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MY MOTHER: The Healing Power of One Word

Recognized Social Butterfly

MY MOTHER: The Healing Power of One Word

Before I met my wife, I blatantly disrespected my mother, more than I’d like to admit.  

When I was in grade school, my mother periodically schlepped me through Filene’s Basement in Boston, scouring the racks for a good bargain. Worrying about the possibility that I might get snatched up if she left me alone, she dragged me with her whenever she had to go to the bathroom. Those outings at Filene’s exhausted and humiliated me. At that point, my resentment against my mother began to fester.

Throughout  junior high and high school, my job at home was to dust and polish the furniture and clean and vacuum the floors. I faithfully and meticulously did so. One day, however, as I completed waxing the kitchen floor, I accidentally knocked over the container, spilling a good amount of wax on the adjacent living room carpet, a new turquoise rug that my mother adored. I tried my best to wipe up the mess, but the wax soon crusted and discolored the rug. I was horrified by my blunder, yet part of me rejoiced that I had inadvertently desecrated my mother’s pet rug. After my mother discovered what I had done, she gave me a stone-cold look, slowly walked into the bedroom, and didn’t come out until it was time for supper. She didn’t speak to me for days afterward. I was left to stew in my guilty satisfaction.

The next year, I had another entanglement with my mother, this time at her beloved Filene’s Basement. Without my input, she bought me a relatively expensive massive winter coat. I wasn’t impressed with the slimy green color or the tacky wooden fasteners. When a salesclerk asked me if I was going to pay for it, I sarcastically replied so that my mother standing next to me would get the message: “No, ask moneybags.”

My mother was mortified at my cruelty, but she quickly regained her composure. I, however, was shriveled up with guilt. Fearing to confront my mother after we got home, I escaped into the neighborhood. I soon got disoriented by the maze of side streets. When I finally returned, I was relieved. My mother acted as if everything was back to normal. I did the same, although I occasionally experienced tremors of remorse. And that’s how my conflicted relationship with my mother stood until I left for the University of Iowa.

Soon afterward, my distraught mother phoned me about how my father had once more insanely driven the family home after drinking excessively at a party. Hunched over the steering wheel, he erratically zigzagged across the lines or hugged the shoulder of the road. She started bawling that his loony driving terrified her (it had terrified my brother and me during our early years as well). I soon interrupted my mother’s lamentations.  I scolded her: So why didn’t she ever get her driver’s license? Her lame rationale was that it was scary to contend with traffic. Was it less scary than driving with my soused father? She just continued to weep. I became so disgusted with her that I slammed down the phone. Even though I immediately felt like a heel, I didn’t call her back and didn’t apologize later on. That episode was never again addressed in my dysfunctional family, where expressing one’s feelings, especially negative ones, was taboo. My grudge against my mother, coexisting with my guilt, continued to silently fester.

A year later, I transferred to Kent State University as a Teaching Fellow. While visiting at home during Spring Break, I met and soon got engaged to an ultra-Orthodox young lady. The following summer during a welcoming party at my house for me and my fiancée, my mother cornered me in my room downstairs, my private sanctuary. Without warning, she began questioning me about Joanne’s alleged moodiness that night; I was so indignant that I threw a half-empty wineglass in my mother’s direction.  It ended up smashing against the wall. Incredulous, my mother left me alone to contemplate my admittedly egregious behavior. She didn’t afterwards mention my outburst, and neither did I. Once again, it was a silent stalemate between us for the rest of the summer.

Initially, I felt justified in lashing out at my mother during the first three years I was away at graduate school. At the same time, I realized that my self-righteousness was misplaced and self-defeating. But I wouldn’t overtly admit my ambivalence towards my mother until I went to sessions for adult children of alcoholics (ACOA). In addition to dredging up my repressed anger against my father, I shared my remorse for mistreating my well-intentioned, intrusive mother. When addressing my issues with my mother, I peeled away the encrusted layers of guilt and shame that had been embedded in me for so long. I struggled to forgive my mother for bruising my feelings, and I struggled to forgive myself for childishly reacting to her maternal tugging at me.

I was ready to make amends. There was lots of time to do so after my frail elderly parents moved to the same town where my wife and I lived. But I held back. What if my mother would dismiss a belated apology? What if she no longer even remembered those painful incidents? Would conjuring up past grievances ruin the civility that had just begun redeveloping between us?

Then something happened to wipe the slate clean. As my mother was explaining to me what she needed at the grocery store, she beamed and called me “honey.” I was stunned and a bit teary eyed. She had never called me that before. That one word was so genuine, so endearing, and so unexpected that it simply blotted out my slights, my transgressions against my mother. “Honey” cleansed my soul, healed the wound between my mother and me, and enabled me to begin treating my mother with the respect she undoubtedly deserved.

I didn’t have to prostrate myself before my mother. And she didn’t have to embrace me. Her calling me honey was like manna, grace from heaven that forgave me for my sins against her.  She became my better angel. Thank God. Amen.








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