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Archive for April, 2011

Knowing When To Keep It to Yourself

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

My dear 89-year-old Aunt Ruth, a wise woman and an elegant lady if there ever was one, has spent her life attracting people.  It’s not just because she’s attractive, which she is, but it’s because she has great social skills.  She knows how to put people at ease, how to talk to them, and, as I was to find out in our many conversations over the last several decades, how to hide her true feelings.

We became close in my midlife, her sixties.  She had lost her daughter to a horrible crime; I had lost my mother to a horrible death from cancer.  It wasn’t that Ruth was a replacement mother, or I a replacement daughter. Rather, you could say we became friends with (family) benefits.  She is my father’s sister, twelve years his junior–the baby in the family, just as I am.   Equally important, she was there–there in my father’s childhood, there when my mother went to summer camp (the girls from both families ironically attended the same one), there when my father and mother dated, there in the early years of my own life, which I can barely remember.   I could tell her anything. She also told me her secrets.  She reminded me often that what one appears may not accurately reflect who that person is inside.  And here she was, this woman whom everyone adored, telling me on more than one occasion that “in the dark of night,” she’d get on “her broomstick.”  Then, and only then, did she dare to say what she really thought.  No one could hear her.  And in the light of day, no one would have guessed.

Reading Barbara Graham’s wonderful contribution to The BuzzThe Other Grandparents–brought to mind Aunt Ruth and her broomstick.    We all harbor secrets in our souls–negative opinions and uncharitable feelings that could wound and, possibly, cause irreparable damage to our loved ones.    Some people might say it’s phony or duplicitous not to express them.  But I don’t think of it that way.   Rather, when we keep our mouths shut, we give ourselves a chance to see the situation–or the person–through fresh eyes.   Knowing you don’t have to give vent to angry or resentful feelings might just allow other–better–feelings to creep in.

For more on the art of collaborative conversation, read my 3-part series on Shareable.net

Why We Need to “Re-vision” Our Mothers

Monday, April 25th, 2011

This post was inspired by the newest addition to The Buzz, written by Janice Eidus, author, among other books of The War of the Rosens and The Last Jewish Virgin.  Janice and I met each other through Facebook, and when she passed through my town recently to do a reading, we finally met in person.  Being mothers, we both talked about our children and our mothers.  I suggested she write something for Mother U–perhaps exploring how the mother/daughter theme works its way into her novels.  Little did I realize that Janice’s piece, My Mother/My Writing: Turning Childhood Memories Into Fiction, would evoke memories of my own childhood.  “We had the same mother,” I quipped in an email to her.  Well, not exactly, but close enough to bring back memories–and some regrets.

My first grandson was only four months old when my daughter and I first began discussing the “motherhood union.”  Jen actually came up with the term, when I said to her, “It’s like we’re in the same club now.”

It’s easy for me to think of Jen and I as part of the motherhood union.  Not so my mother and me.  It’s not that we had a contentious relationship–the screaming in our family was delegated to my eleven years older (and very protective) sister.   At first it was simply that I didn’t know my mother.  A former teacher who now was the lady of the house, she was considered “old”–35–when she had me, her third child. (She had lost a baby after my brother, nine when I was born, and often reminded me that I was her “change of life” baby, her “surprise.”)  Everyone was out of the house when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time alone or with “the help.”   My mother was always busy, shopping, volunteering and, mostly, putting out elaborate spreads when “the girls”  came over to play mah-jong or canasta.   Then there were the times she’d take to her bed, claiming another “sinus headache,” which, looking back, was depression.

I wasn’t angry as a child–maybe a little sad, but I didn’t feel deprived.  It was the only kind of mothering I knew.  By the time I was a teenager, I had developed great people skills.  I was a kid other kids’ mothers loved.   It got me places.  Still does.

Cut to a week before my wedding.  One of “the girls” called my mother to tell her that my father had been having an affair with Shirley–a buxom redhead (think Jessica Rabbit) who lived across the street and just happened to be my mother’s best friend.  Although I saw his behavior as reprehensible–and felt guilty because even I had known about Shirley–it was my mother who turned their divorce into public spectacle.  She’d rant about my father to anyone who’d listen.  At one point, she aired her complaints on national television, to the delight of host Alan Burke who loved stories of sex, sleaze, and sensationalism.   I saw as little of her as I could.  I had my own marriage to worry about.

Even after Jen was born, I bristled at every visit.  I hated that sometimes she’d just show up, asking if she could take the baby for a walk.   Then, as Jen got older, it was lunch.  Then, it was for an afternoon at her apartment.  But slowly, as she and Jen developed a relationship that had nothing to do with me, I began to soften, seeing a side of my mother I’d never have imagined.  (more…)