Table of Contents
- 1. The Great Mother by Erich Neumann (translated from the German by Ralph Manheim)
- 2. The Book of Ruth (Authorised King James Version)
- 3. The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)
- 4. A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir (translated from the French by Patrick O’Brian)
- 5. Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton
- 6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- 7. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe
- 8. The Devil Kissed Her: The Story of Mary Lamb by Kathy Watson
- 9. The Glass Essay by Anne Carson
- 10. On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of the Mother by Amber Jacobs
- Ten Books Featuring Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships
- Short Stories
Sons separate from their fathers to become men – many stories have focused on this challenge. But it’s also true that daughters have to break away from their mothers – and much less has been written on this subject.
The day after I graduated from high school, I boarded a train. I left my home town, my country, my language. For the next 10 years I believed I had truly found my own identity. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, that it dawned on me: I hadn’t even begun to separate from my mother. If I wanted to show my daughter how to become content as a woman, I had to look far more closely first at myself as a daughter before being able to become the mother – and the grownup daughter – I wanted to be.
I write to understand myself better. Each story is an exploration, a journey, a search for something I cannot express in any other way. Mother-daughter relationships have been my preoccupation over the past 20 years. So it is no surprise that my first two novellas – Magda and Clara’s Daughter – both deal with that subject.
Here are some of the books that have inspired me.
1. The Great Mother by Erich Neumann (translated from the German by Ralph Manheim)
Ever since the dawn of western civilisation, we have lived within patriarchal structures. So what has happened to the feminine in our human subconscious? The philosopher and psychologist Neumann was a student of Carl Jung. In this classic he traces the representation of the feminine from the beginning of image-making in caves via mythological storytelling to monotheistic religions. A psychologically insightful and thought-provoking read.
2. The Book of Ruth (Authorised King James Version)
Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, know how to play the game and pull strings in Old Testament times. The story presents us with a poetic reminder of how narrow traditional roles for women were – even if at first glance it might appear there was space for self-defined manoeuvre.
3. The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)
A young woman is locked in a room by her mother. Or is she? The best book I’ve ever read on the internal struggles of a daughter to break away from the mother, and why it is so important to persevere.
4. A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir (translated from the French by Patrick O’Brian)
This is a masterpiece. De Beauvoir describes her mother’s final days and reflects on their relationship in view of the imminent death. It is written with empathy and honesty by a woman who has come to terms with a difficult mother. A wise book.
5. Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton
Anne Sexton wrote brilliant poetry. But she was also bipolar and incapable of fulfilling her role as mother. Linda Gray Sexton’s intelligent, harrowing account of her childhood made me realise that women artists and writers who descend into a dark space for their art have a duty towards their children to climb back into the light on a daily basis.
6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The mother of all mothers is Mrs Bennet. She has five daughters, and no higher aspiration than to find husbands for them. At the end of the book the author sighs: “I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire … her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life …” I guess that wish will not be realised. A hugely entertaining read.
7. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe
A medieval Italian castle, two beautiful young women held captive by their authoritarian father and, from the vault underneath the floorboards, a mysterious knocking. A fantastic mother-daughter tale complete with a handsome lover and a happy end.
8. The Devil Kissed Her: The Story of Mary Lamb by Kathy Watson
Mary Lamb, sister of Charles Lamb, friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, co-author of the children’s classic Tales from Shakespeare, killed her mother in 1796. Watson draws a vivid picture of the woman and the times and lets us ponder: was Mary a criminal – or was her society mad?
9. The Glass Essay by Anne Carson
“My mother has a way of summing things up. / She never liked Law much / but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.” The poet Anne Carson is a master of precise simplicity. This is a poem as much concerned with the end of a love affair as the mother-daughter relationship. After all, the narrator ends up sitting yet again in her mother’s kitchen.
10. On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of the Mother by Amber Jacobs
The goddess Athena sprang forth fully armed from the head of her father, Zeus. The part of the legend far less well-known is that Zeus had swallowed the pregnant Metis, and it was she who gave birth to Athena inside Zeus. Jacobs here offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the Oresteia myth, and in doing so shows us how we can change our thinking. It’s a must-read (and you don’t have to have read the Oresteia first).
