Just Another Mother's Day

There are about 8 year's worth of good memories of my mother. In the soft, warm glow of the lamp on my nightstand, she'd sit on the edge of my bed and brush my hair.

"One, two, three" she'd count, all the way to one hundred. "One hundred brushes a night, Jennifer." She told me it would make my hair soft and shiny.

She'd curl up in bed with me, sometimes. She'd read books using funny voices and there were nights she'd read a dozen of them. Sometimes I'd fall asleep to the sound of her reciting the words of Maurice Sendak or Shel Silverstein or Beverly Cleary.

She would give me her leftover teaching supplies so I could play school. I'd create small, uniform rows of dolls and stuffed animals and I'd stand in front of my "class", going over the alphabet and counting by fives.

All of that changed, though, when she left us. Left me, my brother and my dad. She left us to be with a man, and sometimes when I play the game "What If" I wonder what life might have been like if she'd just disappeared with him, driven off into the sunset with her new beau. My dad did his best with two young kids, making dinners and getting us ready for school in the morning. We were sad, but we were okay. We were safe.

And then she came back for us. According to relatives, my dad fought, and fought hard, for custody. But this was the 70's, and unless mom was a derelict or in a mental institution, dads rarely got the kids. I wonder why she wanted us? Was it a final fuck you to my dad? Some sort of maternal urge she couldn't stifle?

Whatever it was, she won. My brother and I were packed up and moved into the tiny two bedroom apartment with my mom, and the man I soon discovered was a monster.

It wasn't long after that when the same woman who used to brush my hair and read to me stood by, silent, while her new husband beat me up. While he screamed at me, spit flying, fists clenched, she was there. Watching. Smoking a cigarette. Sometimes she'd shame him into apologizing afterwards. Other times, she'd tell me how I'd asked for it. She'd scold: "You shouldn't roll your eyes at him, Jennifer."

Mother's Day meant nothing back then, and it didn't until I got married and became a mom myself. Back then, we'd buy hanging baskets of geraniums and shuttle the kids to all of the grandmother's houses. We'd drop off flowers and cards and have the kids tell their grandmas, "Happy Mother's Day!" My own mother's house was part of the circuit, I'd done a fabulous job of blocking out the shit storm that had been my childhood. I'd watch as my own little babies would lean into her for a hug, watch her put her omnipresent cigarette down and, in her stained housecoat, receive the little arms that reached out towards her. The monster was always there. Always, always there. Standing off to the side, making small talk with my then husband. The absurdity of the situation went wholly unnoticed by everyone. Except me.

I had let my husband and children know, from the start, that I had no expectations for Mother's Day. A hug, a kiss, maybe a card they'd made. The fact that someone had picked a day in May and deemed it to be the one day we all celebrated our mothers didn't seem like a big deal to me. It was a way for restaurants and flower shops and the good folks at Hallmark to make a buck out of obligation and guilt. No thanks, I decided. Count me out.

After the divorce, there was exactly one Mother's Day when my now-ex-husband took the kids shopping. The kids later told me that he'd taken them to Target, pointed them in the direction of a clearance end-cap and instructed them to "pick something out for your mom. Make sure it's less than $20.00." They came home with two framed prints of cherry blossom trees. Done in black and pink. They were hideous, but I hung on to them for many years because they were, in essence, from my children.

From then on, the good teachers my children were lucky to have took care of Mother's Day presents. Little hand painted terra cotta pots with sprigs of Swedish Ivy, poems about mommies decorated with tiny handprints, tissue paper flowers. I loved all of these things, and saved a few of them.

Once they were out of elementary school, however, the teacher-guided, handmade presents ended. My kids always made sure to mention the day, always wished me a happy one. There were breakfasts in bed, attempts at best behaviors and all-around sweetness, adolescent-style.

We'd still visit my mom, although as both of us aged, it became harder to force the affection. I'd clench up as we pulled into the driveway, and my smiles were small and perfunctory as we walked through the threshold and into the cluttered, stinky house. Memories smothered me, and seeing my kids all tall and gangly and awkward just like I had been, within arm's reach of The Monster...it filled me with an unnamed dread.

The recovery time from these visits became longer and tougher. A few years ago, the nightmares started coming back, and the very sound of his voice would trigger black moods in me. I began letting her calls go to voicemail, and sometimes it would take me a day or two to finally listen to the message.

Always the same. The television droning on in the background. Her heavy breathing, then asking me in that Harvey Fierstein voice "Can you get me a few packs of cigarettes, Jennifer?" And ever so faintly, under the combined din of the voices on the t.v. and her wheezing, there'd be his voice. I could hear it, and it scared me even though I was sitting in my own living room and it was simply a recording.

