You Only Have One Mother

That's a direct quote from mine, "You only have one mother." She says this as we're driving out to the suburbs to a family party. (I'm driving, FD and my parents are telling me how).

"You only have one mother."

This stops me in my tracks, not literally, or there would have been a pile-up on the Edens, the 'Super Highway' to Wisconsin.

But I'm thinking, What does she mean by this?

Not hard to figure out, of course, that she's saying that my attention is divided, for sure, and she doesn't get enough of it, and when it comes to Who's Yo' Mama, the answer's quite obvious. She is. And I know it's hard, at the end of the day, to make a call and say, How's it going? but obviously, it should be an every day thing.

INSANE, I know you're thinking. ENMESHED, must be.

But you're wrong. It isn't insane, it's not enmeshed, and it isn't even coming from her. We're talking about an octogenarian. And ours is a relatively close family, although we're not on each other like white on rice, don't know one another's every step, and no, I don't call every day.

The idea is that they're special.

On Mori Therapy, Isabelle recycles an older post (she and I go way back) from 2007 about her father, a guy she adored, and how she wishes she could pick up the phone and say hi, but it's impossible at this point. Not to be maudlin. That's what grieving, remembering, is all about, feeling terrible that we can't just pick up the phone. Making the call is a big theme on this blog, you may already know. The applications are enumerable.

We can't all do that, dial the number. Not all the mom's are around. And some women, people who might have been moms but maybe changed it around, opted out or gave a child away, they're thinking along those lines, too. They won't be getting the call, no Hallmark card.

And let's talk, some mothers drink too much, aren't or never were available, use(d) drugs. Or our daughters and sons do that, disappear into that world, turning the day into one of failure. And so many first degrees can't function for some other health related issue. Mothers Day can be a tough one.*

Every once in a while a person will come to see me in therapy and inevitably the past will come up. We talk about loss, and we talk family, for what else is there, really, that pulls at us, drives us as crazy, a no pain no gain sometimes, sometimes mostly pain, sometimes heavily weighted on the gain. At some point it will come out that the narrator has between 3 to 5 siblings (more or less) and that nobody is taking care of mom or dad. In this case mom or dad are generally supremely independent, eschew attention, but are getting older, falling, forgetting, not eating as much or anything, not getting around anymore. And nobody comes over, nobody checks in. In fact, everyone has moved away from the home town.

And I'll suggest, "Well you know, we have these things, they're called telephones. You should arrange it so that at least one person calls every day. You're going to want to know if she isn't able to answer. You know?"

That's pretty much all I wanted to say on this post, that and to tell all of you mothers, especially those who have special needs children, that you're doing an unbelievable job. What's that they say? Half the job of life is just showing up, and anyone reading this blog is doing that and more.

But a quick story and better even, a decent one-liner, credit to my only mother to lighten the mood:

We're at this quasi-engagement party for my nephew, a Meet The New Family get-together, and Mom is standing a long time, trying to be sociable. I feel she's standing too long because I feel I'm standing too long, and if I'm tired, she must be tired. Our boundaries are fine, thanks.

Anyway, I suggest that we sit and she says she's good, she's not ready to sit down. We're talking to another guest, both riveted, liking this new person. I straighten up a little, throw back my shoulders to get comfortable, Mom looks up. She's looking at me, sizing me up.

She says to our new friend,

"You know, I used to be as tall as my daughter, but now I go to the doctor to find that I'm a full five inches shorter than I used to be!"

Neither of us knows exactly how to respond; we sort of smile half smiles.

Then she goes for the punchline.

"But I don't feel that way! Not at all! When I think of myself, I'm five-foot seven!"

She's got that glint in her eye, exceedingly pleased that her brain, the real person in there, can fool that other ego, her body.

Boy I hope I get that patch of DNA.


*You can read what I wrote about Mothers Day in dysfunctional families on The Second Road.


blognut said…


Can't say another word about it at the moment. :)
Leora said…
You are making me feel better about how I plan to spend part of my Mother's Day, which is setting up a computer for my father. Since I can't connect (expect via heaven and prayers) to mom (z"l) anymore, might as well get a head start on Father's Day.