• Buy Clara’s Daughter by Meike Ziervogel at the Guardian bookshop
I get the problems that come with including mothers; I really do. No self-respecting mother would allow her daughter to carry the ring back to Mordor, and no young woman—say Katsa in Graceling—would want her mother to come along on her missions. (When my sons were self-conscious middle-schoolers they would squirm with embarrassment if I even talked to anyone at the bus stop.)
If our stories trace journeys of self-discovery, our protagonists may need to be free of the fetters of family.
Lots of people have noticed the general lack of mothers in SFF. (See, for instance, Aliette de Bodard.) I’d like to add that if mothers appear at all, oddly, they seem to have borne only male children or primarily to have invested their energies in guarding a patrilineal line.
Something mysterious happened to make female babies rare, and it goes as far back as Penelope and Telemachus in the Odyssey. Think of Lady Jessica in Dune, Queen Kettricken in Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, or the royal mothers in Abercrombie’s The Shattered Sea and Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. On the screen, we have Sarah Connor in Terminator II and Joyce Byers in Stranger Things protecting their precious sons. (I’m still angry with Catelyn Stark because she sits by Bran’s bedside and follows Rob’s army, but outsources the care of her daughters to a nursemaid and Lady Brienne.)
So, of the four possible relationships—father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, and mother-daughter—the last is the least common in SFF.
Moreover, if you do find a mother-daughter duo, chances are there’s something “off” about the pair. Something goes awry almost the moment it appears, no matter which of the pair is the more important character.
The Weak Mother: She creates a vacuum that the daughter is thus allowed to fill with her superior strength and independence. Katniss Everdeen’s mother has become incapacitated by her losses, leaving Katniss alone to try to save her sister and herself. Kaul Wan Ria in Jade City completely removes herself from the No Peak clan, forcing her daughter to navigate its treacheries without her help. In Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, Miryem’s mother can’t repair the family’s fortunes, nor protect her daughter from the Staryk (though she does provide a nurturing presence for Wanda, the abused village girl). In the del Toro version of Pan’s Labyrinth, Ophelia’s pregnant mother sickens and dies. (Exit mother, stage left.)
Unplanned Separations: In Butler’s Parable of the Talents, religious zealots kidnap Larkin as a baby, and Lauren and Larkin are kept apart throughout the book. The same happens to Essun and Nassun in The Broken Earth. Mrs. Murray, in A Wrinkle in Time, makes a great impression as a brilliant scientist who simultaneously cooks dinner over a Bunsen burner and intuitively knows the right thing to say to all her children. But she isn’t included in the expedition to save her husband. Kate Elliott’s Jessamy, who appears in Court of Fives, is taken away from her mother and sisters. (Act II: New location, sans mother.)
Abandonment for Higher Causes: Diana, in the movie Wonder Woman, leaves her mother and the Edenic island to fight evil in the world of men. Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand features a mother who deserts her daughters to help her clan, causing the protagonist deep pain. By contrast, in Outlander (TV version), Claire Randall, who is the lead character, temporarily renounces her grand passion with Jamie to stay in the 20th century, raising their child in safety and comfort. As soon as she grows up, Clare chooses Jamie and the 18th century. (Someone exits, stage right.)
The Alternative Mother/The Substitute Daughter: Older women often are allowed to be strong and have good relationships with a younger woman only if the female they care for isn’t actually their daughter. Fairy godmothers, foster mothers, grandmothers, or aunts serve as surrogates. See, for instance, The Mists of Avalon, Tehanu, or The Wizard of Oz. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the new maternal figure could turn out to be a wicked stepmother. (Enter understudy characters.)
Perhaps you know counter examples that I have yet to discover. But I can’t help wondering why these relationships are both doubly rare and then further attenuated. Why are writers who set out to portray mothers and daughters—I include myself here—somehow blocked from portraying richer or longer-lasting duos?
Habits of mind create an all-encompassing fog, creeping everywhere, clouding our vision. Especially since many fantasies are set in a pre-modern world, based on historical eras, canonical literary models, or Western mythology, it just feels “natural” to follow patriarchal patterns. Fathers and sons get to bond together against enemies, fathers get to bless their daughters and give them away to their suitors, and mothers get to stay home and support their sons or melt away.
Even our language betrays us: when I imagined a country where the throne passed down matrilineally, I kept having to remind everyone it was not a “kingdom.”
