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May 1, 2011

Therese Fowler: My Declaration

Posted by Anonymous

Therese Fowler’s novels have been published in nine languages; her third novel --– EXPOSURE, which tackles some issues of motherhood --- is out on May 3rd. Below, she paints a realistic portrait of her own mother, and the very real “parenting fail” that caused her to realize that a mother deserves credit simply for meaning well, rather than choosing well.  

exposure.JPGEvery Mother’s Day throughout my childhood, I gave my mother hand-made cards. They were always some combination of construction paper, paper lace doilies, and tissue paper. Using a colored marker, I would compose or copy out a poem or sonnet in my most careful handwriting. My mom, I declared in these childish masterpieces, was The Best Mother Ever!

The unvarnished truth is that she wasn’t The Best Mother Ever, or, say, a Really Fantastic Mother, and probably didn’t merit even Pretty Darn Good Mother, not when she was actually raising her kids. I couldn’t see that at the time, though. I loved my mother, and was blind to her parenting flaws until I got older and saw how things really ought to be.

So I tried hard to be the mother my mother wasn’t. When my oldest son graduated from high school and then passed his eighteenth birthday with nothing worse than a speeding ticket behind him, I thought we’d both done pretty well. Not only was he a happy, well-adjusted young man, he had also become a volunteer firefighter. My parenting strategies seemed to have worked.

Or so I thought, until he came home one afternoon and announced that a warrant was being issued for his arrest.

The charge was a misdemeanor, but it was for an offense that’s come to be regarded as a “sexting” crime. At a young lady’s request, he had sent her a photo of himself undressed. He was over eighteen and she wasn’t; therefore, he had committed a crime for which he could, if convicted, have to register as a sex-offender. As insane as that seemed, it was very serious business. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure of the job I’d done with him. Yes, he was responsible for his behavior. But I’d given him the means to make this mistake, and what’s worse, I hadn’t given him the information or instruction to help him avoid it.

Parenting fail.

Being a mother is one of the most natural acts in life, but it is also one of the most difficult. Each mother faces her own particular sets of challenges, and if she addresses them the best way she can given her particular circumstances, she deserves credit for that. My mother didn’t always choose well, but she always meant well. That’s not nothing, as the saying goes.

None of the mothers in my novels is my mother. None of them is me, not even in my latest, EXPOSURE, which was inspired by my son’s arrest and the events that followed. All of the women, however, no matter their shortcomings or shortsightedness, get the same sympathy I extended to my mother and try to allow myself.

My mother, whose name was Sally, died in 2004. She was only 61 years old. When I was sorting through her dresser after her death, I came upon a pile of papers that included a Mother’s Day card I’d made for her when I was in tenth grade. I don’t know whether this one was particularly special to her, or whether it was simply the only one that survived 25 years and two moves, but it doesn’t matter. Neither does any of what she did or didn’t do for me when I was a child --- I turned out okay, after all. Each Mother’s Day that passes now is bittersweet: I miss her a lot, but thinking of those cards, and that one particular card, makes me smile.

This is an essay written using a computer. There’s no paper, no scissors, no marker, and no poem, but I want to take this opportunity to declare that my mom was The Best Mother Ever! and to wish each of you the opportunity to do the same for yours.