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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom! - Beth Helms

I am writing this on March 25, which is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 74 years old. It’s hard for me to imagine her at that age, because she was perennially youthful—she rode horses and drove a truck and had scorching political views on a variety of subjects. She would not have been a kindly and sweet seventy-two year old. She would never have knitted anything. I think of my mother on this date every year because my mother loved birthdays. Her own in particular. So every March 25 I choke down a piece of cake and blow out a candle in her honor. And then I apologize. Fervently.


My first novel, Dervishes, published earlier this month, features a fairly typical and estranged relationship between a mother and an adolescent daughter—and it in no small part reflects some of the many years I spent torturing my own mother. She, no doubt, spent those same years trying not to bludgeon me to death, (or perhaps puzzling out how to get away with it). I thoroughly deserved it.

While I’m apologizing, I often remember something my mother used to say to me through gritted teeth, with her fists clenched, white-knuckled, at her sides:

“I hope,” she would say, “I just hope… I can only hope…no PRAY, I PRAY….that when you grow up you have a daughter just like you.”

And so, life being what it is (by which I mean ironic) my mother has had the last laugh—and it’s a howler. Because for some mysterious, but undeniably poetic, reason, there are now, living in my house three teenage stepchildren. All girls. All, as I mentioned, teenagers.

(By the way, it was years before I realized that this sentence of my mother’s was not an original sentiment. That cave women grunted this out to cave-girls when they returned with the first fire’s ash smeared smuttily on their eyelids, wanting to take the wheel out past nine and dragging in idiotic cave-boys with their loin-cloths hanging around down their knees.)

At the time I was writing Dervishes, these little people were still girls: adorable, adoring—they liked bunny rabbits and lightening bugs and bedtime stories. They liked ME.

In other words, they hadn’t yet hit puberty. But sometime around the time Dervishes was finished and I emerged from my office feeling as though I’d just given birth to an elephant, and was facing the prospect of ‘what next’?, a switch was flipped. Actually two had flipped while I was buried in my office and then, bingo, the last one went. Seemingly overnight. Suddenly, I was living with three stomping, eye-rolling, jaded young women with cell phones welded to their ears, their fingers calloused from texting, each one of them hard done by and substantially less than enamored of the adults they are forced, unfairly, to coexist with.

And so, while I’ll never know how my mother pulled this off, I really do have to congratulate her…and I know that somewhere, she is having one hell of a laugh. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Now I’m going back inside my office…I’ll be out when they all hit eighteen.

Beth

8 comments:

Lee Hyat said...

Beth, your book sounds great and I'm looking forward to reading it!
I didn't have a 'cozy' relationship with my mother though I loved her as dearly as she did me. I miss her terribly. I was not, and am not, an easy person to live with and I've been waiting for my almost 14 y/o to show signs of becoming as difficult to deal with as I used to be. I have a feeling it'll happen when I least expect it...
Thanks for joining us today!

Gigi said...

HI Beth,
The books sounds wonderful. I am putting it on my list.
I wound up with two daughters ages 21 and 17 now. They both still roll there eyes at me and my youngest is a champion text messenger. Thank goodness I got her the unlimited plan for her phone.

I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel of this puberty thing. Give a big, Yea!

I thought what you said about the teenage cave girls and their moms. That was a hoot.

Pat Cochran said...

I'm the mother of 2 boys and 2 girls,
and the grandmother of almost 10,
I'm here to say that it's not just
the girls! Boys have ways all their
own of putting the screws to their
parents!! God bless all parents!!!

Pat Cochran

Maureen said...

It is the mother's curse and when I wished it upon my teenaged daughter she replied that she would never allow her daughter to behave like this.

Cherie said...

Hi Beth,

I happened upon your book in my local bookstore in Evanston, Illinois. It was one of those serendipitous findings, jumping off the shelf at me. I just finished it last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Your writing is crystalline and magnificent. I can't wait to see more from you!
Cherie Duve

timfahey said...

Hi Beth,
I didn't have girls. Two boys that have their way of challenging me. But at the end of the day they are just gamers. BTW. Are you the Beth Helms that worked in DC back in the early 90s?
Tim Fahey
timfahey@mac.com

Christy said...

Beth Helms, Wow your book look great...how exciting. I was searching for a book for my daughter, and somehow came across something with a link, and saw your name. I clicked out of curiosity, and voila, there you were. So, I Google searched you, and came across this site. Anyway, it's been a long time and out of curiosity and support, I am going to get your book. I think the last time we saw each other was our HS reunion; and, also, I remember that our dad's knew each other when we were in HS. OK, well I hope you are fantastic; and, if you ever want to catch up, definitely email me, as I'd love to hear from you. I'm out in CA. klein_christy@yahoo.com (fullarton) Otherwise, best wishes for much success. ~Christy

Christy said...

Beth Helms, Wow your book look great...how exciting. I was searching for a book for my daughter, and somehow came across something with a link, and saw your name. I clicked out of curiosity, and voila, there you were. So, I Google searched you, and came across this site. Anyway, it's been a long time and out of curiosity and support, I am going to get your book. I think the last time we saw each other was our HS reunion; and, also, I remember that our dad's knew each other when we were in HS. OK, well I hope you are fantastic; and, if you ever want to catch up, definitely email me, as I'd love to hear from you. I'm out in CA. klein_christy@yahoo.com (fullarton) Otherwise, best wishes for much success. ~Christy