Another aspect of patriarchal culture is pitting women against one another. Perhaps SFF writers have been affected by the much-psychoanalyzed friction between mothers and daughters, those legendary battles over individuation vs. dependency, envy vs. loyalty, competition vs. devotion. Creating this particular parent-child relationship wanders into territory already made fraught by all the changing expectations and conflicting commands over how a “good” mother should behave or what a daughter “ought” to do with her life and her body. Mothers come with extra emotional baggage.
So, do these hexed relationships matter?
Buy it Now
The absence of richly drawn partnerships between mothers and daughters in SFF creates at least two major problems. First, our stories give the impression that the only way for a woman to be a hero is to leave her family; they present a model of independence and self-sufficiency that may be neither necessary nor desirable. Secondly, this absence deprives readers (young and old, of whatever gender) of models of female solidarity, just at a time when we need these models the most.
Although this problem is bigger than one corner of the bookstore, my impression is that in recent decades other genres have tried harder to remedy this lack. For instance, I happen to know that in romantic comedies, whereas the screwball heroines of the 1930s seemed mostly to have sprung from the head of Zeus, memorable mother figures support their grown daughters in Moonstruck (1987), As Good as It Gets (1997), Momma Mia! (2008), and Crazy Rich Asians (2018). And in so-called “women’s fiction”—I dislike the inference that the whole rest of the canon is for men—you can find mother-daughter relationships foregrounded in novels by, for instance, Amy Tan, Jodi Picoult, Anna Quinlan, or Elizabeth Strout.
“But,” someone might say, “rom-coms and women’s fiction deal with domestic, family matters and they presume a female audience, but SFF shows us adventures, quests, voyages, wars, or even societies with alternate forms of identity and reproduction. And SFF novels are pitched to all genders.”
That’s precisely why SFF should be more inclusive.
SFF authors can imagine so many wondrous things, is it really so hard to imagine mothers and daughters? With the freedom inherent in SFF, authors should be able to create worlds where daughters have as much independence as sons, mothers as much power and prestige as fathers—and where both of them can have each other’s backs, facing threats together.
Sarah Kozloff is a Vassar film professor turned novelist, author of the epic fantasy quartet, The Nine Realms. Book one, A Queen in Hiding, publishes January 21, 2020 with Tor Books.
Ten Books Featuring Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships
Of all human relationships, the mother-daughter one is perhaps the most complicated and unique. Mothers tend to view their daughters through a prism of shared history. Yet, as they grow, daughters become their own person with a locked vault of secrets that are completely inaccessible to their mothers, making for a rich spectrum of trauma and emotions for authors to draw from. Here are some of my favorite books that cover the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, from love to loss, anger to blame, jealousy to adoration.
- One True Thing, Anna Quindlen
One of my favorite books, One True Thing follows Ellen Gulden, who leaves her high-flying career in New York to return home and care for her terminally ill mother, Kate.
All her life Ellen has admired her father while feeling a little dismissive of her homemaker mother, so naturally while she’s caring for her mother she’s forced to confront some painful truths. After Kate dies, Ellen is accused of murdering her in a mercy killing.
Masterfully and elegantly told with vivid characterizations, this novel is a touching portrayal of the complex undercurrents of the mother-daughter relationship, showing Ellen as she gets to intimately know her mother as more than just a clever homemaker, which completely shifts her view of her father, herself, and her entire life.
- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
I was so fascinated by the relationship between Marmee and the four March girls as a child that for a brief spell I began calling my own mother Marmee. In Little Women, Marmee is the moral compass of the family, the emotional center, the model for patience, kindness, and love.
Published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, this enduring story explores the passage from childhood to womanhood of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy while beautifully showing how a mother shapes and molds the women they become.
- Daughter, Jane Shemilt
This taut, beautifully written thriller explores the mother-daughter relationship between Jenny and her 15-year old daughter, Naomi. When Naomi doesn’t return home after a school play, Jenny’s perfect world comes crashing down and she’s forced to ask herself if she really knew her daughter as well as she thought she did.
At its heart, Daughter is a harrowing tale about Jenny’s obsessive search for Naomi, but it also intricately explores Jenny’s soul-searching examination of herself and the choices she made as a mother.
- White Oleander, Janet Finch
One of the most complicated, unconventional, and toxic mother-daughter relationships in literature is Astrid and her mother, Ingrid. Deeply melancholic, bleak, and raw, yet incredibly intelligent, beautiful, and honest, White Oleander is a coming-of-age story that follows Astrid, who’s sent to a series of foster homes when her mother murders her ex-lover in a fit of jealousy.
