May 2006

Two Perspectives on Mother's Day

May 14, 2006 10:04

I wish to send a "Happy Mother's Day" greeting to two groups. First to the moms out there who struggle to succeed at this tough job. The L.A. Daily News published an essay of mine today on the perils of being a mother - here's the site if you'd like to check it out. I'm sure all the moms will nod their heads and say, "Yup - that's it."

The second greeting I want to send out is to people who've lost their mothers and struggle with this holiday. Again, I'd like to use one of my essays to augment my greeting. This was published eight years ago - one of my early pub credits, so the writing isn't stellar, but I think the message is as strong as ever, and one I want to get across. If you haven't lost your mother, but have a friend who has, please think of them on this day (heck, make a copy of this essay and send it to them). It can be a big challenge.


It’s an annual malady, as predictable as the blooming flowers and lengthening days. Irritation masks the pain in my heart as I walk past the card section of a drugstore, where “Happy Mother’s Day” has taken up the space previously occupied by “Happy Easter/Passover.” The colorful advertisements for jewelry stores, chocolate shops and florists sting me. “Remember everything Mom did for you - now’s the time to thank that special woman!”

I lost my mother seven years ago. It was sudden, it was difficult. I struggled through the numbness, followed by tears and anger, grief tainting my day for months. Life moved on, and I learned to deal with my loss. But Mother’s Day took me by surprise.

I didn’t think twice about going to church on Mother’s Day last year. So much time had passed since her death, I didn’t think I’d feel too emotional. During the sermon, however, the priest began to read a children’s story of the lifetime bond of love between a mother and her child. I felt a stab of pain and then a deeper contraction in my heart. “Oh no, I’m going to cry,” I thought, and then to my mortification, big tears slid down my cheeks.

I felt a Big Cry coming on, the kind that anyone who has lost a loved one understands. It could be five years after their death, it could be a small, sentimental detail, but when something triggers the pain, it roars over you like their death was yesterday. I did everything I could to keep the Big Cry at bay; I bit my lip, I dug my fingernails into my palms, I thought of everything about Mom that had irritated me, but the thoughts were pebbles in my ocean of reborn grief. My mother was dead; she was never coming back. This day, dedicated to mothers, drove the loss in like a dagger into my heart. As the tears flowed faster, I struggled up and out of the church. In the private space of my car, I let it all out. It’s “I Lost My Mother” Day.

Mother’s Day hurts. It’s like hearing people talk about a party to which I’m not invited. I find myself getting moody two weeks before the event, something inside me curling up into a tight, hard ball that comes off as a sour attitude to observers. I make plans for That Day, that don’t require acknowledgement of the holiday. I slip up occasionally - after an evening movie, my husband and I grab a quick bite in a restaurant that has decorations up, or family groups still eating with Mom, flushed and smiling, at the place of honor. I look the other way and comment to my husband that I’m not as hungry as I thought I was.

“Oh, but you haven’t really lost her,” well-meaning people try to tell me. “Her spirit is with you.”

I’m sorry, sometimes I just want more than her spirit. “I’ve lost my mother,” I want to scream to all the people at church, at restaurants, Mom by their side. “Be glad you have her,” I feel like snapping at my friends, when they gripe about their mothers.

I know I’m not the only one to suffer on Mother’s Day. For many, the day is a reminder that their mothers are sick, dying or far away. Other people don’t have a positive relationship with their mother, and years of hurt and misunderstandings separate the two of them. The hype of Mother’s Day only fuels the bitterness.

I spoke with one of my brothers on Mother’s Day this past year. It comforted me to talk to someone who shared the same memories.

“Isn’t it time for others to start acknowledging those who suffer on this day?” I asked him.

“Hallmark would never go for it,” he said. “How much money would they make on a card that says, ‘You’re dead so I can’t send this, but Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Or else,” I added, “‘I’m still angry at you but we’re not communicating so I can’t tell you how I feel on this day.”

“Hey, remember how Mom used to send us a card for every holiday, even Halloween and Fourth of July?”

“Yeah and she used to write the word “love” on a piece of paper and slip it in whenever she sent me a package. She was afraid to write anything else, since the post office charges you more when you include a letter in a package,” I said.

We laughed, the memories soothing my hurt.

Months later, as I write this, a child grows inside me, my first. It is a shock to realize that by Mother’s Day, I will be a mother. And it comforts me: now I can share something with my mother, that link of life that we have both been privileged to carry on. My child will grow up in my protective embrace and in his adult years, he will hold some of the same memories of “mom” that I do. Some memories will make him smile, others will make him grimace or groan, but something deep and timeless in him will revere the woman who gave him life.

© 1999 Terez Rose

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Joshua and the Symphony Snobs

May 6, 2006 06:11

I noticed them casting glances my way last Sunday afternoon—two elegantly dressed women, sitting in the row in front of me in Davies Hall. In ten minutes, Joshua Bell would be conducting and performing with the San Francisco Symphony. I couldn’t wait. I’d used the upgrade certificate that came with my season subscription, which gave me a brilliant seat—twelfth row, dead center. Perfect for a soloist and the day’s smaller, stringed orchestra.

