Showing posts with label Parents and children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parents and children. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Mother's Diary (and a Meaningful New Year's Resolution for You to Consider)

When my sister and I were clearing out my mother's house after her death in 1999 at the age of 91, I came across my mother's diary and brought it back home with me, and though I dabbled in reading it back then, it's only been lately that I decided to actually read it all.






Mark Twain said:

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

When we are young, we don't seem to give much thought to what is going on with our parents, who they are or whether or not they are happy.  We tend to take them for granted. Perhaps that is why we end up knowing so little about our parents. 

I actually don't think I gave my mother any credit for "learning" anything until I was in my 50's.  Oh, yes, I tried to talk to her from time to time and find out how she felt about things, but we were not only from very different generations but we were on a different wave length.

You see my mother was born in 1908 and she was 40 when I was born.  That puts me at 21 in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War and the sexual, social and political revolution that was taking place around the world.  My mother had absolutely no idea what was going on with me and pretty much wanted me to stay her sweet little 1950's goody-two-shoes.  That wasn't going to happen.

But it wasn't all my fault.  I remember when I was in middle school, sitting on the edge of my parents' bed with my Dad and asking him why I didn't know him as well as my best friend.  Even then I was trying to make a connection between him as a Dad and him as a person. He said something about parents not wanting to worry their children, which looking back now, was an interesting comment.

I read something recently that said our children will never love us as much as we love them, and now that I have had children of my own, I understand that, and it actually gives me some strange comfort.  It's like it's not ME my children have rejected by not hanging on my every word or asking me if I am happy or not; it's the nature of things. Children just don't wonder if their parents are happy.  They are too busy wondering when they are going to be happy.  When we're young we take our parents for granted and don't really give them much thought unless they are getting in our way.  I literally know nothing about what really made my mother tick other than what she didn't like about ME.

Now as I near 70 I would give anything to have her here to ask her questions about her life and marriage.

But I have her diary.

The diary documents my mother's life from 1930 through 1933, age 22 to 25, which was also the time that my mother and dad were "courting (they married when they both were 26).




My mother's entries in her diary consist of mostly pretty mundane stuff.  Each entry was only a few lines per day, but I was able to glean some things I didn't know:

  • When I was growing up, my Dad was a musician and played trumpet in various bands right up until he died.  But I didn't realize how much he did that as a young man.  My mother is always mentioning in her diary that my Dad, Frederic, was playing this evening or that evening but it added up to quite a few evenings per week.  And he was also in college during that time.

  • My mother also talks about her friend, Rosella.  She is the person I am named after, and I didn't know anything about her because by the time I came along, she had moved away. Likewise, it was fun reading about my mother's other friends whom I only knew as old ladies.  I thought it was wonderful that my mother still had all of those friends all of her life.

  • I didn't realize how close my mother was to her own mother.  My mother's mother died when I was around five, so I don't remember her very well, but my mother talks lovingly of her in her diary.  I knew that her mother had gone back to Sweden to visit her family but had not realized it was for three months.  My mother writes in her diary, "Mother has been gone for a week and it seems like a year."  I think that was partly because my mother's older sister was married and no longer lived at home but her five brothers did, so looking after her Dad and her brothers probably fell to her.  I found it interesting that my mother had told me about an unsettling incident that had happened to her during that time her mother was away but no mention of it in her diary.



  • Reading my mother's diary, I was happy to see that my Dad was just as thoughtful a boyfriend as he was a Dad.  He was always writing her letters and giving her gifts and she called him "My darling" and "My Sweetheart" throughout the diary. That made me happy and sad at the same time.  It made me happy because they clearly loved each other when they were courting, but sad because it was clear to me growing up, that by the time I came along, my Mother and Dad were not that happy together.  Though their marriage lasted until my Dad's death - almost 60 years - something had gone wrong somewhere but I never found out what it was.

  • My Mother's diary had all kinds of little keepsakes in it and clippings from the newspaper: announcements about programs at the YWCA or the Women's Club that she was a part of but also pictures of things she liked and things she wanted to remember such as cards and notes.


