REALLY, MY MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a “regular” mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with other mothers in the summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated cooking. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole huggy-kissy mothering thing eluded her.

She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school, but read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom. She talked to me about everything and more important, she listened to me.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add this country to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me. I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape, and all.

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots and put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving.

I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did. For all I know, it’s happening right now.

She didn’t trust the government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yuk) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant.

She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriate anatomical books about sex. She figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions.

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time.

She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known. It seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Older than my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. She always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY: A MOTHER’S WALTZ – Leslie Martel and Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 12, 2019


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.

My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.

The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).

These are memories in music for all mothers.

MOTHERHOOD WITH BENEFITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My English friend’s daughter, Katie, just had her first baby. She is 37 and has an established career she loves. Because she lives in England, having her baby will not affect her position at work. She gets nine-months of maternity leave and is guaranteed her job back when her leave is over.

For an American, that whole concept is amazing. Women in America are afraid to take the full legal six-weeks maternity leave for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

I’ve recently read that many women in America are choosing not to have children because motherhood would adversely affect their careers.

Women have to fight harder to establish themselves professionally and prove they are as good as the men they work with. Therefore, they don’t want to give up the gains they fought for make by having kids. They shouldn’t have to, but apparently, mothers are routinely treated with prejudice throughout corporate America.

Mothers are not viewed or treated like childless female workers or even male workers with kids. Mothers’ loyalty and commitment to their professions are always questioned.

Corporate life leaves no room for a family life. At least not for women. Mothers in the workforce have a terrible time balancing work and home life. They’re afraid to give any priority to their families, which creates tremendous stress. And hurts families.

There are other benefits Kate has as a new mother in England which American moms don’t have.

The English National Health Service, though stretched to the limit, still offers invaluable services to mothers of newborns. Kate can call an experienced midwife whenever she needs advice. When Kate was worried about nursing, a midwife with an expertise in lactation issues came to Kate’s house. She sat with Kate while she fed her daughter and offered advice and support. This would have been invaluable to me but is unheard of in America. I would have to find my own expert and pay for her services.

In addition, the midwives, as well as the GP’s in England, pay close attention to the new mother’s mental health. They are on guard for any signs of postpartum depression. This is considered a major part of postnatal care in England. Not in the U.S.

The National Health Service also offers something called the Lullaby Café, a place for new mothers to meet each other under the guidance of a trained midwife. The professional is there to answer questions, offer advice and comfort, as the voice of experience. I would have loved to have something like this when I had my first child. Mommy And Me ‘classes’ were just playgroups, not healthcare.

The new moms in my group had to compare notes and figure things out on our own. Truly the blind leading the blind. We also had to pay for our group activities, until we could form our own groups and meet in each other’s homes.

For Kate, her group experience is both free and educational.

So if you’re going to have a baby, especially if you also want a career, you’re better off if you’re British than American. Given our broken and morally corrupt healthcare system, that’s hardly a big surprise!

 

MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school. She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

1963

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

A MOTHER’S WALTZ: MUSIC & PICTURES – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 13, 2018


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): It has arrived. The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago … but of course, it is brand new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 … with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.

 

A POSITIVE PARENTING MOMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a brief shining moment as a parent. I did something right. It felt right then and I still believe that it was right now. I even think that my daughter, Sarah, would agree.

It has to do with Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place in January of 1998. We started planning it in 1997, when Sarah was twelve. Sarah has always been a very organized, efficient person. She could reorganize her closet, on her own, when she was five. So, my brilliant idea was, why not give Sarah the lead in planning her Bat Mitzvah events! She loved the idea.

Sarah at twelve years old

I gave her the budget and off we went to the invitation lady, the potential venues, the party planner, the florist, etc. Sarah got the final word on all decisions (after some maternal prodding and advice) as long as she stayed within the budget. That got tricky, which was the point of the exercise.

I remember, at one point, she fell in love with some fancy invitations. But, she realized that if she spent the extra money there, she’d have to cut back on the party favors for her friends. It was a carefully thought out decision. She finally went with the simpler invitations and the better favors.

