Listen To Your Mother : A Week of Firsts

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**This is the piece I wrote for and read aloud in The Listen To Your Mother Show : Kansas City last Saturday night. Many people who weren’t able to attend have been asking to read the essays, so here’s mine. You can also hop over to the LTYM : KC blog here for a re-cap including links to other cast members’ FABULOUS essays.**

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My mom’s mom, my Grandma Betty, was bipolar and incapable of being physically or emotionally there for her two daughters. She was in and out of the hospital, on and off the Lithium required to treat the manic depression that consumed her. She was arrested several times; once for stealing rakes from a gardening store, again for sneaking off with some items from Marshall Field’s, and finally for “dancing lewdly in a bar.” After some warnings from the police threatening to lock her up, she stabilized somewhat and took her meds faithfully. My mom’s father was an asshat who rarely had anything nice to say to or about her and she already lacked a stable maternal role model. I tell you all of this so you understand that my mom didn’t have a great example of how to be a mother, nor did she have the support that she needed. But she was still always there for me.

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Me on Grandma Betty’s lap and my mom on the right, circa 1977

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before my first Homecoming Dance in 1991, Mom took me to Pearl’s Place, a small shop close to our house in New Orleans. It was THE place to go for dresses of all kinds–Mardi Gras balls, prom, formals, even wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. It turned out to be our one and only stop. From of all the fluffy, frou-frou, pastel, poofy-sleeved ridiculous things on the racks, she helped me choose a basic black number with black and white polka dot edging along the top of the bodice. Knee length, strapless, flattering; but not revealing. Not that I had anything to reveal, mind you. I was 15.

 

 

The week beforehand we started preparing. We bought two pairs of black pantyhose in case I got a run in the first pair. We bought my first black pumps. We bought my first strapless bra.

It was to be a week of firsts.

During those days, I noticed something wasn’t right with Mom, that she seemed off. She stayed in her room a lot and I swore I heard muffled crying. When I asked Dad about her, he didn’t say much as he put his hands on my shoulders, steering me away from the closed master bedroom door. I was sad for her, but guiltily felt giddy about my upcoming weekend.

That Saturday, the day of the dance, she trimmed, filed, and painted my nails a pretty mauve color, the little Loreal bottle as familiar to me as the smell of her Diva perfume, which she still can’t live without, but uses sparingly. She was quiet, but asked me lots of questions about the dance: where we were going to dinner first, who was going with us, was I nervous, etc. Then I took a shower, convinced this would be the best night of my life.

The skies darkened and I got nervous. I focused on curling my hair under on the ends and putting on some of Mom’s makeup. I didn’t have to open the second pack of pantyhose. We took photos. I practiced the box step with my dad, which proved to be useless at the dance. Looking back on the photos now, I look happy, but my parents look….odd. Or maybe that’s just because I know now. Dad looked stand-offish and Mom looked fake-happy. Dad kept busy snapping photos while Mom helped me get deodorant off of my dress, secure my strapless, barely A-cup bra on its tightest setting, and add blush to my pale cheeks.

I went to the dance and felt awkward. My date was just a friend I’d had a crush on. There was no goodnight kiss, but at least he slow danced with me. During the fast dances I hid in a corner trying to fade into the ugly country club wallpaper. I watched the upperclassmen having a fabulous time and envied them. I thought about Mom at home and wondered if she was okay. I wanted to take off my pantyhose. It was hot and itchy and suddenly I felt all closed in and the room seemed too small. We left soon after.

The next morning we had a family meeting.

On that cold Sunday, Mom taught me that life goes on even after your life partner walks away soon after your 20th wedding anniversary. She taught me that boxed wine and cigarettes are okay some days. especially after your husband comes out of the closet. She taught me that even moms cry when things get bad. Eventually she showed me that parents have to start dating. Although I didn’t like it, I still had to be nice. Which I wasn’t. But her patience never wavered.

Mom knew Dad was gay for that week before Homecoming, the week before he told us kids. She insisted they keep that secret for ME so they didn’t spoil my big night. That week was a nearly flawless performance, her pretending nothing was wrong when inside she was dissolving.

My mom continued to welcome Dad into our house for family dinners for OUR sake. We spent holidays and birthdays together at her insistence for OUR sake. She always put us first. She put herself after the man who left her after 20 years of marriage even though he’d known he was gay since he was 12.

My mother is maturity.

She is intelligence.

She is perseverance and strength.

My mother is grace.

She finds her way and helps me find mine. She’s a warrior, finally fighting for herself, after all these years and all she’s been through. She waited until we were all on our own before stepping aside and taking the necessary space to breathe, fight, grieve, and face everything she’d set aside for so long.

She lost her husband, her lifelong partner, while he found his freedom and his voice to become an activist. She had to watch it all. It was in her face, all of our faces. but still she stood strong. unwavering, careful to set an example for us and allow us to form our own opinions of our dad and what he was doing. She did not project; she held back, and she did it for us.

She lost her footing, the ground ripped open underneath her. She hung on and she waited after losing her husband. Sure, my dad was generous and continued to care for us all financially, but she desperately wanted independence.

