Some Thoughts on Mother’s Day

blue soapbox  When I was young, I gravitated toward friends who had struggles with their mothers.  I felt overwhelmed by my difficulties with my mom, and needed orientation from others with similar experiences.

Over the years, I’ve been startled to see many friends gradually resolving their conflicts and coming to appreciate their moms—most of whom turned out to be not all that awful.  For me, mom-trouble wasn’t a phase, but a permanent condition.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that bad mothers must exist; otherwise there’d be no bell curve of nurturing motherhood.  Some people are the offspring of those moms.  As angst-ridden teens, these kids might look and sound just like other angst-ridden teens.  The difference is that the mere passage of time, the natural progression into maturity, won’t fix things.  In other words, not everyone will—or should—look back eventually and say, “Ah, now I see things from Mom’s point of view.  She was right, after all.”

My mom was tough from early on.  Very rejecting of two of my sisters, she clung to me for emotional support.  Despite her divisive and inappropriate parenting, as a child I viewed Mom as the saner of my two parents, because of my father’s explosive temper.

After my parents’ divorce, Mom became increasingly blaming and unstable, lashing out at us and sometimes barely leaving her bed.  There wasn’t much to eat around the house.  Finally, when I was sixteen, she evicted me and my two younger sisters from the family home so that she could rent it out and go on an extended car trip.

It was then that my father, who had recently lost his retail store and livelihood, sued for custody.  Practically destitute and drowning in business debt, he took his lawyer’s advice and scrambled for work, landing a job at a fast food joint.  In 1971, men were simply not awarded sole custody of their children.  Dad won.  That was what the court thought of our mother.

I wish I could say that Mom got help, came to her senses, tried to make things right.  Instead, she was so furious about my father having gotten custody that she barely spoke to me for a number of years.  Eventually she returned to Berkeley—only to make a permanent move to New York as soon as my sisters and I started having children of our own.  Contact was infrequent and often painful as Mom kept up old behaviors.

And at 87, back in Oakland now, she’s still keeping up those behaviors, though with somewhat less frequency—and more pharmaceutical intervention.  My current relationship with her, while sweet, is the product of my emotional distance, not resolution.

So how is it that year after year, I make the trek to the card store, wading through racks of “You’re my inspiration” and “Your love has meant so much to me” to find a suitable marker of the occasion?  Like all my efforts in my mother’s behalf, the card is partly about loyalty to my sisters, who’d have more of a burden if I weren’t pulling my weight.  Really, the card is for them as much as for her.

A simple floral picture with the barest of messages would be best—or perhaps no message at all.  That way, I’ll have something to write.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Love, Lisa.”

Published in The Piedmont Post, May 5, 2010

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9 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Mother’s Day”

  1. The FonZ Says:

    This story makes me appreciate my mom much moch more. Happy Mother’s day !

  2. Lisa Braver Moss Says:

    Many thanks, and I am glad it had that effect on you. Best wishes.

  3. Elisa Says:

    I was shocked and saddened to read of your suffering and that of your sisters. I wish that my family could have helped. I never knew and I don’t think that either of my parents knew.

    Your mother had a severe mental illness and must have been very unhappy herself. I wonder whether it’s possible or even healthy to forgive the unforgivable. I’m glad that you have been and are a good mother to your sons so that this did not spill over to the next generation.

    Happy mother’s day to you and to all of us who have tried to be loving and caring mothers.

  4. Miriam Pollack Says:

    Dear Lisa,

    Another candid, heartfelt masterpiece. Thank you for this.

    Kol tuv,

    Miriam

  5. Michele Says:

    Some thoughts on your article… in the blur of our teenage years, I never understood this basic chronology of what happened to your parents’ marriage and how your dad wound up with custody, so this is helpful to know. It is stunning how you acknowledge a sweetness to your protectively distant, current relationship with this remnant of a mother. Your love for your sisters and your awareness how the calibrations each of your relationships to your mother affect the others, and how this transcends your desire not to have to mark the occasion of Mother’s Day, is particularly touching. The 4 of you remain in this all together as loving siblings, no matter how toxic and divisive was your upbringing. Isn’t that amazing?

  6. Laurenop Says:

    I just came from the card store and my annual tortuous hunt for a Mother’s Day card that (1) won’t deny the pain I suffered in my childhood, but that (2) isn’t so bland as to disrupt the delicate balance my mother and I have achieved in our relationship. It’s very difficult, and a task I dread every year. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone. I enjoy your columns; they are a welcome counterpoint to the numerous “happy social fundraising event” articles in the Piedmont Post.

  7. Lisa Braver Moss Says:

    Lauren, many thanks for your comments about my article and my column in general. Yeah, the annual trip to the card store…. for years, I thought of starting a card-making company for people like us, though the business model would be, uh, not exactly a profit maker. (Front panel: “Because you’ve been so thoroughly self-centered….” inside: “I don’t even feel entitled to be mean to you on Mother’s Day.” Or, front panel: “Mom, you’re my role model…” inside: “for what not to be.”) I am laughing as I write this because it’s a suicidal business idea, but great fun to fantasize about. I try to remember that in the old days, there weren’t even those humor cards to choose from, and now there are lots, plus of course the most eloquent — the blank ones… Thanks again and I hope to meet you sometime.

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