Invitation Sarah picked

She had to use a calculator to plan her menu. For table decorations, she decided to save money on flowers. So she used balloons and paper decorations to supplement the very basic floral treatments on each table.

It was an enjoyable as well as an educational process. Sarah took great pride in doing everything herself. She learned about budgeting, time management and other sophisticated organizational skills.

The event was beautiful and lots of fun. I think it also had more meaning for Sarah because the day’s festivities were a result of her own input and effort. She not only had a memorable coming of age party, she actually grew up a lot in the process.

Sarah at the evening party

I’m proud of Sarah for handling everything so gracefully, maturely and responsibly. I’m proud of myself for giving the reins to the soon to become Jewish “woman”. We both benefitted from the experience and Sarah blossomed. A+ for the Bat Mitzvah, A+ for parenting.

Sarah and me at the morning services at the Temple

 

 

BEHAVIORAL CONDITIONING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was an anxious child. I’m convinced that my father had a serious anxiety/depression disorder, which I undoubtedly inherited. From early on, I had nervous ticks, anxiety attacks, learning problems, and psychosomatic stomach problems. I was also a bed wetter and a chronic worrier. I obsessively worried about everything that could possibly go wrong in any situation. The world seemed dark and scary to me. I often felt overwhelmed, beyond my ability to cope.

Me at about six or seven

When I was 40, medication became available that helped me conquer my inner demons. Decades before, my mother decided to train me out of my worry addiction. She used behavior modification techniques that she learned about in her training as a psychologist. I owe her a tremendous debt for the effort she put into reconditioning me.

My mother stopped me whenever I started ‘awfulizing’, a great made up word that means seeing the dark side of any situation and making it worse. “Don’t bleed until you’re cut” she would say. She reminded me that I would have plenty of time to worry, be upset and even get hysterical if and when the bad thing actually happened.

“Why waste time now agonizing about something that might never happen?” She asked that question over and over and over.

Me and mom when I was seven or eight

I saw the logic in what she said. But initially, I couldn’t stop my mind from anticipating problems. My mother was relentless. Whenever I started to worry about the future, my mother stopped and redirected me. This often happened several times every day. Eventually, the Pavlovian conditioning began to work.

I was still an anxious person, but by my teen years, my anxiety acquired a veneer of optimism. I worried, often excessively, but only about real things in my life, like upcoming papers and tests. I was often paralyzed by my anxiety. But I stopped being anxious about things that might happen or could go wrong. I topped assuming the worst possible thing that could happen, would happen.

Me at around thirteen

Since my mother trained me out of my pessimism and worrying, I’ve prided myself in being rather easy-going. I always assume that I’ll be able to drive after the snowstorm — until I try and fail (or it’s really bad out). I assume medical tests will come out normal or not too bad — until they don’t. I’m an optimist now. The glass is half full and I believe things will turn out okay until it’s proven otherwise.

Mom when I was about thirteen

The problem has been for many, many years, there were legitimate things that kept me worrying much of the time. Things like mental illness in my immediate family. Financial problems. A cheating husband. The thing is, I bled over the real crises, rather than over the imagined, possible ones which might be lurking out there for me.

A few days before she died, my mother asked me what I felt I ‘got’ from having her as a mother. She wanted a final report card on her role as mother. I told her that, above all else, I was grateful to her for training me out of my destructive worrying and pessimism. She saved me from years of self-inflicted anguish. Watching my dad, I saw how painful and unrewarding life could be if you always ‘bleed before you’re cut.’ I am relieved that I didn’t have to experience that every day, as he did.

Me and Mom a month or two before she died in 2002

My mother was surprised but very pleased. I also told her how she gave me my sense of fun, humor and silliness as well as my love of theater and my appreciation for beautiful things, good food, good friends and good conversation. The upbeat, happy and enthusiastic parts of my personality were all thanks to her. I gave her credit for much of what is best in me.

She died happy, feeling appreciated. I would be happy with that for my legacy as a mother.

