought of my clothes as I headed out the door. (“Angora socks don’t look good on girls with short legs. They make you look stubby.”) One of her favorite sayings was, “You want me to be honest, don’t you?” I was past fifty when it finally occurred to me to answer “No, I really don’t,” and mean it.
To be fair, my mother did not have the cadre of child development experts and mommy bloggers to advise her, or the threat of child protective services to keep her in line She was on her own. A request for help with homework did not engage her as a collaborative partner. It embroiled me in hours of one-sided conversation. I learned to work independently. A snappy retort (she called it “being fresh”) did not empower me. It earned me a slap in the face. I learned to reign in my emotions for both our sakes.
On the other hand, an invitation to a dance got me a beautiful homemade semi-formal. A request to have my ballet lessons count as P.E. got me a note releasing me from the lower forms of physical activity, namely taking it in the shins in field hockey and working up a sweat running laps (bad for ballerinas). And a request to read books of my choosing got me a note for a free pass to the adult section of the library. Her philosophy was that if I could understand it, I was ready to read about it. I learned sexual politics from Marjorie Morningstar and Mildred Pierce. (To put this in perspective, I was probably less likely to encounter dirty old men in the literary fiction section of the library than my granddaughter is posting photos on Instagram.)
I had a lot of issues with my mother, but I never doubted that she loved me. One of her deathbed confessions was that she probably made a mistake to have children. She never felt adequate to the task. Few of us are. Some children survive childhood because of their mothers, others in spite of their mothers, but most endure by the grace of God. It is by that grace that we forgive hurts, and repurpose the swords that caused us pain into ploughshares that break new ground in parenting generations to come.
Sydney Avey is a Christian author who writes about mothers and daughters. Her two novels, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter http://www.amazon.com/Sheep-Walkers-Daughter-Sydney-Avey/dp/1938708199 and The Lyre and the Lambs http://www.amazon.com/The-Lyre-Lambs-Sydney-Avey/dp/1938708318/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_y are available on amazon.com in trade paperback, eBook and Audible formats.
My mom is not a woman who calls her adult children every day. She has a busy life of her own; traveling with my dad, serving on multiple committees, and tending her large garden. We talk when we have a question or something to tell each other. My two brothers manage the family business and live close by, yet can go weeks without hearing from our mom. She is happy to hear about her children and grandchildren’s day-to-day lives from a distance, until there is a crisis. Then, my brothers and I know that our mother will be by our side until the danger has passed.
Nothing focuses a mother’s love quite like illness. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, I was 34 years old and a mother of two little girls. It didn’t matter; I may as well have been four years old. When her child needed her, my mother came running. She dropped her life in Massachusetts to come to North Carolina and take care of me. Mom swooped in and took over my life so I could rest and concentrate on dealing with my cancer. She coordinated with my in-laws to stay in our guest room in three-week shifts, so my young family was cared for every day for the next six months.
Not every mother would do that. Many mothers would have worried about their child from afar. Some might have visited for a few days right after the initial diagnosis. Other’s may have tried to throw money at the problem, or concentrated on how my illness affected their life. Instead, Mom was there taking me to my surfeit of appointments, caring for my little girls, and making sure I was comfortable.
I recovered, Mom went back to her active life in MA, and my girls grew up. As they grow into young women with lives of their own that separate us geographically, I strive to love them like my mother loves me. We are not in each other’s pockets, yet my girls know that I am never more than a text away. When my eldest daughter developed health issues of her own, I was there to help her manage the lifestyle changes that come with a chronic illness. She knows that I will drop everything and drive six hours up the interstate, if she needs me. My kids can feel confident that I am always there for them when they need me.
I know my mother loves me with a fierceness that doesn’t need to be expressed every day. I hope my children feel that I love them in the same way and can pass that love on to their future children.
In 2002, Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. During her extensive treatment, she developed close relationships with several other cancer patients. These friendships were the inspiration for How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. She learned that a cancer diagnosis is a life changing experience, yet it does not necessarily change a life for the worse. She and her husband now live in Durham, North Carolina.
The Solid Ground I Walked On And The Safe Air I Breathed
When I was 6 years old, my mother and father divorced. He vanished like a sorcerer’s trick and she, until then a stay-at-home mother, went to work. She was very glamorous, dressing each morning in silk and wool, donning tall leather boots and statement jewelry. I had only the vaguest idea of what she did, but I imagined her as one of the career gals I saw on TV, a cross between spunky Mary Tyler Moore and cheerful Bonnie Franklin on One Day at a Time. A bus took my mother to Manhattan every day, where she rode an elevator to a high floor. There were late nights at the office, business trips around the country, and something called “market week,” which demanded all her time and energy several times a year.
When she was gone, I was entrusted to her mother’s care. No wrinkly bubbe, my grandma was young and charming, only 46 when I was born. I adored her, the way swing music seemed to play wherever she went, her delight in bawdy jokes, and the endless stories she told about her audacious youth. We had the most glorious time together. (Left: My grandma posing for the camera as a young woman).
But despite the love and care lavished on me by my grandmother when my mother was away, and my mother’s own playful affection when she was home, I was furious with my mother. In the dark fairytale I told myself, my handsome, charismatic Daddy’s strange disappearance had opened a door for her, and she had deserted me for a glittering life that lay elsewhere—in offices and on airplanes, in hotel rooms and tall buildings. My rage grew between us like brambles. I thought I knew the truth of her, that she was distant, and selfish. I believed I mattered to her, but not as much as everything else.
