The best gift my mother has given me is not the beautiful watercolor of peonies that hangs in my daughter’s room or the lovely hand-painted cards—adorned with cats and flowers and birds--that have marked almost every birthday. As much as I treasure these, the best gifts my mother has given me are her love and her curiosity, her interest in people and politics, literature and geography, music, business and science, art and architecture and subjects too numerous to name. The sense that there is always more to know, to enjoy, to discover.
I started thinking about this after attending a reading from What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most, a collection of essays edited by Elizabeth Benedict. Halfway through this volume I’m finding the essays uneven, some inspired, entertaining and moving, others giving the impression that this was a kind of “what I did on my summer vacation” assignment for the author. Highlights include Lisa See’s piece about her mother the author, Carolyn See, who taught her to “write a thousand words and one charming note” each day; Roxana Robinson’s piece about receiving her much longed-for horse as a girl, because her mother “believed that every child should receive a heart’s desire; and Margo Jefferson’s description of the “armor” her mother gave her, a love of high fashion that shielded her from exclusion and inferiority.
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One of the best books I’ve read about mothers and daughters was a recent find, a young adult novel by Rita Williams-Garcia: One Crazy Summer follows the journey of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, three young girls who are sent to California to see the mother who abandoned them, when the youngest girl was still an infant. Cecile, who now calls herself NZila, is a poet whose skills as a typesetter and ownership of a printing press, has led to her somewhat uneasy alliance with the Black Panthers in her Oakland community.
Faced with a mother who cannot reconcile parenting with writing, and at a crossroads between being “a respectable Negro” who avoids unwelcome attention—lessons their grandmother taught them—and asserting their right to the same respect accorded to non-African-Americans, the girls undergo some remarkable changes.
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With so many recommendations in the blogosphere for Mother’s Day reading and viewing I thought I’d add a few of my own:
- Sue Miller’s The Good Mother, which impressed me with its excellent and complicated depiction of a divorced woman’s struggle to balance motherhood and sexuality.
- Towheads, a film by Shannon Plumb, and
- 13 Mother’s Day poems, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms in my life!