* Notes on the untold ‘My Mother’s Story’ by Cheryl Mullen*
After reading for what seemed like forever, my mother turned over the last page of her story, the one I wrote so carefully for this project. She looked hard at me and said, “I feel sorry for the poor soul who dies and isn’t around to defend herself when her well-intentioned offspring tries to write something like this.”
Ouch! Talk about taking the wind out of my sails. Then again, I always knew the scene would play out like this. Yes, my mother vetoed the story. My little labour of love, the salute to her that I crafted as a truthful and purposefully positive account of her life as a real survivor. My mother, the warrior maiden!
What an intense exercise it had been for me to pare down her story. The official draft read like a shadow of its former self as I compared the final three edited pages with my first attempt at writing, a twelve page emotional muddle. My little three pager made me proud. Aside from showing it to my mother for the purpose of getting her permission to take the story to publication, I hoped that she would be proud that I managed to tell her story, this celebration of Enid!
Well, obviously, her story won’t be told. Not in my Mother’s lifetime. Can you spell ‘lawsuit’?
It’s taken me a bit of time to fully understand why my mother felt the way she did. The great thing about her ‘hush’ order was that it motivated me to talk to other actress-daughter-writers about their mothers’ reaction to the project . It didn’t take many conversations to discover that my mother’s negative response was not particularly unique. With all the best intentions, other women had started the project and for all sorts of reasons could not continue to take their writing to the next step.
Even though the public project ended for me after my mother read her story, I felt a nagging desire to share my experience with the writing group. I’ll call the next bit, my little theory about ‘Receptive Mothers versus Resistant Mothers’; my final attempt to offer some kind of contribution to the project.
In order to concoct my theory, I re-read the compilation of stories that were proposed for the book ‘My Mother’s Story’. I noted a distinct shared characteristic about the Mother subjects. In most cases, the mothers were at a personal peace with themselves, no matter what life dished out to them. The obstacles or demons that the mothers had to face were often daunting, especially in light of the times in which they lived. Those mid 20th Century years, when women did what they had to do often without the choices we have as women today. Mothers faced many challenges: of being seen but often not heard; of limited educational, marital and career choices; of stoically
dealing with unforeseen hardships – wars, divorce, widowhood. From my perspective, yesterday’s society placed intense pressure on the women to live up to the ‘White Picket Fence, Nuclear Family’ ideal. Through most stories, I sensed that many of the mothers were forced to ‘cover the cracks’, that ‘public laundry’ was never aired. Those years before the ‘me’ generation, that code of privacy was part of being a lady.
I made note that none of the Mothers’ stories were ‘tied in a nice bow’ but each woman in her way, had achieved the ‘full circle’. Her accomplishments over-powered her regrets and in that light, each mother’s life was presented to the world. The daughter chose careful words to celebrate her mother, whether she still lived or was sadly lost along the way. Each story was a heart felt tribute no matter the angle. There’s great satisfaction to set the words in print, to accept and find peace in ‘what is…’
Then, there are the other mothers, like mine. The mothers who aren’t finished their ‘acceptance quest’ yet and may never be anywhere near the peaceful zone. This observation is neither a judgment about them on my behalf, nor a shortcoming on theirs. It is the other version of ‘what is’ and simply the way the some of our mothers are built.
My mother cries out, “I’m not done, yet.”and “Don’t speak for me, please!” As her daughter, I work to accept my mother for the person she is, this fighter. Ironically, the stuff that frustrates me most about her is the reason I admire her so much. My mother, the undone mom, the one that shakes her fist at time’s passage and its limitations. This complicated, fierce female, my mother. The ‘other’ kind.
As I said before, I am not alone. I cherish the conversation I had with the actress-daughter who said, “I can’t begin to tell my mother’s story until she dies. Then, I am free to witness her time here.”
That’s a statement I can live with. Because of working on ‘My Mother’s Story’, I now have a head start. When the time comes for me to witness her time…and believe me, I don’t even want to think about ‘that time’…at least my mother’s story is written and tucked away.
As a final thought, I posed a question to myself. I am now the mother of three grown children.
If one of my offspring was brave enough to write her ‘Mother’s Story’, what kind of a mother subject would I be?