Years ago I remember saying something about Mother's Day to two friends. Both grown women said they have a very difficult time with Mother's Day, as they both have very difficult mothers. You could see from the grimaces and sadness on their faces.
Unknown said…
Gotta go call my mom. Oh, and Happy Mother's Day, therapydoc.
Ella said…
"The idea is that they're special."
This is nice; it's something I can ponder, try to live into.
I learned how my mom wants to be cared for in her old age by watching her take care of her own mom. I can accept all the practical and functional roles we have to support each other. Just never think of her as special!
Glimmer said…
But what did you SAY when you recovered from being stopped in your tracks? Mother reverted sharply to "ME" mode a few years ago and I am trying to adjust (really, I mean, you know...). Second childhood and all that, complete with new shoulder chips, jealousy, resentments. Friends whose mothers have passed say "just be glad she's still here." Stifle stifle...
therapydoc said…

To no one in particular.

One way to see the shout out to Mother is that even if a parent hasn't been the best, hasn't been able to mentor in the ways we would have liked, or didn't treat us with dignity (that happens) or couldn't be around, maybe had to work a lot, no matter the grudge,

despite our resentments we do have that DNA in common, 50% of each of our biological parents. That can scare us into being better, might warn us about what lies ahead, or it can just be something we marvel at, learn from in order to learn more about ourselves.

That said.

There are people who aren't going to be able to make the call, indeed who shouldn't make the call.

You don't cozy up to someone who is going to bite you.

But even in those cases, a note or a conversation that includes the idea that you're NOT coming over because when you're together you tend to feel worse about yourself, like the parent doesn't really like you or support you emotionally, rather criticizes too much, tends to signal disappointment, whatever.

That sort of assertiveness communicates to emotionally insensitive parents that they could be more sensitive,

and if they don't know how, then it's time that they learn.

You can say that. It's a free country.
therapydoc said…
Glimmer, lots of one-liners come to mind, like, I know, I know.

But "What do you mean when you say that?" is probably more apropos, then following her emotion, for it's all about her, anyway.
Wendy McIntosh said…
Strangely, this year, I find I have many more mothers than I can count.

My mother falls in the category - don't turn your back on 'em... She'll get a call - that's all.

My best friend Vernona, who has mothered me through grief - call, card, flowers.

My daughters who have shown me with grace what BEING a mother is with their little girls - I would send the moon if I could.

The lady who teaches me to knit with old wrinkled hands, sage advice, and just listens - the first shawl I made (she will cherish more than any one).

My therapist who has mothered me, fathered me, taught me to mother MY children by her example, and loves me in a special way - I will NOT call, but I'll tell her tomorrow how much I value her lovingkindness and mentorship.

Therapy doc who keeps pointing me in the right direction - this email to say thanks for sharing your wisdom with us - your children are blessed.

AND ME? I'm sending myself to the spa for a rubdown, a bake in some clay, a facial, new nails, red toes and white wine!!! I'm celebrating learning motherhood this year. Have a great one!!!
therapydoc said…
Thanks Wendy. I'm always learning from my readers. Have a great one.
Syd said…
I am planning to spend Mother's Day with my wife's parents and also a part of the day visiting some elderly parents of a good friend. I have come to love those people. And you are so right: you only have one mother who loves unconditionally.
Anonymous said…
I feel so moved by your post and the comments here. Thank you. I’ve learning a lot from your blog and am just deeply grateful. Assertiveness. Interpersonal skills. More…

How I feel about mother’s day: I hope to have a better attitude this year about my own mother but as a mother myself I always feel claustrophobic and this seems an especially cruel holiday in which I am culturally mandated to be made even more closed in. I feel like it was made to taunt me and its horrible to have to fake it for my son.
therapydoc said…
Yeah, Anon, I know.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you - the permanence of tattoos freaks me out personally because I am extremely indecisive!

