*While I salute the many, many wonderful moms out there, on this day every year (in fact, for the entire week leading up to this gawd-awful ‘holiday’) I need to, contrarian that I am, acknowledge the less than stellar mom-sters who are worthy of little or no celebration. Moms have so much power, and in them resides so much – too much – cultural mythology and expectation; no one, no single individual, can live up to that bullshit, and most moms are doing the very best they can in a country and world that talks big about honoring mothers and loving children but delivers little to actually support women, and their families. 

That said, I used to wish my mother had put out cigarettes on my arms or legs, so that I would have the actual scars to show those who insisted that all mothers love their children, a cohort that includes my first therapist. Uh, no, no they don’t. Deep breaths. Somewhere in the early 80s, when the trade edition of ‘Mommy Dearest’ by Christina Crawford came out, my mother called me from her hairdresser’s to ask me to promise not to write a book like that about her, and while I was surprised she had any level of self-awareness regarding her behavior toward me, I was also at that time exhausted, struggling to survive, and – as I said to her – ‘I don’t even own a typewriter, mom, leave me alone’. And no, I didn’t make that promise. Fuck that annihilating bitch, and the friends who watched and supported her from the sidelines. That hairdresser, a woman who was also a former student of hers, a fellow Catholic, and big fan of my mom’s, told me that when I was six years old I was such a horrible child she was tempted to drown me in our pool. She would have been twenty-four or five at the time, with a daughter my age, a child that she resented for revealing her imperfect Catholicism, as getting married in March and delivering an 8-pound baby in September isn’t consistent with purity a.k.a. virginity ’til marriage. She went on, after telling me of her former homicidal instincts, ‘But, I’m glad I didn’t because you’ve turned out okay’. Was I supposed to thank her? Did she think I was unaware of her, and other friends of my mom’s, hostility? Did it ever occur to her that maybe, just maybe, growing up in such an atmosphere was not ideal for a child, any child? And, did it ever occur to her that maybe I was not ‘okay’, in and of myself? More deep breaths. 

The text below is an excerpt from the eulogy I wrote for my mom in 2007, subtext heavy but only to me – only, it seems, to me. As for my own personal version of the ‘no more wire hangers’ story, I’m still thinking about and working on that. Perhaps you’re reading it right now? 

Hello and thank you for coming. Today is a good day – mother wanted not a funeral but a celebration of life – so let us celebrate the life of Dorothy Jean Byrnes Miller. Mother is at peace, with those she loved who went before her, and so again I say to all of you: today is a good day. 

First a short list: my mother’s favorite word – yes, she had a favorite word – pavement. Pavement. My mothers favorite Roman; Julius Caesar. My mother’s favorite food: ice cream. My mother’s favorite person: Dick Miller. She had great taste. My mothers favorite family: the Byrnes Clan. My mother’s favorite thing to hold: babies. My mother’s favorite students: Ray Sprague and the Rosa twins, Gary and Gene, although Chuck Jenkins gets a gold star for effort and making her laugh – after all what student in the history of teaching didn’t get his homework done because his mother saw a UFO the night before? Christine Geehrer also gets a gold star for remembering and singing Gaudeamus Igitur over the phone once when mother was getting her hair done at Marcia’s. Something mother never was: cynical. Something mother always was: an idealist. My mothers other favorite thing to do other than read or eat ice cream: talk. 

…to those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, my mom was a great lady – brilliant, stubborn, willful, full of laughter, sentimental, naive, generous, volatile, quick-witted, warm, fierce, loyal, rarely unforgiving, a great story teller, a great teacher – a loving, complicated, endlessly fascinating and tender mother and a wonderful life’s companion to my dad, her very best friend. An orphan at twenty, a teacher at twenty-two, a wife at twenty-seven, a mother at twenty-eight, a mother of four at thirty-three, a loving daughter-in-law to the end of my grandmother’s life, a devoted sister, and, finally, a women who wanted and deserved only to rest. 

…Mother’s ultimate legacy lies in the students she taught, especially those she inspired to teach or lead their lives to the very best of their abilities – and in her love for my dad and the immense impact their relationship had on so many people their lives touched. 

…Finally, I want to quote one of her other favorite Romans, Cicero, who said that the ‘life of the dead rests in the remembrance of the living’. Mother will always be remembered – well-remembered – by her students, her colleagues, her friends, family, and those who cared for her these last few years. And today – today is a good day. 

Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus!
Post jucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
 Nos habebit humus.

Therefore let us party
While we are young!
After pleasant youth
After troublesome old age
The earth will have usThe earth will have us. 

*you better believe it was a good day. ding dong, t.w.i.d.! deep breaths.