Overcoming Mother’s Day

Mom and me, high school homecoming game, 1982

It’s Mother’s Day and this photo popped up in my Facebook memories. That picture reflects a rare moment of peace during those teen years when my mother and I were constantly at odds. Her face shows it. She could barely crack a smile. I was excited about leading the flag corps in the marching band on a beautiful sunny day and the homecoming dance later that night.

She had me at 45, so that makes her 60 in this photo. Part of our troubles was the drastic age difference – two generations separating us rather than one. Part of it was her depression that swept in like a tsunami when her best friend and sister, my Aunt Nancy, died five years earlier. She had nothing left to live for after that. Not me, not her other kids, not her husband nor her grandchildren.

At home? Her care for me was overpowered by her unrelenting fear for me; she always expected me to succumb to the worst, whatever sensational crap Phil Donahue shilled out earlier in the day. She expected me to fall victim to AIDS for example, even though I was a virgin, as if I was clueless and stupid.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I was obedient and kind, sweet and studious, a straight A student who attended church, didn’t drink or do drugs, didn’t carouse at all hours of the night, and cleaned house regularly. I was president of this, that, and the other in high school, active in every club I could participate in. Nothing was good enough, though.

It was so demoralizing how she couldn’t see me for who I was and celebrate that. She died just a few years after this picture was taken, after I left for college. We never had a chance to heal our relationship. She never got to see how I turned out, that the core of who I am now was present even then. She didn’t see me. She didn’t really want me. She certainly didn’t care enough to live for me. She was definitely ready to go when she did, dying suddenly of an aneurysm.

No. She didn’t get to see that I turned out ok, way way way more than ok.

And I have had people tell me over the years, “Oh, she loved you. And she sees you now.” Maybe that’s true. But I don’t feel it. Not at all.

This was my experience being on the receiving end of mothering. My aunts were relatively distant, and much older than me anyway, like mom. I never knew my grandmothers; they were born in the 1880s and died long before I was born. Mom was my role model, and she didn’t believe in me.


I often wonder what it would be like to be loved in an uplifting, nurturing way, how I might have turned out, who I might have been had it happened. Maybe I would be able to connect with people on a more intimate level than I do.

I’ll never know. Mother’s Day brings a certain kind of undeniable pain, pain I rarely talk about. I can’t pretend this didn’t happen, though.

I can’t pretend I’m not jealous either, over the incredible relationships so many of you enjoyed and still do. Don’t get me wrong: I am incredibly happy for my friends who have this experience. It’s just….the cognitive dissonance over the years, learning what a nurturing mother-daughter relationship is supposed to feel like versus what I experienced is a shock.

And how I ache for my friends who are starting to lose their beautiful mothers 30+ years after I did. I saw the love between you both all these many years. I grieve for you. That kind of love, even though it changes form, is a forever kind of love. That’s how it should be. And I worry that I can’t be much of an emotional support for you at these times because your grief is undoubtedly more acute, far different than mine.


I don’t talk about my grief. It comes up on Mother’s Day, and occasionally on her birthday and every now and then when I am reminded of the physical and emotional scars she left in her wake.

It’s a double-edged sword talking about my grief. My approach for the first 25 years after her death was silence. You know, my attempt along the lines of “Honor thy father and thy mother.” I try hard to find things to honor, and harder yet to find things to smile about, so mostly I don’t talk about her.

Yet I’ve learned that keeping your feelings bottled up is not healthy. It’s human to talk. It’s human to feel.

And well, I write. I write to express, I write to understand. And finally I write to share, because I’ve learned it helps other people feel not quite so alone and freakish.

So if this resonates with you, be comforted in knowing that no, not everyone gushes with overflowing love and warmth for the woman that raised them. Sometimes the only emotion that remains is grief for what could have been, what should have been. I can’t tell you how many times I cried over what was. I’ve had to learn to accept it.

Besides, she knew then, in that photo, that I was a writer, five years already. She read my diaries while I was at school, so I learned long ago there was no such thing as privacy. My privacy was violated constantly. My concept of trust was betrayed from the get-go. What difference does it make if I write about her now?

What’s that they say about writers? If you don’t want a writer to say bad things about you, you should have treated them better. LOL

If you know someone who had this experience, know that they are struggling today. Struggling to reconcile their experience with what feels like everyone else’s. Struggling with the loss of the person who is supposed to be your #1 cheerleader, your #1 confidant, your rock. Your mom. Struggling with the loss of what never was: that love, those words of wisdom, the laughs, the pride, the hugs, the inside jokes, the forgiveness, and the help that comes with seeing you graduate college, start your career, get married, buy a house, have a child, have another, and get promoted.

It’s not all bad though. Even though this is what I chose to write about today, it isn’t 100% of my focus. I channel nearly everything I’ve got into being the best mom I can possibly be to my three. Let nothing but love and support flow from here on out and celebrate the beautiful humans I get to mother, with the best father on the planet.

I hope it’s enough.

A Load of Laundry

New Year’s Eve 2013, I believe it was. At this point we had lived in our house eight years and the last conspicuous evidence of the prior owners was the plaid ivory, pink, blue, and turquoise green wallpaper in our laundry room.