Exploring themes of mothers and daughters, sexuality, and resilience, this story is an intricate exploration of the effect that toxic mothers can have on the people we become. With gorgeous prose and wit, White Oleander is one of the most captivating and heartbreaking stories about motherhood in modern times.
- Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
Single mother Kate has dedicated her life to Amelia. When she receives a call that Amelia has been suspended for cheating, she leaves work to get her daughter from school, only to arrive to a tragedy: Amelia has fallen from the roof in an apparent suicide.
While battling unfathomable grief, Kate must find out not only what really happened to Amelia, but also ask herself the tough questions that all mothers ask: did she ever really have any motherly intuition at all; did she really know her daughter; was she a bad mother?
- Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult
No one draws relationships the way Jodi Picoult does! In Leaving Time, Jenna Metcalfe has been searching for her mother since her mysterious disappearance after a tragic accident when Jenna was young. Jenna doesn’t believe her mother would willingly abandon her, so she hires a psychic and a private investigator to help her piece together what really happened.
Poignant, tender, and moving, Leaving Time eloquently explores the depths of emotion a child feels at being abandoned by her mother, as well as explores questions such as why society punishes mothers so much more severely than fathers who do the same.
- Tear Me Apart, J.T. Ellison
When competitive skier Mindy Wright is in a horrific crash, she is raced into surgery, only for doctors to find out she has a severe form of leukemia and needs a stem cell transplant immediately. But when her parents are tested to see if they’re a match, they learn that Mindy isn’t their biological daughter.
Was Mindy switched at the hospital? Was she kidnapped? Does either parent know the truth? All these questions and more bombarded me when I first picked up this fast-paced thriller. Ultimately, this is the powerful story of a mother who will move heaven and earth to protect her daughter, even as the search for the answers to these questions threatens to tear everything she’s built apart.
- The Weight of Lies, Emily Carpenter
Meg Ashley hates her inattentive, indifferent mother, Frances, and yet she is strangely beholden to her, as Frances is a horror writer whose success has given Meg a very comfortable life.
After three years of not speaking to each other, Meg returns home and, desperate to break free of her vapid mother, becomes involved in a plot to write a scandalous memoir. This decision sees her investigating the 40-year old murder behind her mother’s successful book. In the end, she must decide if she really wants to rid herself of her mother for good.
- Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little
Totally different from most other commercial fiction thrillers with a complicated mother-daughter relationship, Dear Daughter has a not-very-likeable protagonist whom you really don’t know you can trust.
Rich, spoiled, obnoxious, and angry, Jane Jenkins was convicted of murdering her mother, whom she hated, ten years ago. When she’s released from jail on a technicality, Jane is hell-bent on finding out what really happened that night, because she can’t remember a thing.
This is another novel about a woman breaking free of her toxic mother, but it’s intriguing because we can’t tell if Jane is an unreliable narrator or a victim of circumstance. All we know is she really hated her mom. But enough to kill her?
- Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
Okay, I have to confess, I haven’t seen the show! But I read the book when it first came out and what stuck with me was the relationship between Madeline and her teenage daughter, Abigail. Abigail, Madeline’s daughter from a previous relationship, doesn’t feel that she fits in with her mother’s “new” family, making for a strained, tense relationship that adds a lot of drama to the book.
While mostly centering on trauma, domestic violence, and schoolyard bullying, Big Little Lies is also about mothers, daughters, and parenthood,with complex and flawed characters who bond together over their shared troubles.
The women we call Mom are the most impactful and important in our lives. Long after we grow up and become mothers ourselves, our mothers still affect who we were, who we are, and who we become. They are a link to our past and our hope that we’ll be better people in the future. Lifelong, intimate, and developmentally vital, this relationship is often marked with years of baggage, but one of the most wonderful ways to explore these unique relationships is through the pages of a book.
Christina McDonald is an author of suspenseful, emotional thrillers. She is also an avid bookworm and a devoted mother and wife. She was born in Seattle, Washington and now lives in London, England with her husband and two sons, where she enjoys reading, writing, hiking and lifting weights at the gym. Her debut novel The Night Olivia Fell releases February 5, 2019.
