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Archive for the ‘Mothers & Daugthers’ Category

4 Surprising Ways to Mother Yourself

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

My mother, one of her five sisters, and "Bebe" (their mother)

Your mother/ yourself.
Whether she gave birth to you, adopted you, or married into your family…

Whether she is a distant memory or a frequent visitor…

Your mom–or any woman who “mothered” you–is in you, for better and worse.

Mothers, Grandmothers:  Do yourself a favor this Mother’s Day:

See your mother through adult eyes. She is more than the woman who took care of you as a child.  Be a detective. Find out what she’s like as a person–what she cares about, what holds her interest, what music she loves, her favorite foods, stories about her childhood and past loves.  Interview her as if she’s someone you just met.  If she’s no longer alive, ask family members about her.

Right-size her role in your imagination. If you’ve got her on a pedestal, see her vulnerabilities as well as her strengths.  If you’re still holding grudges, let them go. Give up the power struggle. It’s not doing you any good.  Instead of being reactive–blindly imitating her or trying to be her polar opposite–make conscious choices about what works for you in the here and now.

Appreciate your common struggles. View her choices as a mother through the lens of your own motherhood.  Can you understand better–given the circumstances of her life–why she was strict or lenient; why she was a stay-at-home mom or spent time out of the house; why she was interested in everything you did as a child or seemed more interested in herself?  Can you appreciate that although you “mothered” in a different time, you are affected by many of the same social forces that constrained her life?

“Bank” memories of your mother. Gather photos:  the two of you, you as a child and teenager, her as a girl, her with her mother.  Sit with them.  Let yourself remember the stories–the good, the bad, and the sad.  Let your feelings, especially mixed feelings, flow.  Savor the experience. Save the photos in a scrapbook or scan them into a computer folder. Jot down notes and remembrances. Then, share the result.  If your mom is still alive, make two copies–one for each of you–and view them together.  If she’s not, sit down with your children (or a close female friend) and tell them what you learned about your own mother.  Understanding her will help you understand yourself.

Hey, Women of My Generation: Some of our Daughters “Get” It!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Melissa (daughter) - Jessie (mother)

Our latest addition to the Buzz  “My Mother at 80: The Lessons She Whispered in My Ear” by Melissa T. Shultz, was originally published on the Huffington Post.  It’s funny how one randomly stumbles into little corners of the Internet and finds common ground.  I happened to be on Facebook when Melissa posted it for her fellow Better After 50 Writers–a group I’d discovered only a few days earlier.  Many of the posters are mothers themselves and, I suspect, have a lot to say about their mothers and mothers-in-law.

I loved Melissa’s piece because it’s about a transformative (and for some, healing) mother/daughter passage–a collection of moments in which mothers and daughters see beyond their roles.  It doesn’t necessarily happen at the same time–sadly, for some it never happens at all–but as we age and change seats at the generational table, our daughters come to see us as women, not just as their mothers–and we respect them as women, too, not just as our daughters.

Daughters, mothers, how does this piece speak to you?   As time passes, do you feel yourselves looking at each other different eyes?  Does you see each other as women?   Do stories like this give you hope?

The Buzz is MotherU’s growing repository of ideas about this particular generation of mothers and daughters. I welcome your submissions.

Leave you comments here, or tweet me: @melindablau.

And if you’d like to read more about and from Melissa, here’s where to find her on Huffington Post, on Twitter, and here.

My Mother’s Blessing

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

I intend to add this moving piece by Katy Butler to “The Buzz,” but in the interest of getting it up on Mother’s Day, I’m posting it here first.  Katy and I have covered similar subjects over the years, and I’ve always admired her writing. A former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, she is the author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, forthcoming from Scribner.  This essay ran in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle on Mother’s Day, 2013.

Katy lost her mother four years ago; mine has been gone almost forty years.  It’s an ache that never ends.

Mother’s Day, my mother would often say when I phoned her in Connecticut, was a sentimental holiday cooked up to sell greeting cards. Yet I called anyway, and I think she was secretly pleased by the loving notes I sent her. Ours was not a greeting card relationship.

When she was young, she’d wanted to be an artist. But middle-class women just after World War II mostly got married and stayed home. Her frustrated ambitions, artistry and anger were poured instead into making that home as perfect as she could. She reminded me of the Balinese saying, “We have no art: We do everything as well as we can.”