I refused to head into a new year staring at this wallpaper any longer. Down it came in big giant sheets, almost as big as the ones originally hung. It was so easy, so satisfying, to do. The whole exercise took no more than twenty minutes. Keep in mind, my laundry room isn’t tiny…it’s more like a giant walk-in pantry. All I wanted to do was remove the plaid…the fuzzy paper residue that remained on the walls could stay for another time, once I had a chance to score and remove it properly.

You see, when we moved into our house, the entire decor was baby blue and pale pink. A couple lived there before us with their three or four daughters. It always struck me as odd that a house decorated entirely in baby blue and pale pink did not have bedroom closets designed to hang dresses, but to each his own! This house did have a separate two-car garage with a woodshop attached, for the lone man of the house. I suspect he spent a lot of time out there over the years. In any event, I’m not a pastels kind of chick. I tend to gravitate toward warmer, richer colors and classic neutrals.


For me, somewhere in the middle of raising three kids, I put house matters on hold. It took everything I had in me to hold down my job, shuttle the kids around to their activities, deal with schoolwork, pay bills, clean the house, do laundry, you name it. I found that my least favorite activities, and certainly the ones that require a lot of mental energy to start, got put aside. But it was time to make the laundry room beautiful since it felt like I spent all my time there.

I don’t mind doing laundry. Washing, drying, and folding every piece has become a little meditation, a prayer for me. I think of my children wearing these clothes, how much fun they had spilling juice on this shirt or ketchup on that one, how the knees are worn out from playing, which pieces are their favorites such that they show up again and again and again…and eventually there is that last cycle when you realize they’ve outgrown the item in hand, and it’s time to release it to someone else who can use it, someone outside our home.


No kidding, an entire year went by before I got around to cleaning the paper fuzz off the walls, let alone prep them for painting. But eventually I did paint them a cheery peach IMG_4607color, and once I did, I realized I didn’t like the effect. As the mom of three kids, I spend an insane amount of time in that room and it was dreary. It was still crazy dark in that room…it has a whole wall of dark brown cabinets that had been moved from the kitchen and repurposed into the laundry room. The hardware was dusty brass, circa 1980.

I knew it would be a huge effort to pull off, but I decided I had to paint the cabinets white. And if you are shooting for cheery white cabinets, then they need to be cheery white on the side too, especially since that super sticky-tacky contact paper was used to line every last shelf and drawer.

Fast forward. Once in a blue moon I’d have a day free to tackle the paint job. It was tough to pull off because this room was constantly in use, so my painting days had to be full days I could get a lot of it done. Everything had to be hauled out to tackle the painting, and then hauled back in.  Because the laundry room was often in disarray, it became a sort of catch-all room for objects that didn’t have a home. Two years went by before I finally paid someone to paint the cabinets and the walls in a way that I realized I simply didn’t have the time to do. What a relief!

And then it stayed that way for another six months until I could purge my home of all the collected do-dads, reorganize what we would store in the cabinets, paint the trim, hang a shelf and curtains, lay down a rug, and decorate as the final touch. Here are some photos of the finished product.


Over the years, as “incentive” I told myself I could start no new home projects until the laundry room was done. It didn’t really work. Some things just couldn’t wait. Others did, but now I have a massive backlog of stuff that needs repair and updating.

I even took a couple of last-minute vacation days earlier this month to finish the job, once and for all. I posted my photos on Facebook for friends to see, as they had heard about this journey I had been on all these years. Got the requisite oohs and aahs from my photos. I’m proud of my work, my vision for the room, and how it turned out. I love doing laundry in there now. And it has stayed nice and clean ever since.

But the strangest thing about this remodeling journey is this: somewhere along the way of these five years, a load has been taken off my shoulders. I suddenly look at the list of home projects and it doesn’t overwhelm me. I know exactly where all the tools are and whether I have what I need to pull it off, and if I don’t, I head to the hardware store and pickup the few things I need to work the job.

I don’t mind doing the renovation work myself. As a matter of fact, I really love restoring objects to their former beauty or making them better than before. It’s a kind of meditation all unto itself. And believe me, this mom of small kids CRAVED time to meditate.

But now that the load of doing the laundry (room) has been removed, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. The passage of time has hit me a little hard. My children are all five years older. The tiny little knick-knacky toys that are the hallmark of early childhood are slowly being phased out of our house, so they don’t clutter the laundry room anymore. No more bubble stuff, Fisher-Price Little People, lego pieces, Barbie shoes, tempera paint, Play-Doh…. Where did it all go? Wait!? You mean, all that will be left is just….laundry now?

Suddenly doing the laundry is a breeze. There’s tons of counter space to fold and the kids take their clean clothes back to their rooms…and two of the three even do the laundry themselves now.  I need to hang a picture frame? Boom! It’s easy to find the hammer and nail to make it happen. Need an old towel to dry off the patio chairs after a rain? Boom! Easy to spot, easy to grab. Need a dust mop? Same thing.

I can’t figure out whether this room was truly the hub of the house such that whipping it into shape was critical to a well-functioning home or whether the inability to finish the renovation was the giant obstacle getting in the way of other progress in my life. I don’t think this is coincidence.

Who knew that I was really working my way through a load of laundry of a different kind all this time?