Sunday, May 10, 2015


Honoring mothers can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks, Romans and early Christians. Anna Jarvis, who remained unmarried and childless her entire life, organized the first official Mother’s Day at a Methodist church in Virginia in 1908. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. It gets more complicated than that for Ms. Jarvis, but the end result is that today, we think long and hard about our mothers.
My own mother did not fall into the traditional role I would have preferred. She was unusual given her era, extremely competent in many ways and hopelessly inadequate in others. She was highly educated with a graduate degree when most people in this country didn’t finish high school. She had strong opinions and few women friends. When my father was unable to take time off, she packed up the VW bug and drove my sister and me 3000 miles and 5 days across country to visit relatives. We would stay for 2 days, she would miss my dad and we would drive back. She earned her own money and spent it mostly on her children and, eventually, grandchildren. She threw infrequent birthday parties but when she did they were incredible with water relays, paper lanterns strung across clotheslines, barbequed hotdogs and store bought cake. Everyone in my class, friend or not, was invited because she couldn’t bear to think a child’s feelings might be hurt.
For decades she taught science at Whaley Junior High School in Compton when the Crips and the Bloods staked claims in their neighborhoods, teachers locked their doors and security guards walked the campus. My pencil-thin mother, a pale blonde with eyes lighter than aquamarines, outlawed all profanity in her classroom and demanded students respect one another, never had a discipline issue. She boycotted grapes and lettuce when Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers picketed for a living wage; she loved animals and couldn’t stay mad overnight. She refused to help with homework or projects, claiming that if we didn’t know how to do it we hadn’t been listening in class.
She was a terrible cook. The brownies and chocolate chip cookies created by television mothers never materialized at our house. For breakfast, we ate toast dunked into coffee as early as elementary school. We bought lunch at school and ate out often. Even today, I can’t pass a Taco Bell or Carl’s Junior without thinking of my mother.
She waffled on bedtimes, never wondered if we were stimulated, never checked on homework or if we washed behind our ears, threw us out of the house early on weekends telling us fresh air, sunshine and exercise would cure all ailments Needless to say we became voracious television watchers during a time when TV children were self-actualized role models.
She was not the best of mothers and certainly not the worst. She didn’t drink, smoke or use profanity. She loved my father, her daughters and her pets, in that order. She was completely loyal, utterly reliable and always appropriate. She would admonish and lecture if we did something stupid, but she would always listen and  help. Would that all of our children be so lucky. Rest in peace, Mom. 

Readers often ask me if the mother characters in my books are autobiographical. Of course, they are, each and every time. The first excerpt of Birthright, a story of a mother who doesn't want to be found, is posted here on this blog and on my Facebook author page.

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