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BETWEEN THE LINES

What My Mother Taught Me About Having It All

My mother wanted it all. She was bossy and demanding, a terrible cook, ambitious and very determined. I’m rather like her, except I’m a better cook. Raising my younger sister and me in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, Mom told us that we could have it all, be everything we wanted to be, but she was clearly unhappy in her short stint as a stay-at-home mother. The moment my sister started school, Mom went back to work as a high school chemistry teacher.

Being demanding and smart served her well as a teacher. She taught in my high school; her students loved her. Me, not so much. My friends competed for her coveted lab assistant positions. I focused on English classes and the school newspaper and took chemistry in summer school. Mom stayed late every afternoon after school, as faculty advisor to student groups and to meet with students needing extra time. I learned to cook dinner.

Mom demanded a lot of herself. In her fifties, she returned to college for a Masters and then a PhD and started teaching at a state university. By then, I was out of the house with a family of my own. I was proud of her, but I lived far away and her accomplishments had little to do with me. I worked on feminist issues (reproductive health and abortion and day care), earned my living as a nurse, and co-raised my daughters. My mother retired from teaching and turned her considerable fervor to collecting silver and turquoise Indian jewelry. In my fifties, I decided to write fiction. I took online classes, attended writing workshops and conferences, and then earned an MFA, completed just before I turned 60.

My mother died in 2008, three years before my first novel was published. She never knew that in my own way, I followed the path she blazed. But every time I do a reading from my work, I wear one of her silver bracelets.  Read More 
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Filling my mom's shoes

My mom died five years ago today. She left her husband, two daughters, five grandchildren, two great-children (now six) and a lot of jewelry. She loved all kinds of sparkle, from garish (sorry, Mom) costume stuff to exquisite Indian silver and turquoise pieces.

My daughters and sister have taken the pieces they love and I’ve kept some of the smaller ones. Whenever I do an author reading, I wear one of them, to honor her. She died before my first novel was published, but my mom was a voracious reader, and I know she would have been proud. She would also have been critical. That’s just the way she was.

I don’t know what to do with the heavy silver and turquoise pieces. They wear me down even more than when I was a child and liked to parade around the house in them. So they sit in a safe deposit box, waiting for inspiration.

One other thing: I wear my mom’s shoes.

We never shared shoes or clothes when she was alive. She was bigger than me, her feet too. But for some inexplicable reason, one pair of her shoes fits perfectly. They’re Merrill clogs, furry lined and very warm. And now they are well-worn, splattered with who-knows-what and fondly gnawed by my cats.

But I can’t discard them, any more than I can get rid of that box of jewelry. I miss you, Mom.
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Honoring our three mothers

Anne Shaffer Meeropol, 1909 – 1973
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, 1915 – 1953
Pauline Taube Diamond, 1918 – 2008

Robby and I have had three mothers, all born in New York, all gone now. Of course, I never met his birth mother; Ethel was executed when Robby was six. But Ethel lives in our family history and in my imagination. I’ve written poems, dramatic programs, and stories about her, trying to find my truth of the woman among the multitudes of others' journalistic and literary interpretations. Robby's adoptive mom, Anne, was the woman who raised him, who I met and loved as his mother. My own mother, dead four years now, returns to me in quick gestures and phrases – sometimes remembered but more often glimpsed in the mirror or heard from my mouth. I’m only now starting to be able to write about her, to transform her into fiction.  Read More 
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