I was talking to my friend Andy Laats about his wife, Liz, who died five years ago when their kids were 8, 10 and 12, and in trying to describe the amount of thought she put into parenting, he said, “Liz was a mom with a capital M.” Indeed, she was.
I myself had a mom with a capital M, and have since become one.
So what is this capital M work, then?
For my mother, as I suspect is true for all, the hardest work is when we are required to operate outside our comfort zones for the safety, development or well being of our children. By way of example, I offer you two:
I am a memoirist interested primarily in family life. This means there is just no way to share my observations without talking about my mother, the first woman I knew, the woman by whom I would come to know myself. After all, unless we consciously resist the defaults, our habit is to think in relative terms: I am more this, less that than her.
Perhaps the biggest difference between me and my mom is how much we like to share. Where I am an open book, almost literally, she is somewhat of mystery, even now, which is just how she likes it. But what she likes even more than the psychic comfort of emotional privacy is me and to like me is to like the things I work on.
This is why it is the greatest act of love for her to not only tolerate my work but engage with it. For years after my first book came out, she popped into bookstores in and around Philadelphia to move copies of The Middle Place from low, dark shelves to the bright, eye-level hot spots around the check out desk. She had a knack for merchandising and believed the book would do best in places where there were no other books; this is how I ended up in the magazine section, the cards and bookmarks section, the mints and gum section and on the bestseller list. [You can see a pretty great old video of her rearranging books here.]
This week, she agreed to be on my podcast talking about a most personal subject: faith. She was perfect: honest, forthcoming, direct. I offer it to you here for two reasons: one, to remind all of us doing the work of motherhood that it is often a distressing, unsettling business that stretches us in painful directions and two, in the hopes that it gives you the inspiration to talk to your parents while you have them and ask them the questions closest to their hearts.
Love ya, Ma.