TO SLEEP, PERHAPS TO DREAM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Falling asleep is usually not a problem for me. I can nap during the day and when I wake up during the night, I can usually fall right back to sleep.

I have had training for this. My first child, David, was not a good sleeper. He gave up napping early and stayed up late every night. He also woke me up three times a night for two solid years. And he would only go back to sleep if I nursed him. I let this go on way too long. But our pediatrician kept reassuring me that David would stop nursing when he was ready. I was convinced that he was not going to give up my breasts until he found someone else’s he liked better!

Reading at bedtime with David

Anyway, I trained myself to go back to sleep three times a night. It wasn’t that hard because all I had to do was pick up a baby and sit with him in a comfy chair. I could close my eyes and keep myself from fully waking up. Sometimes HE had trouble falling back to sleep. Then I would have to walk with him and sing to him for a while. The one song I sang for both kids, every night, was “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, by John Denver, also recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. I don’t know why I picked that particular song, but that became “our song”. But most nights, our routine went smoothly and post midnight serenading was not required.

Nursing two-year old David

I have a similar problem now. This time, I’m not wakened by a baby. It’s my dogs. One dog. She wants to eat breakfast between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM. She jumps on me and sticks her nose in my face. If I ignore her, she whines and paws me.

So now I get up at the crack of dawn every day. I am not an early riser. Tom and I are retired so we stay up very late and sleep late. I want to go back to sleep as quickly as possible after feeding the dogs. My experiences with David have served me well.

Remy, the dog who wakes me up every morning

However, to feed the dogs, I have to go downstairs, get out the dog food, measure it out and put the right dose of medicine into my older dog’s bowl. The whole process takes maybe three minutes. Then I’m back upstairs and back in bed.

The problem is that I have to be awake enough to do a precise task correctly. Because of this, sometimes my adrenaline kicks in and I wake up completely. When that happens, it’s hard to go back to sleep.

Parts of the morning feeding ritual

When I can’t sleep, I use a Yogic breathing exercise that relaxes the nervous system. This usually works pretty quickly. When it doesn’t, I often get a head start on the morning’s news on my phone. Eventually my eyes will start to get heavy and I’ll be ready to fall back to sleep. I don’t usually toss and turn for hours in the wee hours of the morning.

That only happens when I can’t go to sleep at night. That’s when I have to get out of bed and read or write till 3:00 AM. I watch the clock tick off hour after hour and get anxious and upset. That sucks. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. My forays into the wee hours of the morning are mostly limited to my daily doggie breakfasts.

Now, when I’m feeding the dogs, I think back to when sleep deprivation involved an adorable little human. History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

THE UNUSUAL WAY MY MOM MET HER HUSBANDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother had two husbands, both of whom she adored. She was also widowed twice – once at the age of 29 and once at the age of 64.

Both her husbands were doctors. Both her husbands were much older than she was; 15 years and 26 years her senior (my Dad). Both were named Abraham, although my Dad later referred to himself as Abram. Her father’s name was also Abraham. Have a Freudian field day with that one!

She also met both doctors in similar ways – by going to them for help dealing with a serious illness.

When Mom was in college at the University of Wisconsin in the 1930’s, she took a commonly used, over the counter drug to help her stay awake and cram for exams and papers. Years later the drug was banned because it was discovered that it killed off white blood cells, eventually, killing the drug user. So Mom started to get sick.

The school doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. Finally someone called my grandmother and told her to come and get my Mom so she could die at home in New York City! So Grandma brought her home and started looking for a doctor who could save her. Enter a brilliant young doctor named Abraham O. Tumen. He became known as A.O. so that’s what I’ll call him.

Mom and A.O.

A.O. came up with a risky but creative treatment plan. Since Mom’s white blood cells were being destroyed, he reasoned that to save her, he had to get her white cells to start reproducing again. He thought he could do that by giving her an infection, like Typhoid Fever. Theoretically, that would stimulate her immune system to fight off the infection. It could kill her, but she was dying anyway. This might give her body a chance to fight back.