I was wondering if you watch the HBO show In Treatment? It focuses on psychotherapy and I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the program if you've seen it. A future post maybe?
Have a great mother's day!
Anonymous said…
hi - i've been reading your blog for a long time and it's helped me so much. i am so grateful that you take the time to write such thoughtful posts. i am in therapy myself, and my therapist made me feel a little uncomfortable today. i wanted to ask your opinion on it and see if i should say something or let it slide. is there a place where i can email you?
Margo said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
therapydoc said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margo said…
I called YOUR mother after reading this because she's just so darned cute. Spoke to your dad instead, who wasn't half bad. Um, one more thing...can this count as your Mother's Day card? You know we don't really DO this holiday...
therapydoc said…
Sure. It counts. 100%
Batya said…
great post
I spoke to mine last night. Planning on visiting this summer, must coordinate with my sister.

I have no idea if I'm still 5'3", but I calculate what I should weigh according to it.
Retriever said…
Lovely post. You do such a great job. Bittersweet for me. My mom dead three years. I tried to do the phone thing when she was alive (3000 miles away and paraplegic so she couldn't travel here, and I couldn't afford to go there) but she was almost always ill, and never with it. I would chatter at her about the kids and she would be a little interested then fade out.

I always believed all that stuff about Honor thy father and mother, and just tried to fuss, call, send presents. But we didn't matter to her. Not ever. After my dad died she looked at us kids and said "I have no reason to live, so I hope I die quickly to be with him in Heaven." We refrained from saying "What about us?" She died 3 months after him.

I don't like Mother's Day in my own family here and now. My kids used to get made to make cute things in school, but they do nothing now. Sometimes they bully my husband to get some impulse item at Costco and a chocolate cake they want. I think I have been a pretty devoted mom, but my kids have turned out somewhat disappointingly. So much sorrow, so much illness, so much wasted potential (tho thank God no addiction or teen pregnancy as yet)
therapydoc said…
We do not talk about weight much on this blog. Noticed? Miss you Muse. Gotta' visit.
therapydoc said…
Oh, TRIEVE. Who knew? I'm so sorry. We try to whip them all into shape and it doesn't work! Happy MD anyway. And blank Hallmark, right? What a concept. On the other hand. What a concept! Makes us think about all of it. Some of us.
Tempy said…
Thanks for your comment...but no...I don't really know that...
Mark said…
Good post! Sounds like you and your Mom have a good relationship and that she is still very sharp. Yes, picking up the phone and calling is so easy to do, yet you would think that phone weighed a hundred pounds, for we do not call as often as we should. Happy Mothers day to you and to all Mom's.
Battle Weary said…
I have so many thoughts on this...the only one I can really manage to express coherently is... I hate this holiday. It's a painful one for many, many reasons.

I am now thinking this was not the best time for me to express that. I have an exam in 10 minutes and am crying. Great.
blognut said…
Had to come back to see what everyone else had to say.

#1 - I am deciding to be okay with Mother's Day. #2 - I'm also deciding not to see my mom, which is how I accomplish #1.
Lou said…
I thought I was the only mother who dreaded this holiday..hate it, in fact. The comments have made me feel a whole lot better.
(oh yeah, the post was pretty good too;)
Lisa said…
I have a mom who was a fantastic nurturer, but now at 70, is in that "learned helplessness" role. It's a role I'm not fond of, and I find myself being snide with her when she starts acting dependent, when she need not. Today being Mother's Day, I actually took the chance to talk to her about this. She plays the "are you mad at me" and "quit barking at me". Anyway, she deserves to know that I am not ready or willing to watch her act 10 years older than she is. Afterwards, I decided that I AM going to help caretake by doing her grocery shopping and buying and making her more healthy foods. (She's diabetic and has refused to eat right.) That is what I am willing to do for her. Because, yes, I only have one mother. My father has been dead for 7 years. On his last Father's day alive, I called him. He didn't remember. He died the next month. I'd give anything to be able to pick up that phone and hear his voice. And I dread the day it happens with my mom. So imperfect and all, I only have one. And I'll miss her when she's gone.
therapydoc said…
Beautiful, Lisa.
blogbehave said…
Mother's (and fathers) are complicated business. Everyone must decide their own comfort level for themselves and this is not an easy matter for many. Doesn't lend itself to compact euphamisms or maxims. Power packed post, Therapydoc. Happy Mother's Day to you.
Anonymous said…
RE: "gave a child away". for the record, the current PC term is "placed a child for adoption". this language preserves the dignity of both the child and the woman who gave birth to that child. there are lots of ways to toss away a kid (including trying to raise that kid in poverty, abuse, etc). placing a child in the arms/home of a loving family takes courage. please, let's honor those mothers too, k?
Battle Weary said…
For anonymous on May 11 at 2:40 AM...
Sometimes mothers actually give a child away...not through adoption. My mother gave me to her Aunt when I was 7 days old. She made sure to visit often enough for my Great Aunt to not be able to claim I was abandoned. At 3 years old, she removed me from my Great Aunt's home permanently. I only saw my Great Aunt twice after that...she died when I was 27.
therapydoc said…
Thanks, BW.

