This Mother's Day, my new anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, has made me reflect on what I've learned from the mothers in my life over the years. My mom taught me to love words and the wonder of them. While reading to me as a child, she cackled like a cruel witch or bellowed like a giant, performing for my amusement until she would often grow hoarse. Mom taught me how to listen carefully to others as though I were their shrink, to put clothing together to create "outfits" and to work extremely hard to realize my dreams. From my paternal grandmother, I learned how to flirt with anyone, make the world's best deviled eggs, and face my fears. "Nana," my maternal grandmother, taught me how to laugh at myself, proudly sing off-key and eat honeysuckle blossoms fresh from the vine. They're remarkable women whom I'm so grateful to have in my life even though I now live too far away from them.
I was raised by a mother who some might call "perfect," but I realize now what an impossible burden this places on a mother. These unrealistic expectations can be very damaging as such perfection is neither normal nor sustainable. Instead of nurturing the mother-daughter relationship, they drive a wedge in the bond. A few of the contributors in Because I Love Her did not have such loving examples in their lives. They were daughters of women struggling with mental illness, addictions and suffering with depression from being women in an era when their role did not encompass much more than motherhood. I've been inspired by their compassion and brutally honest accounts of mothers and daughters. These are personal essays of tremendous courage from talented writers who have faced their demons, forgiven for past wrongs and become stronger for it. Although it wasn't easy, and too often quite painful, the contributors bravely expose their lives by sharing their own stories in this collection.
Tara Bray Smith beautifully wrote in her memoir West of Then of her relentless pursuit to come to know her mother despite her heroin-addiction. Her tragic account was so emotionally searing, I asked her to contribute an essay about her relationship with her doomed mother. Tara essentially became a mother to her mom, searching for her among other junkies in the middle of the night, praying she was safe, not strung out again. She learned that opiate addiction satisfies the need for mother love. Although she's still angry with her mother for neglecting her, she had to finally accept her mother does not want her help. As she astutely observes, "we're all deficient as adults and no one is accountable for that but ourselves."
For Amanda Coyne, who has written passionately of her mother for Harper's, she had to contend with twelve years of her mother's imprisonment for drug trafficking. Amanda explains her role in the family as devoted daughter when her sisters gave up on her mother long ago. Despite the long years of disappointment, Amanda never quits her mother. She breaks our hearts with her final admission that her mother drove her away as a teenager to maintain her relationship with her then-boyfriend.
Jacquelyn Mitchard creates a "Mother Load" for her two adopted daughters so that they will never feel the loss she experienced as young woman when her mother died. At 19, Jackie felt abandoned by the death of her mother with very few memories left of her. For her, it was crucial that she provide her daughters "a very real map for being mothers, but more importantly, the best legacy I could leave them: a solid and indelible sense of having been mothered."
The writer in the collection whom I feel holds the most promise is Anne Marie Feld. She has written in Modern Love and Mommy Wars about discovering her mother hanging from the end of a rope on her sixteenth birthday. She vividly remembers living with someone descending into madness and consequently she seems absent from Anne's fond childhood memories. Her mother, like so many others, struggled to be perfect, to make her daughters always look presentable and worked too hard, all the time losing sight of what was most important- being connected to her family.
Not all of the pieces in this anthology are serious or haunting. In fact, many are quite funny. Susan Wiggs writes of her joy in young motherhood when she was then hungrily working to establish a writing career to stay at home with her daughter. She went on to write some 30 bestselling novels and has proven a very successful role model for her daughter. In "Things to Remember Not to Forget," Katherine Center tells of "how we have to give up the old to get the new. You can't be the child and the mom at the same time." Just as Thomas Wolfe once observed, "You can't go home again." She expresses with great tenderness this need we have to surrender to the nostalgia of our youth and how "we all carry our mothers inside of us."
Because I Love Her is a tribute to how difficult it can often be to accept the ones we love the most. The thread that runs throughout the collection is this idea that despite our mothers' best efforts- whatever they had to deal with -- we remain hopeful for them, for ourselves and for our daughters. Our mothers shaped who we are and some of us endured heartbreak, but we survived nonetheless. We all love our mothers, no matter what pressures they faced, we can forgive them and honor them on this day.
I am not a perfect mother. I'm disorganized, too often lose my patience and yell, and have trouble being present with my daughter. Although I'm prone to guilt, these writers have shown me how to forgive myself. As mothers and daughters, we disappoint each other all the time, and yet we cheer each other on, supporting each other through life's trials. And no one out there wants more for us than our mothers. I guess this is what I want to remember this Mother's Day: my five-year-old daughter's joyful face -- hazel eyes glowing, sloppy hair hanging in her sweet little face and her magical laugh tinkling in the air. I want to preserve just this moment. Not perfectly for time eternal. Just for now. I want to forgive myself my many imperfections and celebrate the moment. Right here. Right now.
Nicki Richesin is the editor of the recently published anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond. See the book trailer or become a facebook fan.