It was the best of times, and the worst of times. I had just experienced the terror-laced exhilaration of my first national publication and received acceptance to the three most prestigious journalism schools in the nation. I was about to step into womanhood in the age of feminism and seize the destiny I had envisioned for myself — and unwittingly outstrip my mother’s hard earned successes. This was, after all, exactly what she had raised me to do, but it was also a source of contention between us that I could not understand. Why was this woman who had worked so tirelessly and selflessly to provide me opportunity, and who had quietly nurtured my writing dreams, so mad at me all the time?
When Nancy Friday’s now-iconic but then controversial book “My Mother, Myself – The Daughter’s Search for Identity” came out in the late 70’s, I was the same age my daughter is now. I can still recall my mother’s embittered lambasting of the book and its message, and her refusal to not only read it but also to discuss any idea it put forth. The fact that I had read it was heretical. Even then, however, I understood she felt threatened by the very idea of turning a critical eye on herself – because in opening that particular Pandora’s box she would have no choice but to reflect on her relationship with her own mother. We never did discuss that book.
Suffice it to say, mothers and daughters in my family have a long history of conflict and estrangement – something my mother and I were eventually able to overcome, and a pattern I hope I have successfully avoided repeating with my own daughter.
This season of motherhood has me pensive and moody, more sensitive than usual to the bittersweet memories it evokes and the invaluable bonds it symbolizes. It is a singular time in my life, to be sure. As I come into the realization of my lifelong dream, my daughter is on the verge of her own journey – and sadly, my mother has long since come to the end of hers.
As I contemplate the nature of mothers and daughters today, a question a friend of mine asked keeps resonating in my thoughts — How did you know you were a writer?
Not in so many words, mind you. My mother was never able to speak of encouragement or praise when I was growing up. Such sentiments were expressed in scribbles on bits of scrap paper left on my desk, or by the receipt for the prom dress we couldn’t afford taped to the fridge, and in a handful of unexpected surprises.
It was she who read my third grade teacher the riot act when he accused me of plagiarism, bought me my first typewriter, renewed my subscription to Writers Digest every year until I was 30, and insisted I send my verse to my great-uncle, the poet laureate, whom I had never met.
It was she who first believed in me, and this was the most important gift of all.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.