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  • Jane Leder

To Mom With Apologies

My mother age 91


I wish you were here so I could make these apologies in person.  But as you know, you’ve been dead for almost 9 years now.  Remember: You died first, just 3+ weeks before dad.  That July was not a good month.

But with Mother’s Day this Sunday, I figured there would be no better time to own up to a few misjudgments/extreme reactions/downright fool hardy behavior—mine, not yours.  (Well, maybe a tad yours, but this isn’t the time or the place to bring that up.)

And that brings me to my first apology:  I sneaked out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night and wrote about the “escapade” in my diary which I stupidly left on my desk.  You were cleaning my bedroom and saw the diary there, unlocked.  So like any curious mother, you read it.  My punishment?  I was grounded for six weeks (six weeks!) and had my phone privileges taken away.  I was sixteen.  Forced to end my life as I knew it made me pretty damn upset.  So upset that I don’t think I spoke to you for most of those six weeks—and not much after that.  I’d be damned if I was going to share one tidbit of my life with you.

You told me years later that my rejection sent you to a psychiatrist.  I can’t remember if I felt remorse then . . . probably not.  And even a year or so before your death, we argued whether you were in your rights to read my private diary.  You hung on to your conviction that, yes, as a mother you had a right to know.  And I refused to admit that you had cause for concern and good reason to sock it to me after you invaded my privacy.

Well, now that I’ve been a mother for more years than I care to divulge, I get it: I understand how much we want to protect our kids and, if necessary, lay down the law to show that we mean business.  I can write a list as long as this protracted presidential primary season of all the times I missed the boat and failed to hold the line with my son, your grandson.  (Just so you know: he turned out well despite my lapses in judgment.  You’d be proud of the man he’s become.)

Apology #2:  You were so damn organized.  Every morning you stood at the kitchen counter in your long, cotton nightgown and wrote the day’s “To Do” list in perfect script.  One by one, you checked off each item as the day wore on.  And before the day was over, you were already planning for the next.  Always one foot in the future.

Here’s the thing: Up until ten years ago, I was just like you.  I was determined to complete every damn item on my list.  I felt like a failure when I came up short.  And, like you, I often missed the present because I was so focused on tomorrow.

But I think I get it now: You operated from a false sense of control.  You thought you could prepare for all the bad stuff in life and somehow avoid it, step over it.  It was all an attempt at self-protection.  But the disappointments, the tragedies happened, anyway. Your mother-in-law never really accepted you.  Friends committed slights you never forgave.  Your son took his own life.

But here’s the thing: You got the memo before you passed away.  You realized in that last year or two that there was not a damn thing you could do to stop the steady march toward death.  You enjoyed the beauty around you.  You opened your heart wide to friends and family.  You stopped wearing a bra!

Apology #3:   I forgive you for always being on a diet and modeling a bad body image that still trips me up even today.  There was Weight Watchers and the grapefruit diet and the macrobiotic diet, too.  The freezer and kitchen cabinets were filled with low sugar, low fat, low taste foods.  Yet it was a sure bet that you’d sneak into the kitchen late at night and eat all the good stuff.

You wore a girdle.  (Now, in all fairness, you did have your stomach sliced not once but twice: first, for a hysterectomy; second, to remove a gall bladder.)  But I modeled your sense of undergarment fashion and wore a damn panty girdle all through high school and into college.

I’m not sure when or why you started to feel fat.  Your legs were short but muscular.  You had not butt to speak of.  Okay, so your boobs were large and out of proportion to a short woman barely 5 feet tall.  And you didn’t have a curvy waistline like, say, any of those World War II pin ups that men like your husband taped to the insides of their tents or lockers.

But, hey, you were strong, athletic and in good health.  You could play a mean game of tennis and, when you were younger, you danced with Martha Graham and dove for the swim team.

And when you were ill and dying, that extra fat you so loathed served you well.  It gave you strength and prevented you from disintegrating into nothing but skin and bones.  You looked beautiful, mom, in your purple silk pajamas, lying there with the sun daintily bouncing off of those pjs, red nail polish still on your fingers.

You were lovely in life and in death.

P.S.  Sorry if I teased you about one of your first serious suitors.  I apologize for laughing every time you told the story about your two younger brothers hiding behind the curtains and then surprising both you and the young gentleman who had come courting.  It did seem as if you cared deeply for him and perhaps had dreams of marrying him.  But, mom, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you never married the guy.  Pinchas Rosembaum was not a name I could have carried with pride—only extreme embarrassment.  (I had a hard enough time with the middle name of Ida.)