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING NOW??" The voice would get closer and I'd hear my mom fumbling with the phone. "GODDAMMIT, WHO NOW?!" And then nothing.

Mother's Day fills me with many feelings, none of which they make cards for: overwhelming guilt. Sadness. Regret. And always, the wondering about how it could have been. How it should have been.

For a long time, I felt shame about my reaction to this day. I'd hide my real feelings, gloss over the pain and put on a happy face when that Sunday in May rolled around. My kids, who are all old enough to make their own gestures, treat me well. They tell me they love me, they call. They buy me lunch and small gifts.

And they always put up with my annual plea to do nothing. They listen, quietly, to my diatribe about how I am lucky to have so many Mother's Days throughout the year.

I am, you know that? I am so lucky. I had no idea how to be a mother to children past the age of eight, and somehow I have kids who like me, who aren't afraid of me. Kids who write moving, beautiful tributes to me in classes, kids who tell me their friends love coming over because "you're nice to them", kids who will go to The Avengers movies with me. Even a 21 year old kid who wants to move back home "for a couple of months" because he knows this is a soft place to land.

Despite all of that, I still can't stand this day. I look at my phone and I count down the hours until it's almost too late to call her. I can picture her, cigarette in hand, looking at her own phone, waiting for it to ring. I can see him, poking his head in the door of her room, making a comment about me and my ungratefulness.

I breathe in. Breathe out. I'll call her, and over the sound of the local newsmen yammering in the background I will wish her a Happy Mother's Day. I'll hear her breathing. I'll shut my eyes, tight against the threatening tears, as I fight to not see her sitting on the edge of my bed, brushing my hair.

"One, two, three..." 


  1. I hope you make Mother's Day yours and snatch it away from your mother. You're a thousand times the mom your mom ever was. And that's cause for celebration.

    1. I agree 150%, Tracy -- and Jenny. Ever since reading your post about your mom's evil second husband and what he did to you, I've never forgiven your mom for not intervening on your behalf and making him leave you alone, for good. And I never will forgive that. I thought of you today and actually hoped you didn't feel like you needed to call your mother, let alone see her. I'm so sorry you went through all this, too. But so very glad for you that you've got your fabulous children...and you've truly done SUCH an awesome job with them. You will always be one of my heroes!

    2. I also agree 150% with Tracy! I actually had tears in my eyes reading this. You don't owe your mother anything Jenny. Not even a phone call on Mother's Day. Because here's the thing, just because she gave birth to you, doesn't mean that she was truly a parent or a mom. Parents should actually parent their children which means protecting them, loving them, nourishing them, I could go on, in order to be actually called a mother or father. What your mom did wasn't parenting. I'm so sorry you have such horrible memories. Even though I don't know you, only through your blog, I can tell how much love spills out of you to your kiddos and yes, that should be cause for celebrating how kick butt of a mom you are! Lots of love to you!

  2. Jenny, I'm so sorry that happened to you. Things like that stick with us for a lifetime. You never deserved that treatment; mothers are supposed to protect their children. Please don't feel guilty.

  3. Jennifer - first, let me say that you are a beautiful writer. Your stories are full of emotion and bravery and I applaud you for letting so many strangers into your life, past and present. I have a blog, and although there are many times I want to be as raw and honest as you....I just don't have the nerve, not yet. I still play it safe. Mother's Day is special to me because I am a mother....not because I have a mother. The way my daughter made me a video and a photo montage made me cry....the dinner at my mother's house was obligatory, and not fun..and put me in a bad mood. Wish I could write about it...maybe some day. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Jennifer, I share your pain...for a different reason but one you will understand. Mother's Day is the day I found out he had slept with another women. He wanted a divorce. I went to see his mother that morning...wondering if she had seen him...he hadn't come home. Turns out he was with the bartender of his favorite bar...had a sleep over in his van. My children were 3 and 5. And sadly my current husband doesn't do much for holidays...which means that it winds up being a day of me stuck in sad memories that I just can't seem to let go off..even after 15 years. When asked how he could choose to do tell me this on Mother's day...he said "well, your not my mother". Today was no different although I tried to keep busy, and my kiddo called from college..left gifts behind from his last visit home so my husband could give them to me. It still came back...

  5. I wish I could send you a real hug. The very first comment up there, from Tracy, is one full of wisdom.
    While my own memories are nowhere near as painful, this is a day that I cannot join in with others on facebook or elsewhere and praise my mother. There were good times but there was also plenty of sad times related to her inability to remove her focus from herself. I pray that I am a better mom than she was. Clearly YOU are a MUCH better mom than yours. I hope that this awful pain lessens each year, beginning now.

