May 7, 2009

Emma: Mother's Day 1986

1974, 2007
Mother's Day 1986
Dear Mommy,

Here’s to the memories. All the laughter, tears, happiness, and sorrow that we as your children have experienced with you right beside us every step of the way, making sure we didn’t stray off the path. Thanks, Mommy, for who would we be without you.

Love, Emma

Emma gave me a small book of family photos with this lovely message inscribed on the back cover. She was just 13. I carried it around in my bag for at least 3 years, so I could read it every time I felt like murdering her. Her eloquence was only matched by her --what word can I use-- spawn-of-Satanhood?

When she was 6, her first grade teacher said, "Emma knows exactly where my limits and she will go right to the brink, but never cross over." She didn't show such diplomacy with her mother. However, when she worked around the world in her 20's, she never had to bribe anyone at airports. After her first trip to Africa, she got several letters from cabdrivers addressed to "my angel Emma."

Emma repeatedly stuck her tongue out at me minutes after birth.This picture of her at 17 months (the day I got pregnant with her sister Rosalind), is revealing.  She should have been born with a printout: "You will win five battles with this child. Choose them carefully." I learned what the five battles were by losing hundreds of others.

At the height of our teenage struggles, Emma used to say: "I don't have sex, don't smoke, don't do drugs, don't drink, don't party at all hours. I am not pregnant; I do well in school; I plan a serious career in world saving. What is your problem, mom?" Of course she was right, and that's why her sisters seemed easier. I didn't fight the silly battles.

But it was all worth it. Watching her mother my grandson gives me absolute joy. Despite our arguments, we have always been extremely close. As usual, my writer Jane says it best (2001):

"Emma is capable of more generosity than anyone I know. She holds herself responsible for you, me, Rosalind, and Molly.. Being incredibly brave as well as generous, though, she doesn't stop there; she is now going to try to save some people in Africa (Rwanda) too, or at least to learn how."

Emma deserves this more than I do: " Here’s to the memories. All the laughter, tears, happiness, and sorrow that I as your mother have experienced with you right beside me every step of the way, making sure I didn’t stray off the path. Thanks, Emma, for who would I be without you?"


Beck said...

I feel like forwarding this post to every mother I know who is going through a rough time with their teenaged daughter. She sounds like a great person.

Mary Joan said...

My Vanessa stories have always been a great comfort to other mothers of challenging daughters. At 2 she was the terror of the Upper West Side and Chelsea because she pulled hair and dumped sand over her playmates' head. Her main victim is her best friend; in fact Erin lives in the next building. Because Vanessa was such a sparkplug, no kid avoided her. The hairpulling and sand dumping was often an experiment in determining the limits of her victims' mothers. Sporadically, I contemplated paying another kid to retaliate. When Vanessa was a teenager, Erin's mother confessed she expected Vanessa to be in jail at age 16.

Mary Joan said...


My placid children were no less challenging. For years I considered Elizabeth, my second daughter, much easier, But she had carefully observed Vanessa and realized charm works much better than confrontation. When asking for something, she would preface it with compliments and appreciation. I would be eager to do what she asked.

Elizabeth was almost grown before I realized that she had gotten her way much more than Vanessa had. She is the ultimate iron fist in a velvet glove. I was in awe how she handled doctors and nurses whenever my mom was hospitalized. Both Andy and I have named Elizabeth to be our health proxy.

Once, when her dad and I were squabbling, Elizabeth suggested, "Mom, you should wear more perfume."

I love your blog title. I must have read aloud the Frog and Toad books a thousand times. I have already started reading them to Nate.