mothers and daughters

I Am My Mother's Daughter (Thanks Be to God)

Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

“My mother... she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.” ~ Jodi Picoult

When asked to describe my mother, Helen, my usual answer is: Queen Esther in espadrilles and a matching purse.

Esther comes to mind when I think of Mom because she was fiercely loyal, smart, determined, brave and deeply faithful. The sartorial descriptors capture my mother’s somewhat less spiritual side – always put together with a classic sense of style (although these days she leans more toward head-to-toe matching ensembles from Chicos and alligator flats, now that her penchant for wearing pointy-toed heels in the ‘60s and ‘70s have caught up with her poor feet.)

Mom has impeccable style and staggering grace, particularly in the midst of trials and tribulations. She is flinty (think Katharine Hepburn) and has an abiding, deep-in-her-DNA faith [think St. Therese of Liseux.]

Helen is a force with which to be reckoned and woe to you who would make the mistake of messing with anyone she loves.

Mom: Prayer, Pure Sweetness and No Nudity Involved

Cupcake image by Pinkcandy / Shutterstock.

Cupcake image by Pinkcandy / Shutterstock.

Growing up, I didn’t think my mother liked me; I know she loved me, but she didn’t know how to handle me. Mom was quiet and melancholy; I was brash and angry. Melancholy and anger were the mechanisms we each used to cope with the family’s dysfunction. But we had little in common. Well, except for the dysfunction.

But I did know my mother loved me. She said she worried about me, she wanted me to be happy; she wanted me to know Jesus. And she prayed for me every day. Every morning as I got ready for school, I passed the den and caught a glimpse of her reading her Bible and praying.

Maybe she wasn’t close to me, but I saw with whom she was close: God. Over time I saw what that friendship did to her. It made her good and kind, even in the face of disappointment and sorrow.

As an adult I tried to get closer to Mom by sharing the things that mattered to me. The first attempt didn’t go so well. I gave her a copy of my MFA thesis screenplay, which was a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family. She never read it.

“I just don’t get it,” she flustered.  I think she didn’t understand screenplay formatting.

Driving Home

Image by Eugene Ivanov /Shutterstock.

This past spring break, I took my 14-year old daughter to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

My daughter has had a difficult middle school experience, especially these last two years. This last year, we have both, in describing it, used the word “hell.”

We have been frequently at odds in these months, my daughter and me. I often feel that I have failed her, that I have failed myself.

One point of connection has been her explorations around World War II and the Holocaust. She has read books about it — novels, mostly. We have watched movies that, in my naiveté, I didn’t imagine she would watch for a while. There have been questions, discussions, recollections of stories her grandfather, a WWII vet who is now deceased, once shared with her, with me. There have been nightmares, too, where I wonder if we are, yet again, making the best choices in our twisting, turning journey through this year, this path.

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