And now she has it. Now she is comfortable in her feelings, allowing her anger to rise up and recede, letting the emotions roll over her in waves. and this is exactly how it should be.

She always put herself last. She still does.

Now? Being a mother myself, I understand that this is what mothers do.

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Show photos via Karen Ledford Photography 

 

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  • Mary @ A Teachable Mom

    Your mother is grace. And I have a feeling you take after her in that and in many other wonderful, courageous ways. What a story. What a beautiful, touching, heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Mary,

      Thank YOU for reading! I try to emulate her, but there’s no way I’ll ever be the mom she was. I lack her patience. I yell at my kids. They eat junk food. I don’t have the strength she does. But I so appreciate your kind words about my/our story….more than you know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melissa.olivero Melissa Ruppert Olivero

    Oh Erin… tears are just streaming down my face. I want to hug your mother so tight. And you. Yes, this is what we do as mothers…

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Melissa,

      Thank you for reading this and commenting. My mom and I had lots of hugs after the show. She’s amazing!

  • http://twitter.com/juliecgardner Julie Gardner

    Yes, THIS Is what mother’s do.

    But it’s the special daughter who takes the time, writes the words and speaks the story on her behalf.

    Well done, Erin.

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Oh Julie….
      You are so kind.
      She doesn’t like drawing attention to herself. But I wanted people to know….what she did, for us.

      xo

  • Susi

    Erin, this is just wow. Mother’s are pretty incredible!!!

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Susi,

      Thank you for reading, friend! Yes, moms are incredible. And for sure one of the hardest jobs in the world (but most rewarding!)

  • http://writingwishing.com/ Alison

    Oh hon, this is beautiful. I’m so glad your Mom was there to listen to your words. xo

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Alison,

      Thank you, sweetie. I’m so happy she was able to be there, too. It wouldn’t have been the same otherwise! xoxo

  • http://twitter.com/rasjacobson Renee Jacobson

    Erin! How I wish I could have been sitting beside you! I’m so proud of you. And I cannot even imagine how affirmed your mother must have felt. You gave voice to everything she must have wanted to say all these years. You continue to amaze me. But you already knew that. Did we lose Pearl’s in Katrina? Maybe for the best? ;)

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Renee,

      Nope, Pearl’s is still standing! Almost stopped in there last time I was in town just because of the strong magnetic pull I feel towards it, oddly.

      I hope my mom did feel affirmed. She is a hard act to follow.

      love you.

  • http://twitter.com/sundayspill Sarah Reinhart

    You look so empowered up there Erin! What a gift you gave not just to yourself and your mother, but to everyone in that audience..and beyond. xx.

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      sarah,

      well, the videos may tell a different story once they come out on the LTYM YouTube Channel, LOL! You are so sweet. Everyone in the cast gave that audience a gift. I just hope they really enjoyed and appreciated it as much as we did! ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/KirstenPiccini Kirsten Piccini

    do you have ANY IDEA how incredible you are?? How strong and amazing you are?

    your words could not have been more perfect, could not have been more empowering for you and your mom.

    WOW, girlie, WOW!!!
    <3

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Kir,

      You are such a doll. I’m so glad we finally talked today. It had been too long. I’m sorry if I talked your ear off. Thank you for reading this, and for being my friend—through ALL of it.

      xoxoxo

  • http://thediamdondgal.com/ Lee Brochstein

    Look at what you have done. You should be so proud of yourself. I’m so proud of you. I don’t think I could have done what you have done. You are my hero, Erin Margolin and I miss you terribly. xxoo

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      I miss you, too. And how can I possibly be anyone’s hero? Besides, look at all the adversity YOU have overcome. Can we chat this weekend? xoxo

  • Ally

    Moving. Strong. Proud. Full of Grace. Both you and your mom. Erin, that was beautiful in your ability to see your mom, appreciate your mom, and be able to tell not just her, but the world. I’m so in awe of you not only telling your story, but putting that whole thing together. Your hard work paid off! Be proud!

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      Thank you, dear Ally. I wasn’t always able to see it this way, especially when I was young and so much in my own issues about it all. But over the years I’ve realized how much she sacrificed for us..I don’t know if I could handle something similar with nearly as much grace as she did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdbailey.honestmom JD Bailey

    Wow, Erin. I don’t often get teary reading blog posts, but I just did reading yours.

    Your mom sounds like an incredible woman. And you do, too. :-)

    • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

      JD,

      My mom is an incredible woman. I know we all had a lot to deal with when my dad came out, but by far I believe she had the roughest time. Cannot imagine how it must’ve been to be married to someone for 20 years and then find out it wasn’t real, that it was…a facade…

  • Pingback: My Rejected “Listen To Your Mother” Piece: Celebrating Rage | Outlaw Mama

  • Kristin Guile

    Erin, this is so beautifully and sensitively put together. It provides a glimpse into a perspective that I don’t think about enough. Thanks for your honesty and candor, pulling back a curtain and helping me see this situation through new eyes.

  • http://www.jumpingwithmyfingerscrossed.com/ Angela Youngblood

    This is beautiful. Tearing up while reading this. Great job.

  • Deb

    Wow, this is a powerful piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes. Glad I got a chance to read it.