Motherhood: a legacy of love
There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good, she was very very good
And when she was bad, she was horrid.
by Marion L. Dearing
"When you grow up, I hope you have a little girl who talks to you just like you talk to me." Those portentous words were spoken to me by my mother after a particularly obstreperous retort from my teenage mouth. After a few predictable years of occasional sass and smart talk, I matured into a daughter with pretty respectable credentials, able to recognize my mother's gifts, taking delight in our love, friendship, and remarkable closeness.
Approximately twenty-eight years after my mother's "curse," my own daughter Lindsay rang my ears with a full-blown example of adolescent smart mouth. Furious with me about something instantly forgotten, she stormed off to bed after making sure I understood how keenly she looked forward to moving out for college in a few years. While resisting her verbal venom, I remembered Mother's words and wondered anew about her amazing talents. Had she in her maternal omnipotence somehow shaped this moment to make her point in a dramatic and memorable way?
Now that Lindsay has escaped the episodic and temporary insanity inherent in the teenage years, she has grown into a young woman with a solid core of goodness, free from shallow sentimentality. My recent birthday brought a card from her, on which she added the following note: "You are a great friend, Mom, and I don't know what I would do without you. I love you."
In many ways, I still don't know what to do without my mother, dead now for three years, taken by lung cancer while ravaged by Alzheimer's disease. When we learned several years before from a neurologist that her mental health was beginning to disintegrate, she and I each determined separate but connected courses of action. I would take charge of her well-being in whatever ways possible; and she, without explicit articulation but with an attitude of complete faith, turned herself over to my care. Just as I trusted her completely at the beginning of my life, so did she trust me near the end of hers. That rare form of limitless maternal love that she gave-and taught-to me is part of her irreplaceable legacy.
How wise was my mother? Wise enough to realize, even in her long-ago irritation, that her "curse" was also a blessing. Climbing out of those random pits of teenage angst, I quickly grew in the relationship with my mother from back-talk to respect and ready affection. My daughter has done the same.
If Lindsay chooses to have a child, I hope that she has a little girl who talks to her just like she talks to me. Both she and her little girl will be lucky indeed.
Marion L. Dearing, chair-elect of the Women's Center Advisory Board, has been executive assistant to President William M. Chase since June 1998. She misses her mother and father every day.
Return to Women's News and Narratives Fall 2000