  6. Jenny, I can't stand Mother's Day for similar reasons. Mother's Day brings back such sad and angry memories. One of my kids was born the day before and on that Mother's Day when he was one day old she still found a way to make it all about her and passive aggressively guilt me while I was still in the hospital recovering from a c-section. I too can't wait for it to be over but I'm not calling mine because it might ruin my otherwise normal, okay day. MD is a non-issue around here, I squelched it from importance long ago. I appreciate you writing about this because lots of people have sad feelings around holidays.

  7. So powerful and vivid and the juxtaposition of your relationship with your mom and your relationship with your children is so just--OPPOSITE in the most important ways. Your kids are so lucky and I know you feel the same about them. I love that their friends get how cool you are.

  8. Super hugs!!!! I'd have probably gone over there... And told that SOB that you were giving YOURSELF a Mother's Day gift... That you wanted to put back some meaning into it. Then spit in his face, and tell him to FUCK OFF! That he could NEVER haunt your dreams, as he wasn't worth it. Like I said, SUPER HUGS to you. Children should not EVER have to endure this.

  9. I understand how you feel since I have a mom that failed to me too. I used to spend hours, days, months and YEARS! wondering how it could have been, asking to myself why I couldn't have a "normal" mom as -apparently- all of my friends have. I grew up hearing people say: "When you grow up and have children of your own, you'll understand your mom". But nope... that never happened, to the contrary, I less understood her actions, her attitude... How could she be like that with her own (and only) daughter? I can't even imagine treating my children like that, not even in my worst nightmare!
    But as sad as it was (and still is) I decided to let go. To accept the cruel fact that I can't change my past life, neither my memories, that it was what it was and I could never forget it but I won't keep her "legacy". I decided to embrace my feelings and to focus just in the path I have in front of me and to be that mom that I spent years dreaming of having for myself but now for my children... On Mother's Day I celebrate the great opportunity I have to be the best mom my children could ever have, the mom they deserve... the mom I deserved and the mom I deserve to be.
    I'm not perfect, but at least I am way far from being the mom that I unfortunately had.

  10. Mother's Day has never been great for me, either. I shy away from it because it always felt forced.

    My father was the abusive one, but my mother certainly never did anything to prevent it. They both resented my presence, and they both made that resentment crystal clear from day one.

    My kids are everything to me. They make me insanely proud every single day, so I don't need Hallmark to tell me when I'm special or deserve recognition. Every time one of my kids goes out into the world and meets someone new, lands a job, graduates, helps another person, or gives a stranger a smile, it reflects on the way they were raised; on me as a mother.

    That's the only gift I need.

    I hope you find the peace you crave and absolutely deserve. No kid should go through what you did, but I hope you let yourself heal and move on. Letting the past keep control isn't worth it.

  11. I am so sorry for your pain. Thank you for sharing your story. You owe your mother nothing. Not one damn thing. Not a birthday card or Christmas present and definitely not a Mother's Day call. A mother who can stand by and watch someone treat their child the way she did is not a mother at all. You are so lucky to have children who you love and who love you back. Focus your time and energy on them, not her!

  12. Jenny I am sending you the biggest, fattest hug. It's sad not getting the moms we needed, or wanted, but so satisfying to know that that cycle didn't need to continue. We knew what to do.

  13. I find Mothers' Day incredibly hard, too, for similar and different reasons. Mothers' Day was horrible when I was growing up, and I still have a very visceral reaction to my memories of it. When I had children, I did what you've done, and essentially banned it. But I had a bit of a meltdown this year—I couldn't keep up the pretence any longer. I've tried to keep smiling, tried to keep pretending it's not going on, tried to keep a lid on how I really feel, but this year, it all boiled over. It was horrible, but now I'm glad. I'd kidded myself and the family for too long, and now my feelings are out in the open, and it forced everyone to stop in their tracks. We're going to do something different next year, completely different. We may not even call it Mothers' Day. We're getting out of the house and driving to the country and doing something refreshing and nice. Instead of hiding away and waiting until the day has passed, I'm going to reclaim Mothers' Day. No more will it be a day that sucks the life out of me, or a day when I'm reminded of a horrible mother who doesn't deserve the title. It will be a day of joy. Mothers' Day 2016—bring it on! Best wishes to you. xx

  14. Mothers day is bad, second only to fathers day, which I hate with a white hot passion. Different reasons, equally disgusting. You are making the future a better one, in spite of what it could have been. Your children will raise up better families because of you. Keep on fighting for it.

  15. What an amazing post. I'm so sorry you had such a terrible childhood. I just can't even believe how some people can be so cruel to children. It breaks my heart. At least you have wonderful children to give you strength now.


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