Heart Beats..- Short Story of a Mother and Daughter
Photo credit: hotblack from morguefile.com
The day was calm… with the beautiful sun shimmering in between the dark grey clouds… streams of rays entered the room through the window pane.. The raindrops played tantrums… the room beamed like some new jewel brought into the light after a polishing cut… the room was beautiful in its calmness except for the morning breeze whistling and the tiny birds chirping… the room was covered with light shades of wallpaper..A vase of white lilies stood in a corner filling the air with its fragrance… and a cot made tidy… few art crafts filled the walls… and the table near the window stood with photographs of a little girl and a young woman… and then a teenage gal proudly showing off her trophy… and a photo showed a gal in her twenties adorned in white wedding dress, love filled eyes held by a young handsome man…and a scented page was swaying in the breeze.. An old lady with freckles on her childlike face sat close to the window pane… as I went near to check on her… she looked at me with the same kindness and love that her eyes always had… I kissed her on the fore head wished her “happy birthday”… she smiled and gave me the sheet of paper… it had her still beautiful handwriting… I recognized it was a page from her diary… I looked at her… she wanted me to read it… as I read
“I walked in as usual finishing my morning prayers to my silent den… the day was beautiful… the morning rain has left the grass damp ,showered the flowers and wetted the usually dry ground…the scent of fresh soil lingered.. It felt good when the smell tickled my senses and that made sure that I can smell even now… I sat in my favorite spot dragging my chair nearer to the window… window panes had water droplets… Still fresh as dew drops… I drew a smiling face with the moisture on the glass pane… though not so perfect it looked good… as I sat back looking at the smiling face… memories filled my head…
“Mummy!! The clouds are crying!!” shrieked a tiny figure jumping up and down in the front porch…
I went and grabbed her in my arms comforting her said “darling they aren’t crying … they are tears of happiness” with a smile on my face…
The tiny gal wasn’t convinced…she asked” why are they so happy?? They even flooded dolly’s house mummy… where will my dolly stay?”
“Remember you came first in your class. That’s why they are happy… and our dolly can stay with us here…” she smiled and gave me a kiss…
My heart felt light every time she did that… her little body hugged me and she said “I love you mummy”
I couldn’t hold back my tears.. I kissed her on the forehead and said “love you too honey”
She ran back to get our pup and off she vanished into room… my little angel had grown too fast before my eyes… the first time she called me “mom”. The times she won the music competition… the times she won her painting competition…
And on her thirteenth birthday she cried for a mobile…the first time she wanted to know about her dad and when I said he is dead… for the first time she called me liar… I was hurt yet she was my daughter… she had all the rights… when she learned the truth about her dad’s second marriage she apologized… I forgave her without waiting for her to apologize…her wedding… my daughter’s wedding… I made it extraordinary… and she said I showed off her like a trophy…she didn’t know that she actually was a trophy to me… my most valuable trophy…things changed when I got old.. I needed her assistance for every single tiny and big thing… I became a hindrance to her… she never said it but I felt it… my son –in-law showed it openly… I moved out…I moved out of her life forever…
I got everything; I did everything I could do for her… My angel… I lived my life for her… I didn’t expect anything in return… but today I expect like every year… Just one call from my little angel… because it’s my 75th birthday… and I will still continue to expect that one call till my dying day… Bless you my child.”
A tear rolled down my cheeks… it was then I realized I had been crying… I looked at her not knowing how to comfort her… I am there for you always said my heart… And…as if she read my mind, tears brimmed her eyes.. And they slowly closed… Her breathing slowed steadily and stopped forever…
Kagan McLeod for Reader’s Digest
MOTHER OF ROCK
by Paul Anderson, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
For my brother, my sister, and me, Guitar Hero was a competition of who could score the most points on the hardest level. Mom, on the other hand, would play the ten-minute “Freebird” on the easiest level while we kids prepared for our next showdown. When Mom restarted the song after missing a note, we all shouted our disapproval. “Rock stars do what they want,” she said, and we laughed because we agreed: Mom was a rock star. That’s why, later, her funeral felt more like the last stop on a farewell tour, with “Freebird” as the perfect send-off.
