In “Dear Mom: Women’s Letters of Love, Loss and Longing,” editor Deborah Berger writes: “Almost everyone has something she never told her mother–because she ran out of time, because she was afraid, because she didn’t realize it until her pen was in her hand, or her fingers on the keyboard. In “Dear Mom,” a collection of letters from women to their mothers, the writers express their most private truths–their secret thoughts and feelings. In this excerpt, Nora now treasures her mother’s many gifts. But as a child, she longed for her mother’s wide-ranging mind to focus more on her.

I am 5 years old and have just violated the “Don’t bother Mom, she’s writing” rule. I have opened the door to the upstairs room where you are working at a desk, and I’m running barefoot across the wooden floor to you when suddenly, my foot is impaled by a splinter. It’s a brazen bid for attention, and it seems to have worked. Now my cries are real!

Thirty-six years later, I have stopped the theatrics, but I am still wondering: How can I stand in front of you and be seen?

Your world was always so big, and you gave your attention to so many things.

As a child, I resented this. [At] 5, I accompanied you unwillingly on a trip to visit Emily Dickinson’s home. “Some day you’ll appreciate this,” you said when I whined about going. As a young adult, though, I was proud of you for your big world. When I told you my housemate was from northeast Spain, you asked if she was Catalan. Maria was astounded. “You don’t know my mother,” I told her.

But at the same time, your global outlook could be embarrassing. My teen-age sisters and I would cringe at your unabashed ability to respond to the question, “Where are you from?” with the pronouncement, “I’m a citizen of the world!”

Although your world was big, it wasn’t big enough to include attending a single one of my high school soccer games. I knew you didn’t care for sports, so I never asked you to go. It didn’t seem odd at the time. Now I watch my friends attending their daughters’ games and wonder what it would have been like to have you there supporting me, rooting for me.

No, I couldn’t stand in front of you with athletics. That didn’t register on your radar screen. Academics, yes. Athletics, no.

So I played the academics card to the hilt. My 4.0s were the norm, and becoming valedictorian was a given . . .

So I may have learned calculus, but I didn’t learn to love and value myself. It’s not that you weren’t loving when you were present. It’s that I wasn’t cherished. It’s that I was a third child out of four, and you were a very busy woman. It’s that I saw you not standing up to Dad’s controlling ways and unpredictable outbursts. It’s that I learned it wasn’t safe to be me.

Yet if I sat on your lap when I was little, crying about something, you would hold me and say, “Bless your heart. You have such a sensitive heart.” I knew by the way that you said it, that that was a good thing . . .

Deborah Berger, a freelance journalist, spent three years working on “Dear Mom.” She lives in Seattle.

From: DEAR MOM: WOMEN’S LETTERS OF LOVE, LOSS AND LONGING by Deborah Berger. Copyright 2001 by Deborah Berger. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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