When my friend Arianna asked me to write about mothers and daughters I thought it would be easy - I'm a writer, I'm a mother - boom, done - but it didn't happen that way. I can't think of a harder subject to write about - I was stunned it was so difficult, so I bailed and made my girls do it for me.
My husband John and I have three daughters, Molly - 24, currently a freelance producer for the Today Show in Los Angeles, Carter - 22, currently a senior at Boston University and Hope - 18, currently a senior at the Maret School in Washington. I sent them my own Proust-like questionnaire and here are their answers, in birth order. I am so fortunate I can't believe it.
What is your earliest memory of being a child and having a mother?
MOLLY My earliest childhood memory of you lying with me at bedtime and telling me that even though my eyes are closed, it doesn't mean I'm asleep and that it's not okay for you to leave.
CARTER I remember missing you desperately when I had just turned 4 and Hope was born. I remember only seeing you in the hospital for a brief while and couldn't comprehend why you had to stay there with this baby and why you couldn't come home with me. Daddy and Molly tried to make me feel better but it was almost as if I had a love affair with you and I couldn't care that I had a baby sister.
HOPE I think sitting on your hip while you were on the phone. I also remember lying on my cot in the indoor playroom in nursery school and I was fine but then this little girl names Diamond's mom walked in and I thought of you not being there and cried in my cot.
What memory stands out as the one time I really disciplined you or taught you a hard lesson?
MOLLY After I confessed to drawing on my kindergarten classroom wall with the buckles of my shoe, and didn't come forward when the teacher asked us about it, you made me have a meeting with the teacher, while you both held my hand while I confessed what I did and help clean it up during lunch time. Even though I was terrified it taught me that coming clean and fixing it is always the better option.
CARTER When I stole a bunch of candy from the loft above my 1st grade classroom. I couldn't
bear to keep it from you when I got home and eventually let it slip out. Once it did, you demanded that I talk to my teacher and sort it out. The next day I did and I remember being embarrassed for doing it and realizing that it was a bad choice.
HOPE Once I told you to shut up under my breath and you sent me to my room and said I wouldn't get dinner but Dad brought me up a tray. I also laughed at a fat woman with Laura and you gave me a big lecture on how hot she must be in the summer and that it was really a sad thing not a funny thing and I felt terrible.
What memory stands out as amazing fun together?
MOLLY Family swim Sundays at the "YMCA" when you were all ours and would pretend the kick-boards were our surf boards as you sang "Surfing USA".
CARTER I remember when you woke me around dawn on my birthday when I was probably
around 5 or 6 years old. You told me that we were going to Disney World immediately for my birthday and I thought you were kidding. I remember you saying "you think I'd be that cruel and wake you up as a joke?" Disney world was a top happy family vacation spot of my childhood and you would help me go on rides I was scared of...which was all of them.
HOPE Anytime I was with you in your car with the box of rice crackers (crunchies) in tow.
What do you think about when you think of having a daughter?
MOLLY Having someone I know and love so completely and having the opportunity to be there for her as she grows into the best person I can help her become.
CARTER I think of being so overwhelmed with love and adoration for a daughter. I also want to have the kind of relationship with her that I have with you.
HOPE I get very excited. but sometimes I worry I won't be as good as you because I know Grandma was less maternal and so you made a point not to be distant and I'm worried since you were great I will suck or something.
This does not have to be about us: what is one of your more moving recollections of a mother really being there or standing up for her daughter?
MOLLY I think I came to understand that your feelings are often an extension of ours during the college process when your sense of betrayal, anger, and hurt for our rejections often surpassed our own.
CARTER I remember my freshman year of college and being on the phone with you constantly every night. I remember sitting hunched in the hallway, sometimes with tears in my eyes, asking for reassurance that I'd be ok at school and that I'd just be a happier person. What you provided
me with felt like a calm, yet swift push on the back in an upwards, joyful way. You gave me resilience and courage to confront the things that kept me down.
HOPE I think about a family friend who is close to her mother and when her mother comes to visit she is a stronger person and stands up to her loser husband....
Who else in your life feels like a mother to you?
MOLLY Your friends are all like mothers to me because their complete love for you extends to us in their unwavering support and unconditional love for my sister's and me.
CARTER My godmother Elizabeth feels like a mother to me in the way she supports me and gives me candid advice as my mom does. She's someone I feel that I could go to with any problem I had..
HOPE Molly sometimes but NEVER when we are both around you.
What is the easiest/best part of our relationship?
MOLLY The easiest and best part of my relationship with you is our constant contact and ability to share everything and anything as if it's just my own thoughts working through my head.
CARTER The way in which we can make each other laugh about something silly over IM or how we can call each other and lift each others spirits by saying something in a funny tone or sharing a hilarious story.
HOPE You make it so I can go to you for anything. Also you get me so I don't need to explain myself like when we sit in the car and there's no talking I know you get that it's not because I'm mad or to take it personally. You just know me and are content .
What is the hardest?
MOLLY The hardest part of my relationship with you is feeling like you are vulnerable or ever wrong because I see you as the authority on everything that is right and good.
CARTER The hardest part is when I try and depend on you too much with issues I'm facing. Sometimes I worry that I put way too much weight on you and that I need to be more proactive in lifting my own spirits.
HOPE That I am dependent on you to a point that college is very scary. Sometimes lately you get oddly strict and its inconsistent but that's just because you're coping with loosing me next year. Don't worry, I get it. (this is very rare)
Shut your eyes and tell me the picture you see when you think mother and daughter?
MOLLY When I think of mothers and daughters I think of togetherness: hikes, long talks, swims, and vacations. I also think of trips you would go on when we were little and being scared to be without you. You made me look in the mirror as you stood behind me and tell myself I could do it and I could always come right back there to the mirror and tell myself that I could do it, even if you weren't there. I still remind myself of that when I think I can't do it without you.
CARTER I see myself standing in a summer dress when I'm about 4 years old. You are standing behind me and have your hands resting over my shoulders on my chest. You look graceful and confident, with a particular ease in the way you are holding on to me.
HOPE I think of you and me holding hands when I am around six of seven walking into our favorite places on any afternoon.