Mothers-and-Daughters intrigue me, and I write about this richly complex relationship in multiple storylines throughout my Milford-Haven Novels. There’s Sally’s “Mama”—maddeningly intuitive about her daughter. There’s Miranda’s mother “Very”—elegant, demanding, alternatively insightful and obtuse. In What the Heart Knows, we get glimpses of how these key relationships have shaped the character of the protagonist and her good friend.
Appreciation for Mother-love seems to have stages. Speaking from the perspective of a daughter, I remember the unmistakable quality of a childhood where I was safe and loved, as though I lived in a bubble and walked on clouds. At that point, Mommy was indispensable, some-thing I trusted the way I trust the presence of air. Of course Mommy would always be there. Duh!
I also remember the long “Oh, Mom!” chapter of life. Aside from her name change, Mom was now somehow almost always wrong. Her suggestion about my school project, what I should wear, or how I should deal with a bully were never as good as my ideas. Furthermore, she had a nasty habit of embarrassing me in front of her friends (bad) or my friends (worse.)
The day this changed resides in my memory like a favorite painting hanging on my living room wall. Mom was coming to visit, and I’d brought my apartment to a fine polish in her honor. I did feel guilty that anticipation of her stay with me was fraught with anxiety. Why? I asked myself. Because she never listens. So then I asked myself an even more important question: Do I listen to her? No! I realized. So I promised myself that during this visit I would listen.
When my beautiful mother arrived, I opened my front door and we hugged. A moment later, she flung open my guest closet and declared: “You have no hangers. You obviously don’t want me to stay with you.”
A month, or a year, earlier, this would’ve been enough to spark the first of many arguments. This time, since I actually heard her, I said “I’ll be right back.” An hour later, I was back with an armload of new hangers. She was stunned. Of course she was stunned, since her daughter hadn’t listened to her in years, and now suddenly had actually heard something she said. It took a couple of days for her to lower her voice to a normal level. She’d had to shout at me for so long, she had to get used to this new set of ears I’d apparently grown.
I can trace the spectacular relationship I now have with my mother to that day, that moment at the closet door, the complaint that turned into a major insight. What shocked me was that all that time, it had been within my power to transform the relationship. She was never the problem. It was always me. It was I who’d stopped listening.
This year, Mother’s Day was a total delight. My parents, my husband and myfabulous step-daughter with her precious family all came for brunch. The three-year-old, the thirty-year-old, and me—we all agreed on what was most fun about the day. Listening to Mom.
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