TWO SIMPLE WORDS
by Abigail Wortman, West Long Branch, New Jersey
On the first day of first grade, I stood by the front door with butterflies in my stomach. I voiced my biggest concern to my mother: “How will I make friends?” Crouching in front of me, she handed me advice I carry with me to this day: “Be Switzerland.” Be friends with everyone. Treat everyone equally and fairly. For all of my 20 years, I have lived by these words. Soon I will graduate and become a part of the real world. And on that first day, nervously facing new responsibilities, I know I will whisper two words to myself: “Be Switzerland.”
MY LITTLE ST. NICK
by Brenda Bokor Wismer, Pinedale, Wyoming
My six-year-old son, Nicholas, sat in the grocery cart as I perused the canned vegetables. “How about this one, Mommy?” he asked, and handed me a can of asparagus. “I love asparagus!” I told him. “Asparagus is my favorite vegetable, but it’s just too expensive.” I put the can back on the shelf. Three months later, I opened a crudely wrapped present from under the Christmas tree. It was a can of asparagus. Nicholas beamed in delight as he explained how he had saved his pennies to buy me the best Christmas gift I’d ever received.
THE NEED NEVER GOES AWAY
by Saman Rahman, Peshawar, Pakistan
“Mommy, you are a fairy,” I said. My mother laughed like tinkling bells. “I am serious, Mother. You know everything.” “My child, I try to answer as best as I can. When you grow older, you will not need me,” she said. “No, Mom, I will always need you. Nothing can change that,” I said. Her words echo in my heart as I look at the blue sky: “Dear daughter, nothing remains the same except the vast blue sky.” It has been ten years since I lost my fairy. Mom, you were wrong about one thing: I still need you.
A STAND-UP WOMAN
by Robin Hynes, Slingerland, New York
My mom had a great sense of humor and a knack for making everything fun. One thing that resonated with me, even as a small child, was how much she seemed to enjoy her own company and found ways to entertain herself. As a kid, I remember her giggling while paying bills. What was so funny about bill paying? She would put humorous notes in the reference section of the check: For the electric bill, she might put “You light up my life,” and for the mortgage she’d write “Four shingles closer to owning it all.”
THE HARDEST CHOICE
by Andrea Cortinas, El Paso, Texas
Thirty-five years ago, when my mom was 22, she became a widow and a mother within the same month. The life she had imagined was stolen in a heartbeat. She tried to move on, but was lost. She gave me to my father’s family to be raised in the United States. Some call her weak; others call her selfish. I could be mad or bitter. Instead, I’m grateful for the life I have and to have a mother who sacrificed our relationship to give me a chance at a better life. She is courageous. She is my mother.
JUST ONE MORE QUESTION
by Katina Brown, West Monroe, Louisiana
“I was chosen to be your mama,” I tell my four-year-old daughter as my younger boys pull at my clothes. She looks at me tearfully and asks, “Why couldn’t I grow in your tummy like my brothers?” “Well,” I tell her, choking back my own tears, “The doctor said I couldn’t grow a baby in my tummy, so your daddy and I decided to adopt a baby. That baby was you.” I hold my breath and wait for a more difficult question. “Can I have some ice cream?” she asks. “Yes!” I say, thankful for her innocence.
MEMORIES IN VERSE
by Pat Witty, Fairmont, Minnesota
The day I was dreading had arrived—it was inevitable. I had seen it coming but had chosen to ignore it for as long as possible. My very capable, intelligent mom had started forgetting to pay her bills, and it was time to take over her finances. As I looked through her wallet, I made a remarkable discovery. Tucked away in a tiny compartment were four Mother’s Day poems I’d written for her in the 1960s. She had saved and cherished those simple gifts for 50 years. What a happy surprise!
TO MOM, ON HER SPECIAL DAY
by Megan McPartland, Levittown, New York
In 1976, my grandfather wrote a story about his fondest Christmas memories and submitted it to Reader’s Digest. Recently, while cleaning out his basement, my mom discovered the well preserved writing as well as the letter of regret from the magazine, as the piece was not published. After reading his story, I learned that my mom came from an amazing family—and with the help of my dad, she raised an amazing family herself. Mom, if you are reading this, Happy Mother’s Day! I love you.
MIGHT AS WELL FACE IT…
by Beth Kailukaitis, Kalamazoo Township, Michigan
Coming home from work one day, I found my mom dancing to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.” I watched, enthralled, as she moved and sang along, her hips twisting to the beat, big smile plastered on her face. It had been a long while since I’d seen her dance, so this display of pure joy was infectious. She died unexpectedly in her sleep a few weeks later. I have many memories of her that I’ll always cherish, but none quite as happy and carefree as her dance that day. It’s definitely the simple things—thanks, Robert Palmer!