  • Ironically, though reading someone's diary should be like reading their thoughts, just as she was in life, my mother's diary didn't reveal very much about her inner thoughts.  Her diary is mostly a few lines each day about what she did - she came home and took a nap, her friend came for dinner and she would describe what they ate, she went to a concert, she received a letter from my Dad-to-be or she didn't.  Nothing very revealing and very little about what she actually felt about her life.

And that is not surprising since my mother was never one to talk about her feelings and she didn't deem it an appropriate topic of conversation either.  I remember as a teenager saying to her, "Mom, I am feeling depressed," and her response was "What do you have to be depressed about!"  It wasn't a question.  It was a statement.  She probably added "Count your blessings," and that was the end of that conversation.  Isn't it funny and ironic that I was a teenager who actually wanted to talk to her mother, but, also ironically, unlike most mothers of teenaged girls who wanted their daughters to share with them, I had a mother who didn't want me to.  So that was that.

She was also very practical.  When I was having problems in my marriage, I remember calling my mother and saying, "Mom, he has been cheating on me and is in love with someone else," and she replied, "Well, you can't fight that."  And she was right.  I couldn't.  So that was that.

So my mother's diary very much reflects her reluctance to share feelings and her practicality.  Except for mentioning the occasional spat with her husband-to-be, my Dad, my mother's diary reveals little of her thoughts, no soul-searching, no sad stories, no doubts about herself, so if I was expecting revelations about her life, they are not there.

But I am comforted by the details of her life as a young woman, a young twenty-something who would one day marry her sweetheart, my Dad, and give birth to me. I enjoyed reading about her daily life: she was an active young woman who was the secretary to the president of the local bank; she read books and went to concerts and plays; she was active at the YWCA, and at her church and belonged to a young women's business club; loved her mother and her family and she was always on the go.  She didn't appear to have a bad word to say about anyone. In fact, she spoke lovingly of her nieces (her older sister had already married and had children) and friends. She would mention my Dad's parents or her brothers and sisters but never revealed how she felt about any of them which is odd, because later in life, she had plenty to say!  But in her twenties, she seemed happy and hopeful, with her whole life ahead of her.

I am glad I have my mother's diary and can spend some time with her as the young woman she was.  I just wish I had spent more time with her older self, when she was still alive, so that I could have found out more about her.  I wish I had let her little criticisms of me go over my head and not cloud our relationship.  I let those criticisms bother me and because I was busy living my life far away and raising my own children, I didn't make the effort to visit her much or talk with her on the phone more than once a week. 

But I loved my mother and I know she loved me.  When I finally did get a divorce and asked her to come and help me, at 74, she dropped everything and traveled by herself to California from Michigan to help me with my two-year-old son and to help me get back on my feet, and it was comforting to know she was always there for me - and she was.



Now that I have grown children too, and am in a position similar to my mother's, I have time to reflect and feel regret that I never had talks with her about her true feelings (though I can remember trying upon occasion), what drove her to do some of the things she did, how she felt about her 50+ year marriage at the end and if she had any regrets in life.  Though I am glad to have her diary and glad that she did share some important things with me over the years, I still have so many questions.  I wish my mother was still here to answer them.

But now it's too late.

Since my parents are both dead, it's too late for me to ask them questions that I have, but it's not too late for those of you whose parents are still alive.  I urge you to try to find out about them.  I'm not talking about their accomplishments or the family tree, I am talking about finding out why they raised you the way they did, why they married who they married, how they feel about getting old, what they have learned about life, what they regret.  All of those things that make them who they are.  You will learn about them but it also might shed some light on who you are too.

So here's an idea for a meaningful New Year's Resolution.

Make a resolution that in 2018 you will have some meaningful conversations with each of your parents to find out about who they really are and how they feel about their lives.

It's too late for me but it's not too late for you.

Don't wait.  Do it now. 

Do it before all you have left is a diary.


Thanks for reading!



See you Friday 

for

"The Best and the Worst Movies of 2017:
 
Rosy the Reviewer's Top 10" 

 
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