I was nothing like that. As a teenager, I felt like another woman’s daughter, incapable of meeting her high standards and frequent criticism. She wore her blonde-streaked hair swept up in an elegant French twist. I was awkward, with long dark hair, and lost in books.

She’d been raised in South Africa and served tea at 4 every afternoon — a family ritual I was prone to mar by knocking over the milk or burning the toast. She sewed her own clothes. I gave up on sewing forever after trying to make a simple shift one summer, only to have her rip out my wobbly seams and re-sew them perfectly herself.

When I graduated from college at the height of the feminist revolution, I fled west, free to pursue my dreams in a way she hadn’t, desperate to escape her critical eye and become a writer.

I made sure not to get trapped in a life that looked anything like hers. I worked as a reporter, bought a house, dated, married, divorced, dated some more, and paid the dry cleaner to hem my pants. When she visited, she could barely conceal her disgust at my messy house and refrigerator full of expensive goat cheese and wilting vegetables. And I, in turned, harbored secret contempt for what the poet Adrienne Rich? called “the victim in ourselves, the unfree woman, the martyr?.”

When my mother was 77, my father had a major stroke, and my view of my mother — and hers of me — turned upside down. My father could no longer take a shower alone, and struggled to finish a sentence. The housewifery she’d honed over a lifetime — skills mostly lost to my generation — served her well. And she, in turn, was grateful for my reporterly skills when I used them to research medical alternatives and helped her hire caregivers.

“With my practical skills and your brains, we make a great team,” she said.

She kept my father at home, and out of a nursing home, for seven years, providing support that few Baby Boomers, given our history of divorce, will be able to rely on. When she was impatient, she got up two hours early to meditate and do yoga.

As a teenager, I’d had contempt for her rigid schedules. Now they formed the underpinnings of an increasingly difficult life. They carried her through my father’s death and the first months of her lonely and increasingly fragile widowhood. She developed congestive heart failure, and with my support, declined open-heart surgery because of the risks of stroke and dementia.

A year after my father’s death, I went to Book Passage, the bookstore in Corte Madera, to hear one of my former writing students read from his book about tea, and the rituals that surround it.

Throughout the reading, I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother. I remembered how she’d swirl boiling water in her beloved Japanese iron teapot, gracefully set out her thin china cups, and gather our family each day at the kitchen table. But I had been too defensive and clumsy, too afraid of her criticism, and too much of a feminist bookworm, to learn from her.

In an outpouring of love, I told her all this.

“Katy,” she said. Her voice was weak. “You’re good at other things. You are yourself.”

It was her final blessing to me. She died two days later, with my brother at her side. This is the fourth Mother’s Day since her death, and every year I admire her more deeply, accept myself more, and fear her less.

Note: If you live in the San Francisco area, mark your calendar. Katy will appear at Berkeley Arts and Lectures to talk about Knocking on Heaven’s Door, at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley, at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2013.

The Grandma Reunion

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

It started off-handedly.  It was an intriguing idea, and it was easy to do, so I created a Facebook page for my sorority sisters.  I built it, and I wondered if they’d come. Before I knew it, I was Social Chairman again, organizing what I thought of as a “pilot” reunion.   If it went well, we’d do others.

It went well.  It was a lot of things: a trip down memory lane, a chance to re-view our housemates–and to see them with fresh eyes.  It also forced us to remember–and cringe at–the not-so-nice byproduct of being in a close-knit, almost inbred community.  Legend had it that during rush-week, we made a grand gesture of folding the coats in, so as not to see the label.  It was untrue (I think), but no matter what others thought of us, we knew we were “the Iotas.”

Some have “joined” the page; others aren’t into social networking.  No matter, reconnection can happen on Facebook or in emails.  We go back and forth, sharing the Roman numerals of our lives: partnership status, children/grandchildren, careers.  It’s like time-lapse photography.

So what is it that’s so compelling about reunions–and reconnecting after so many years?  Ironically, I’m  coming up on my 50th high school reunion, and have been involved in a similar process with those classmates.  The woman–and former co-valedictorian–who’s organizing that event asked us to answer a few key questions for the reunion booklet, including your best and worst memories of high school.  (My worst was being spat on and called a “dirty Jew.”) I read the various blurbs, and then turn to my Class of ‘61 yearbook, juxtaposing this new information with each person’s 17- or 18-year-old self.  I read an inscription scribbled over his or her face and get glimpses of who that person was to me. It’s oddly satisfying.