I noted immediately that this section of the symphony hall hosted a more posh clientele. Although I wasn’t attired in the season’s latest and greatest (not even last year’s season or the spring before that, come to think of it), I did have a classy silk wrap in muted shades of lavender, beige and gold, artfully draped over my shoulders in a European style. I knew my classical music etiquette; I spoke French and read literary fiction—I could hold my own here amid the blue-bloods.

The two women glanced back at me again, followed by an exchanged whisper. A mother and her adult daughter, I surmised. The elder was your stereotypical Symphony Matriarch—wearing a faded yet still elegant Chanel suit, attractive in a blurred, ravaged sort of way. Face powder partially camouflaged her age spots and web of wrinkles. She wore heavy earrings that dragged her earlobes down, but nonetheless proclaimed their worth as fine heirloom jewelry.

Then, to my surprise, the women turned to me. “Excuse me,” the daughter, a younger, less blurred copy of her mother said in an accusing tone, “are you, by any chance, wearing… perfume?” Their noses were wrinkled, their faces wary, as if the issue were dog crap on my shoe and I might very well pluck the aforementioned shoe off and wave it in their faces.

I’d had that disdainful look directed toward me before, but for different reasons—being intoxicated; underdressed; bleating like a sheep in a library; shrieking too loudly with laughter at a restaurant. Then, I deserved the vitriol. Now, I didn’t. The question rendered me speechless for a moment. I considered telling them no. After all, I’d only dabbed on the tiniest amount of a mild floral scent, simply to cover up my sweaty smell after a forty-five minute walk through San Francisco. But I’m a lousy liar, and the younger woman, confronting me with her canny gaze, somehow knew it as well.

“Well,” I replied, summoning up what dignity I could, “I put some on quite a while ago…”

The two women exchanged triumphant expressions. “It’s her,” the elderly woman said with a decisive nod.

I spluttered for a reply. “Really, I’m hard pressed to believe you can smell it.”

“She has allergies,” the daughter said, gesturing to the other woman. “She’s VERY sensitive.” She then shot me a glance that told me, had I been a regular patron here in the rarified ranks of premier orchestra, I would have known that it was SO un-PC to wear fragrances to their section of the symphony. Then, mystery solved, villain named, they dropped their interest in me, turning back in their seats to face the stage.

I sat there and seethed with indignation while conversations (and other people’s perfumes) swirled around me like incense. Suddenly, the people nearby seemed so snobbish, so clichéd, like something out of a grade B movie script. Bunny and Meredith’s trip to Paris was wonderful, although the restaurant’s wine list started at $300.00 and went up to the thousands. Meanwhile, the Addingtons’ favorite restaurant was closed that day, creating a dreadful nuisance in finding the right sort of lunch before the symphony. When rows of seats separated these dear friends, wide eyes, theatrical waves and blown kisses sufficed for greetings. My only consolation was that soon the lights dimmed and they all had to clam up. *

The music began. The view and sound from my seat, I must confess, was divine. Joshua Bell was in his prime, first conducting/performing Mozart’s Divertimento in D major and then soloing/conducting Mozart’s violin concerto no. 5 in A major. I’d seen him in recital at Davies Hall a few months earlier, which had struck me as well done, but oddly anti-climactic. But, then again, I was in the inferior, nose-bleed section of the first tier, where common folk such as myself normally sit. Whether it was the program or the seating, his performance this time around was stellar. Along with Mozart’s Divertimento and violin concerto, Joshua conducted and performed Tchaikovsky’s sextet, Souvenir de Florence, which utilized three musicians per part. This eighteen-member ensemble was, in my mind, an ideal arrangement for watching Joshua. He was soloist but not. He was conductor but not. His signature swaying and grand flourishes seemed right in place with the set up, communicating first to the cellists, then the violinists, and then back over to the lower voices. The musicians seemed to feed off his energy, and in turn, provide him with even more. It was electric, infectious. The audience ate it all up, leaping to their feet for a rousing ovation when they’d finished. Even the snobs were cheering wildly.

A great seat, a wonderful concert. And as for that other issue—well, I have a confession to make. During intermission, I stepped away from the crowd to use a less-frequented ladies’ room. There, I reached into my clunky bag and pulled out the little vial of the perfume I’d used to freshen my sweatiness. And I put on more. Lots more. If you’re going to be accused for something, I always say, might as well give it your all. Then, thus fortified and cheered, I returned to my seat for the second half.

It was a great show, indeed.

* * *

*Author’s note: Lest you find me harsh and unsympathetic to those stalwart financial supporters of the symphony (AKA symphony snobs), please note a paragraph I’d originally included:

“I know I shouldn’t be too hard on them. Rich people spend lots of money, and better that the arts should profit from it than having it be squandered on some other venture or idiotic hobby. For all I knew, those people around me were the ones listed in the playbill as having given $100,000.00 in one year to the symphony. These kind of patrons, along with the several dozen who annually give between $25,000.00 and $90,000.00, are the backbone of the symphony. Appreciating music the way I do is fine. Buying a season subscription and thus supporting classical music is fine. But money—big money—talks.”

Then I looked at my excessive word count and decided, nah, screw defending those stalwart financial supporters of the symphony. They’ll just have to get their own blogs.

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