To call me a fool would be too kind.
In recent years, I have pieced together my mother’s version of this story. She resisted telling me, not wanting to upset me, but I have pried it out of her, a sharp-edged treasure.
On the day my mother kicked my narcissistic, philandering, thieving father out of the house, she was 30 years old, possessed only a high school diploma, and was in a mountain of debt she knew nothing about, because my father had “managed” their finances. She was movie star beautiful (I have seen photos and she was a dead ringer for young Elizabeth Taylor), deeply intelligent, and so terrified she could only manage to exist from one breath to the next. She began her career as a secretary at a company that manufactured underwear, and with nothing but her formidable grit, nimble mind, and unshakable determination, she rose to become Vice President of a lingerie company that was known around the world. Her success was personal, certainly, but it was also political. She was one of the women who cracked the glass ceiling so future generations could shatter it.
She did this not for vanity or ambition, but because there was no one else to take care of us. She divorced my father and settled his debts. She fed, sheltered, and clothed us. She bought me books, took me to plays, sent me to camp. All the while, she sheltered me from the painful realities of our life, never letting me know about the years of financial precariousness, my father’s cruelty, her exhaustion and sadness. She accepted my rage to spare me the weight of the truth—the Daddy I pined for had abandoned me utterly. He never called to ask how I was; he never sent a dime of support. My mother was the sun that warmed my shoulders and the moon that lit the dark, the solid ground I walked on and the safe air I breathed, and I never knew.
I see her with new eyes now; my anger replaced by awe for all she accomplished, for her courage and ferocious compassion. When I revisit our shared history, the thought of her — so young, so overwhelmed — makes me hurt. But there is one memory I treasure as a talisman and a comfort. When I was little, I would sometimes weep and beg her to tell me where my father had gone, ask why he didn’t love my anymore. And she would rock me in her arms and soothe me with the names of all the people who did love me, always starting with herself. “Mommy loves you,” she would whisper. “Mommy loves you most of all.”
Stefanie Gunning is a Creative Director/Copywriter at MRY NYC. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and their daughter. Stefanie blogs at https://workingwithoutanet.wordpress.com. Follow her on twitter at @stefgunning .
My mother showed up 2 hours late to my baby shower, stoned so badly that she actually collapsed in a sort of puddle by the chair she was aiming for. Instead of saying congratulations or I love you or any normal thing, she greeted me with, “I fell in the bathtub the other day, and my butt is really sore.”
During the remainder of the shower, she came up to me twice more to tell me about her butt and once offered to show me. Another time, she slurred, “I took all my pain meds and flushed them down the toilet. I can’t stand them.” (Toilets are often to blame for the sudden disappearance of my mother’s pain meds. She never takes them all in a few days. If you see her, she’ll tell you this.)
The party began to break up, and I stood to chat with some old friends.
Mom, from behind my group of friends: I sure wish I was there to cook for you.
Me: Oh, that’s okay, Mom. Our church is going to bring three meals, and we are freezing some stuff ahead of time. But thanks!
After the friends had left and only family remained, my mother stood in front of me, fists clenched. Every seat in the room was filled with extended family. She lit in.
A nasty twist took over her voice and she mocked words of her own invention that she had assigned to me.
Mom: “I don’t NEED you!” Well, fine. I just went and tore up my plane tickets and hotel reservations. I was going to surprise you, but I won’t come now, since you don’t NEED me!
Me: When were the tickets for?
Mom: Your due date!
Me: But I haven’t told you the due date. How could you have bought them?
Mom: I tore them up! And I just tore up the hotel reservation, too, and threw it in the garbage!
Me: Which hotel?
Mom: The Best Western. By the airport.
Me: There is no Best Western in my area. I live on the East Coast. Look, Mom, I appreciate that you would like to have bought a ticket and hotel to come see me, but I think you’ve imagined actually doing so.
Mom: I did it online.
Me: You don’t have a credit card.
She screamed again and again her imaginary mockery. “I don’t NEED you! I don’t NEED you!” The nasty face, the anger, the hatred of her uppity university educated daughter going off to a happier life, all convinced my relatives that I was the worst possible bitch. To a few dozen people in my extended family, my mother was the wounded heroine who had been rejected by an evil and ungrateful child, sacrificing thousands of dollars of travel expenses by the expedient of saying she had first made reservations and then torn up papers.
The economy tanked a few days later. I joked on my blog that I would tell people in my thank you notes that I was putting their money gifts into the crib mattress rather than the bank. Somehow my mom got hold of the blog post and told everyone her version. I received a letter from my dad who was in prison at the time. He was so disappointed in me for making fun of how much money my uncle had given me. Maybe $100 or $200 was not a lot to me (it was $50, and I was very grateful), but they had worked hard for it, and how dare I make fun of them for giving so little?
My mother loved me like this: She showed me that stories can be so powerful that people will believe them even in light of evidence to the contrary. She made me tough. I never work expecting to receive credit for my good character, kindness, dedication, or excellence. Someone else will always be better at grabbing attention. Even at my most special, I’m not as interesting as falling in the bathtub and having a sore butt. Best of all, my mother was too mentally ill while I grew up to warn me against being weird. In short, she made me a writer.
Summer Kinard is the author of inspirational novels Tea and Crumples (Light Messages Publishers, November 2015), The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin (2014), and Can’t Buy Me Love (2013). You will find her online at writinglikeamother.com. Follow her on Instagram: @SomeMyrrh