For the first time in over 40 years, I won’t have to remind my husband to call his mom on Mother’s Day, and for the first time in as many years as I can remember I won’t be rushing to the UPS Store to mail my mother her card.
By Robin Thrush Jovanovich
For the first time in over 40 years, I won’t have to remind my husband to call his mom on Mother’s Day, and for the first time in as many years as I can remember I won’t be rushing to the UPS Store to mail my mother her card. My mother-in-law died last summer and my mother just before spring.
In all honesty, I had complicated relationships with both these smart, uncompromising, and complicated women. They raised the bar so high it was hard to reach, no matter how high I stretched.
Eventually, I came to realize that my mother-in-law was never going to be close to the people her children married. My mother had a much happier relationship with dogs than she did with humans, and was the first to admit it.
A good friend once told me to consider that we don’t choose our mothers, or our mothers-in-law. Why didn’t I think of that much earlier in life? And why is it that we tolerate all of the idiosyncracies of our friends but not of those who gave us life and love as best they could?
As this Mother’s Day approaches, I have spent many late nights recalling all the things my mother gave me that I never thanked her for: the summer reading lists she compiled and the long discussions we had on road trips to our grandparents’ house (other than “The Wind in the Willows”, which I found interminable as a 9-year-old); the jingle contests we entered (but never won) that made me “the best headline writer” at many a magazine and more than one community newspaper; the endless hours of word and card games we played when I was sick; not chastising me for borrowing “Peyton Place”, (I still swear it was my older sister); and making me appreciate and love animals from an early age (by driving us to animal parks all over the East and Northeast).
This was, of course, the same mother who routinely told me that I should have been an interior designer, not a writer and editor. But she was also the same mother who, even though we lived many states apart for most of my married years, planned family vacations in Block Island, Jekyll Island, and the Grand Tetons.
But as a woman who rejected the idea of staying married to anyone after she turned 50 (she would have been 88 this year, although never admitted to her actual age), she became more and more independent and less attached to family as she grew older. And my sister and I and my family became less attached to her. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but it was surely up to us to try harder to see all that was still beautiful about her. While I was never partial to greyhounds, my mother saved thousands, which after their racing careers were over would have been euthanized — and she found good homes for them all across the country. I saw her on an airport poster in California one time! My mother saved a terrier mix she found crossing a street in Florida on a rainy night, and while I didn’t know we were looking for a new dog at the time, she had it flown up to me a week later. She was right about that dog, a female she named Bear and whose name she insisted we keep.
I wish I had saved more of my heart for my mother who pushed her two daughters to reach higher and not make the same mistakes she’d made.
I wish I had written my mother-in-law more often. I don’t miss her raised eyebrows but I miss her letters, which fill a drawer in our house.
Mothers and mothers-in-law aren’t there to make our lives easy, but we should always go out of our way to make theirs bright and beautiful.