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"You Could Be on Oprah!"

Do you (or did you) have a difficult relationship with your mother? Were there struggles for power as you were growing up?

My father was loving but remote. Mum, on the other hand, was relentlessly present in my life. She was my number one cheerleader.

When I was three, she entered me in a beauty contest. She was sure I would win. I didn’t. But that didn’t deter Mum. When I was going to be a guest on the Merry Mailman Show, she asked our neighbor Mrs. Flahive to sew me a dress with pink parasols on it. She was sure I would be a star. In junior high when I got all A’s on my report card, she told everyone.

But living with Mum meant following many rules. She had high standards for both my sister and me. “Sit up in your chair.” “Stand up straight.” “Pull in your stomach.” “Don’t swallow your consonants.”

When I started gaining unseemly weight from eating too many Junior Mints, she chided me, “You’re beginning to look matronly.” I didn’t have to look the word up to know this wasn’t a compliment.

Mum was very competitive. We couldn’t just compete in sports. We had to be The Best. I wouldn’t play this game. I wanted to live my own life. So the first time I had a chance to leave home, I did. I moved 1500 miles away. Mum was devastated. But distance didn’t deter her. She followed my career. If a magazine accepted an article I’d written, she was sure I was destined for fame. When she knew I’d be giving a presentation, she grilled me to know what I’d wear.

Knowing about her unhappy childhood, I realized in time that she was trying to live her life through me.

Four months after marrying Jack, I was diagnosed with cancer. After chemotherapy, my new hair came in gray.

This won’t do, said Mum. You have to color your hair! But I liked it the way it was. It was natural, the way I wanted to be. My hair became a metaphor for the struggle that lasted between us for the next 20 years.

“You’ll never be a guest on Oprah with gray hair,” she’d scold me. Mostly, these taunts made me laugh. But sometimes they drove me cuh-razy!

One day it was Mum who had to face her mortality. She suffered a stroke. We moved her from Florida, closer to us. A few years after that, she began to fail. Her vibrancy and spirit just seemed to evaporate. She was ready to die.

I’d visit her little bed-sitting room every evening after work. On the Sunday before she died, she sat next to me as I placed pills in her pill dispenser. Suddenly, she touched my hand, looked me straight in the eye and whispered, “I love your hair.”

Ephesians 4:2

2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

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