The fact is, these people knew me when: when I went to sock hops and wore circle pins; when I acted in the senior play, when we ate French fries and cokes after school at my father’s diner.

And my sorority sisters know an even more significant “when.”  They knew the old boy friends, the ones I didn’t marry, the one I did.  They remember my favorite songs.  They remember spring formals.  One old friend still talks about the time she ate dinner with my parents and promptly splattered grease on my mother’s white collar.  It’s not just that our lives were intertwined or that they were privy to the details of my life.  It’s also that we can now piece together our young lives, the group experience, and see how we’ve been affected by it.   I sense that they know things about me I don’t even know.

Most of my high school friends and sorority sisters are now grandmothers, and we wonder how we got here. As one of my new-found sorors marveled, “Just yesterday we were putting on our dinner dresses and hoping not to sit with [our “housemother”] Aunt Edna.”

And what does this do for–or have to do with–our daughters?  For one thing, they see how important it is to acknowledge and keep up with one’s past.  Mine already gets this;  she has an annual girls’ weekend with her college chums, and is in contact with many characters from high school as well.  Thanks to the Internet, she doesn’t ever have to lose touch.

But there’s another important message here for our daughters: Despite the obviously  different frames of reference, we’re really not that different, are we?  I suspect my daughter and many of  her peers could relate to this statement, posted recently by one of my sorority sisters:

I loved the women! I loved being part of something, that quite frankly, I still think of as so very special. It was, and continues to be a memory of which I am so very fond.

And someday–just as we’re now doing–our daughter will be asking themselves. “How did we get to be grandmothers?”

What About Daughters on Mother’s Day?

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

My Daughter, the Mountain Climber

I am in Paris (where Fetes de Meres is not until June 7).  This coming Sunday, May 7,  is the first American Mother’s Day (if memory serves me,which it often doesn’t!) that I haven’t been with at least one of my two children.  I suppose I’m fortunate to have had so many other Mother’s Days with them  Or maybe I should consider myself lucky this year.  We all know that it’s just a Hallmark holiday.  And isn’t every day supposed to be Mother’s Day?  Yeah, right.

Cynicism aside, this can be a hard day for mothers and daughters.  Those of us whose mothers have died feel the loss even more acutely.  And some women can’t stand being with their mothers, not even for one day.  But even close mother/daughter duos have “moments.” Who needs the pressure to have a “good” Mother’s Day?  As the family grows and changes, you also step parents and in-laws and all their ideas, potentially making the day more strained than celebratory. Plans bump up against prior traditions: “Mother’s Day has always been at my sister’s house” is met with, “But our family goes to the Pancake House.”

The good news is that any relationship can shift toward a more positive direction.  In her “5 Ways to Strengthen the Bond with Mom”– just published on The Buzz — relationship expert Terry Orbuch directs her advice to daughters.  Here’s a few points we older-generation mothers ought to remember as Mother’s Day approaches.  After all, now it’s their day, too!

1.  Make a gratitude list. Just as Orbach advises daughters not to focus on what Mom does wrong, it’s a good idea for mothers to “take 10 minutes and write down a handful of things you really appreciate” about your daughter, too.  No one is all bad all the time, and humans have an unfortunate tendency to elevate the negatives. Consciously listing the good will help you gain a balanced perspective. And by the way, if you have trouble thinking of what’s she’s “given” you, just look at your grandchildren! (more…)

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…)

Consulting Grandma: How to Make the Most of An Often-Wasted Resource

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

“What do I know?” said a master family therapist in mock self-deprecation,  “I’m just the grandmother!”  One of her grandchildren had a learning disability, which she–a well-known and respected professional–knew a great deal about, both professionally and personally, because she had also raised a son who had an LD.  She now saw similar signs in her grandson. “But they don’t ask my opinion,” she said of her older son and daughter-in-law,” so I don’t offer.”

Many modern grandmas find themselves in similar positions.