PAY IT FORWARD
by Teresa Martin, North Aurora, Illinois
You reap what you sow: In her old country, my mom saw a very poor blind woman with her young daughter. She felt sorry for them and loaned them all her savings. Although Mom was worried sick about it, they miraculously returned every cent. Two decades later, when Mom left her Communist country and came to America as a refugee, the Catholic Church gave her money to feed her many children. She returned them every single cent, and her children continued to pay back through worldwide charities. Mom is now 90 years old and has a richly blessed life.
A SCARLET SYMBOL
by Priscilla Hartling, West Allis, Wisconsin
My mother was my best friend. She loved cardinals, the male red ones. When she got sick with pancreatic cancer and knew death was near, she told me to always look for the red cardinal—that would be her. I never paid too much attention to that statement; I was too busy becoming an adult. Twenty-five years later, every time I feel at my wits’ end, there is a cardinal flying past me or in a nearby tree. Is it coincidence, or my mother, all these years later, letting me know that everything will be OK? I’ll take the latter.
Dear Sister. I write that word with shaking hand and heart. I am dying and you must know the truth. You will not call me brother after you read my confession. You won’t visit my grave. No one will blame you, I can only reach into the past to remind you that we were once loving children together. Brother and Sister.
I must go back before I can admit sin, back to when we padded bare feet on fresh cut grass, our father laughing whilst the sprinkler wet our golden skin. Our mother busying herself but stealing sideways glances at the three of us having fun. Sister, think back to that time now, feel it, smell the grass, rain on hot bitumen. Remember our laughter and the freshness of youth. Remember our mother looking on, always looking on.
Do you remember the day we went to the beach? We were swept out to sea, too little to fight the undertow and suddenly we were in over our heads, you clinging to me, me panicking with salt water filling my senses. Then there were strong arms around us, rescued by a life guard. A crowd had gathered to watch. Dad was oblivious, facing away from the sea and reading a book. Our mother was suppose to be at the holiday house but I glimpsed her, she was part of the crowd, She was looking on. Her face expressionless, no, there was an expression, it was excitement. Sister, believe that. Later she claimed not to have been there, and made a fuss and was angry at Dad for not caring for their children. I doubted my recollection, and for the sake of the comfort of a mother’s love, I told myself I was mistaken. But I saw that look again over the years, and other expressions – anger, sadness, loss and hurt, cunning – all when she thought she was looking at us unobserved.
The years passed, our father would joke with us and our mother would look on, cooking the dinner, being the butt of a joke, never showing anger at it, just quietly accepting the teasing. You remember how we would imitate her, the way she used her hands to describe something, some archaic memory of when hand expression meant more than words. We would copy her, our hands fluttering too, but we were innocent, we didn’t mean to hurt. She would look on at us, at most saying, “You are very rude.”
One day, when I was ten and you were too young to question, something horrible happened. It was on this day that I knew our mother was not a nice person, in fact, I realised she was deranged. You remember Belle, our dog, my dog? She died when she was hit by a car. You knew how I loved Belle and how Belle loved me. Dad said her mongrel colourings made her seem like a miniature African Hunting Dog, and the three of us sat in awe when a wild life came on about them.
“There’s Belle!” You shouted pointing at the TV.
Belle wagged her tail when she heard her name. In the corner, our mother watched, looking at me, looking at Belle. She was a unique dog, beautiful. It was me she came to, me she followed. Belle – the word for beautiful in French. Hit by a car in the dead of night. Do you remember me calling for her in the morning?
“Belle! Belle!” No sign of her. It was then my mother looked at me and shook her head:
“Your father has something to tell you.” I turned to him, and felt my mother turn too, but whilst my stricken face was full of fear, the glimpse I caught of my mother’s was of anticipation, excitement.
“Belle was hit by a car last night, she’s dead son, I’m sorry.” He put a slice of toast in his mouth and I hated him. I turned to my mother and ran to her with open arms, her smile, her giggle did not register with me. She was warm and she hugged hard, I loved her in the moment of motherly comfort. I had lost Belle, and my father ate toast.