"Mothers are all slightly insane," Holden Caulfield says at one point in The Catcher in the Rye. I always knew what he meant. It was never a quote that I puzzled over. In five words, he nailed it.
My mother holding me, age 7 weeks
Yes, mothers are all slightly insane, some more slightly than others. They're insane because they can never be certain, ever, that their child(ren) is(are) completely without harm. They are on some kind of alert twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Some part of them never sleeps. You can't be that attentive and worried for that long and not be slightly crazy. Combine this worry with powerlessness—as soon as the boy or girl steps out of the house (out of the room, actually), they can't do a thing to protect them.
Holding her twins with me pondering. She had three children within eleven months
I think of my own mother, of her difficult life, and of her living alone after her divorce. For years. I think of all that she tried to do with that ache and pull toward her children. I think of her carrying that ache of loving me and that love unrequited, and how can you stand that day after day year after year? She used to say to me, "I get lonely for you, Richie. I think of her probably feeling she hadn't been a good mother, and how that must have devastated her after worrying about us so deeply and so continuously. I think of her bright, sharp mind, love of writing and reading and of her unblemished soul.
In Old Greenwich, CT, sometime in the 1970s
It's too late to tell her that I love her. I tied to do justice to her memory in a piece called "The Wheaton Girl". She went to Wheaton College. "The happiest days of my life," she told me. I doubt she'd like it. She didn't want her weaknesses exposed, and who would? I wrote another about watching her hang out the wash when I was a kid. Still not right. I'm not here to say anything silly like, tell your mom you love her before it's too late. I'm just here to say to you, Mom, that you deserved better. But I can't. Because you're dead. I think about you every day. I hope you've found peace.
The only time my mother saw my daughter, Becky