But to Anon, sorry. I'll take ten lashes with the wet noodle, rely on my readers to keep me straight. I agree whole-heartedly and celebrate those who place their child up for adoption, a very viable, logical alternative to abortion.

And it can hurt, let's not deny it. Here's what I wrote about JUNO, the movie.
Anonymous said…
I so enjoy your complicated thoughts. *shrug* then again, maybe it's more your complex soul I'm relating to.
therapydoc said…
Thanks, CK. But I'm not so complicated. Seriously.
Amy said…
Excellent post.
I think most of the greeting card holidays are irritating because they turn over rocks in your psyche that scorpions hide beneath. This one is particularly odious (as a woman) - because it hits on a few different levels.
Why is it that we need to choose This Particular Day to call mom when we choose not to on all the other days of the year (except perhaps her birthday)? Thanks, Hallmark.
I think with some parents, it's like trying to be friends with an ex-lover / ex-spouse. You have to "get over" all the stuff about your relationship that made you feel crazy (or scared) before you attempt being friends.
For all the codependent control-freakiness mom gifted me with, I know I also got my creativity and stubborness from her as well.
It's this same stubborness that still divides us to this day.
Tanya said…
Nice post. I need to remind myself that I have only one mother. She's the parallel to the Jewish Mom: She's a Southern Catholic Mom.
All Rileyed Up said…
Great post, as always. This past mothers day, my 60+ mother in law was the only one willing to go body surfing in the waves with my teenage niece while my two sisters in law and I wondered, where does mom get all that energy?
therapydoc said…
Heaven sent. How the human body's supposed to be, I think, Ril.
KT said…
I enjoyed reading about this interaction with your mother, and her point is well taken - that you should appreciate the time that you have with your parents because it is a unique and special relationship.

I have to express a beef about the statement itself, however: my partner and I have two beautiful children and they have two mothers. I do hope that we have the kind of relationships with them when they are adults that allows us to talk openly about what we mean to each other's lives.
therapydoc said…
KT, I was waiting (hoping) someone would bring this up. Of course she's wrong if the statement is read as a generalization, as in ONE only has one mother.

But she's right in that I personally only get one. And we could go on for hours about this, you bet.

Nice post, deep truth, we do only have one...
isabella mori said…
oh boy, did i ever miss the boat here. this was four weeks ago! thanks for the reference to my father's day post!

but maybe it's just right that i should read it now. my mother is making the transition to old-old age, which is - well, a new thing to watch (from afar - she's in germany, i'm in canada, which adds a whole other set of interestingnesses). at the same time, my father-in-law is going through a similar process.

amy made an excellent comment: it's like with ex-lovers. or sometimes maybe even like hutu and tutsi living in the same village again after the horrible massacres. peaceful communication is hard, but it's never wrong.
Wait. What? said…
Ah mothers. I should write I suppose on this as I have much I need to learn about myself and my relationship with my own mother is not, normal.

Yet as a mother I find I expect my children, my boys to be more than I was as a child, to their parent.
Strange this thing, these thoughts.

And then again, maybe its just me that is strange!

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