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.