New-Style Grandmas

Old-Style Grandma

Grandma was once a kindly lady whose “career” was motherhood, and as the children left the nest, her life grew increasingly smaller.  Not so the current crop of grandmothers, many of whom have adult children and PhD’s. Gail Sheehey calls them “fly-in” grandmothers.  They’re constantly on the run, now juggling their multiple interests and responsibilities with randmotherhood.  The irony is that strangers consult them, but their grown children don’t.

What a shame–and what a wasted resource. Whether you’re dealing with a learning disability, an eating disorder, or some other type of parenting issue, your mother might have invaluable information both as a mother and as a professional. So here are some guidelines for both generations that might help. (more…)

Remembering Mom in the New Year

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

L’shana tova–Happy New Year.  Even if you’re not Jewish, fall is a reminder of the cycles of life and of milestones. Each new school year is, in fact, a “new” year. You look at your children or grandchildren with fresh eyes as they trot off to school. There’s no denying the passage of time.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, the fall can bring sadness as well.   In the last 37 years, I can’t count the times have I said to myself, I wish my mother were here to see…Jen walk down the aisle,  Jen becoming a mother, my eldest grandson reading, his little brother going off to kindergarten, and the littlest one lurching across the floor like Frankenstein as he takes his first tentative steps and falls into my arms.   I want to believe that she still “sees” us, but my heart aches nonetheless.   Earlier today, as I sprinkled salt, garlic, onion power, pepper, and paprika on a five-pound slab of raw meat–brisket, vot den?–my mother was with me.

That’s the theme of our newest offering on The Buzz, a sweet piece by Esther Mizrachi Moritz, Keeping My Mother’s Spirit Alive that begins…

Directly after my mother’s funeral in February of 2009, a crowd of people filled my parents’ tiny Brooklyn living room.  I made a beeline for the freezer.  Heart pounding, I opened it, hoping to find some sambusak. I was obsessed with the idea of bringing home my mother’s Middle-Eastern delicacies to my children, Alexis and Jesse, then 13 and 16.

Moritz shares how she’s learned to sustain memories of her colorful mother, a woman of Latin American and Egyptian descent.  We hear often enough that death is part of life, but most of us feel as cheated and alone nonetheless.  I was only 29 when my mother died. Jen was four; Jeremy, only six months at the time, never knew her.   Moritz was 48 and her children considerably older.  But it’s always “too soon” to lose your mother.

When I hear a woman complain about her mother, I often say “At least you still have one!”  So, ladies, whether you’re annoyed about the fact that Mom meddles in your business or that she insists you do things her way or perhaps that you now have to take care of her, take a deep breath.   Try to find some moments to cherish and freeze them in your mind.  I guarantee, you’ll want them one day.

Mother to Daughter: I know more than you realize

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Over the five years we worked together on our three “Baby Whisperer” books, the late Tracy Hogg and I often marveled at the fact that so many modern mothers had stacks of parenting books on their night tables, went to parenting classes, consulted the Internet and various child-rearing sites when they were confused or worried–but overlooked an important, and often better,  resource:  their own mothers.   Some worried that their mother’s advice might be “out of date.”   (Admittedly, we don’t know how to close that damn stroller, but babies haven’t been similarly modernized!)  Others feared that if they turned to their mothers for advice, they would somehow open the door to endless intrusions.  Still others felt as if asking Mom was a sign of their own incompetence.

Of course, mother/daughter collaborations run the gamut, from women who don’t feel they can function without their mothers to those who believe that Mom has nothing to offer.   In “My Mother, the Parenting Expert,” our latest addition to The Buzz, psychologist Mindy Greenstein, author of the upcoming memoir, The House on Crash Corner, was solidly in the latter category when her son was born.  Daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she had spent most of her childhood fending for herself–and struggling to understand her mother and to be understood.  She couldn’t imagine calling on her mother for anything.  But as is often the case when a young woman joins the Motherhood Union, circumstances forced her to take a second look.

Mother to Daughter: What kind of car did you rent?

Friday, June 25th, 2010

…and other minutiae that interests me about my daughter’s life.

Am I too invested?  I don’t think so.  That’s how lots of mothers of my generation relate to their  daughters: as  chums.

So when she takes a family vacation, we text.  She lets me know she arrived safely, and I ask, “Why kind of car did  you rent?” (more…)