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Truth About Those Awful Mothers

May 07, 1987|ANITA ZELMAN | Zelman lives in Beverly Hills. and

Mother's Day always makes me think about other girls' mothers. My own died when I was 6, and as I was growing up I became fascinated by the drama and intrigue of my girlfriends' mother-daughter relationships. These girls had wonderful mothers who fed me cookies and kindness. I adored them. But I quickly learned to agree with their daughters about how terrible their mothers were.

"You see what she's doing, don't you?" one friend asked with a bitter there-she-goes-again intonation. Her mother had just left the room after presenting her daughter with a splendid pink Angora sweater.

This was my cue, as a loyal friend, to say, "Yes, it's terrible, what she's doing to you." But Angora sweaters were all the rage those days and my father wasn't into what was popular with young girls. I would have died for that sweater. All I could manage in response that day was a sophisticated shrug. I hoped an explanation would come, and it did.

"She's trying to manipulate me with a material object. She's trying to make me feel guilty about my grades."

So that was it. How could I have forgotten about guilt? The word came up often enough among my friends who were unanimous in their agreement that their mothers were terrible.

Actually, there was one exception to the isn't-my-mother-awful crowd. That friend's name was Mary. And her mother was awful. But Mary, who frequently missed our outings because she was forced to take care of the house and her younger brother when her mother was drunk, always found excuses for the woman.

"Give your daughter real problems and she'll appreciate you" was what I heard several of the good mothers say to one another in regard to Mary's stalwart defense of her mom. This remark was often accompanied by a deep sigh.

As I grew older, the other girls began to verbalize their envy of my freedom. A motherless child had no curfew. I was practically fatherless, too, since my dad was at sea making a living as a steward. My sister and I were raised in foster homes. No one cared if I danced 'til quarter to 4. Not that I did. In fact, I generally went home with the rest of the crowd, but not under duress.

I never had to say, as one friend did when I walked her home: "Would you just look at those curtains stirring. I know my mother's behind there, peeking out at me. Now, when I get in, she'll pretend she's been reading a magazine all this time. She's so sneaky."

I secretly wondered what it would be like to have someone care deeply about your comings and goings and to ask if you'd had a nice time, and I thought it must be wonderful.

Because I was in my girlfriends' homes so frequently, having a need to escape from my foster home, I became a pet of my girlfriends' mothers and I loved every bit of advice they ever gave me. It was they who taught me the art of needlework, how to make Christmas tree ornaments, how to sew a skirt.

This last came about through one mother's kindness after she'd seen the look on my face when her daughter had asked what I was wearing for graduation. The next week this lady just happened to have "overbought material on sale" when she was looking for her daughter's fabric and she thought it might be fun for me to keep her company at the sewing machine.

As time went on, I found it more and more difficult to sustain my treachery in regard to my girlfriends' mothers, especially when their daughters dropped the old phrases and began to take on more sophisticated ones. A mother was no longer "sneaky"; instead she was "devious" and "over-possessive."

When my children were born and I developed a strong appreciation of motherhood, I was ready to tell some of my girlfriends off. Just let them start. But nature was beginning to take its course with them, too, and as the "girls" began to raise their children, I heard quite different remarks. "I don't know how my mother ever did it" was the most frequent one.

My girlfriends' mothers are much older now, and their daughters and I are beginning to see many of them through major illnesses. My girlfriends give me hugs of appreciation when I tell them, "You have and always did have a most wonderful mother."

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