A.O. claimed that the minute he saw my beautiful mother sitting in bed, in long braids, he thought “I have to save this woman because I’m going to marry her!”

The family put it’s faith in A.O. and he gave Mom Typhoid Fever! Mom remembered being deathly sick with a very high fever. But she also remembered gradually getting stronger and recovering. It was almost a year before Mom could leave the house and start her life again.

During that year as an invalid, A.O. spent a lot of time with her. She just thought he was being a conscientious doctor. After all, she was only 19 and he was 34! Finally one day, A.O. told her he had two tickets to a concert and asked her if she wanted to go. She assumed he was offering the tickets to her. She didn’t realize that he was asking her out. So she happily took the tickets for herself and a male friend! The next time, A.O. made sure she understood that he was asking her to go out with HIM.

 They were married for nine years before A.O. died in her arms from a massive heart attack at the age of 43. It was Valentine’s day. Mom got his humorous Valentine’s Day card in the mail later that morning. She kept it the rest of her life and I still have it!

How Mom met my Dad is an even stranger story. While married to A.O., my mother suffered from blinding, debilitating migraine headaches. A.O. had heard about a new field called psychiatry that was making headway in treating migraines. So he contacted a prominent New York City practitioner named Abram Kardiner, my father. Mom started to see him as her therapist. He succeeded in curing her migraines and he eventually dismissed her as his patient.

A.O. with my Dad

Somehow, during the analysis, Dad had met A.O. and they had hit it off. So after Dad stopped being Mom’s therapist, he became Mom and A.O.’s single friend. They became so close that Dad invited Mom and A.O to spend weekends with him and his then girlfriend at his country home in Easton, CT. This means that Mom spent time with her first husband, in the house that would become her summer home with her second husband! Strange?

Dad was the first person Mom called when A.O. had his heart attack. Since Dad was a doctor, she called him even before she called her parents. He was with her when A.O. was declared dead.

Mom and Dad dated for three years before they married and had me. Dad was 58 when he married her (his first marriage) and 59 when I was born. Perhaps their shared love of A.O. contributed to making their marriage so special and so successful for the next 32 years. Dad’s relationship with Mom’s first husband didn’t seem unusual to me until I was a young adult. But then again, the unique way my Mom met her husbands didn’t seem unusual to me until then either.

I WAS BROUGHT UP ON A LIE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was very clear about the kind of person she wanted me to grow up to be. She wanted me to have all the ‘good’ qualities she felt she possessed. The list is long.

I was to be kind, caring, considerate and giving; compassionate, empathetic and loyal; a good listener and good friend; sensitive to the needs of others, ‘there’ for family and friends and generous with affection, praise and support of any kind. Also honest, trustworthy, down to earth and non-judgmental.

Quite a tall order. But my mother believed she had all those traits so why couldn’t I have them too? A noble goal in life. This is the description of a wonderful person, the person I have always tried to be.

My mother often told me that she would always love me, but she would only want me as a friend as well if I became “her kind of person”. That put fear in my very soul. I wanted nothing more than the love and approbation from and lifelong friendship with this amazing person.

It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I fully realized the sham I had grown up with. My mom was a narcissist, possibly with borderline personality issues. As with most narcissists, she got worse as she got older. She ended up being self-absorbed, controlling and selfish. Everything had to revolve around her but everyone had to think that she was the virtuous person I described above. Her primary goal in relationships, including with me, was self promotion.

Mom gave endless advice to friends (she was a psychologist) but never talked about her own problems because she didn’t want people to know she had any. She was judgmental about everyone and everything but herself. Her life had to be perfect. She had to be perfect. I had to be perfect since I was a reflection of her. (She used to say that I was a clone of her and I was thrilled!)

When it came down to it, she gave very little to anyone that wasn’t comfortable, convenient and self-serving. Here is a graphic example. When I was 40, I had a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old. I needed her help to leave an abusive, bi-polar husband, who was also abusive to the children. Mom had repeatedly encouraged me to leave and had said that she would do anything to help get me out of my destructive marriage. When the time came, she refused to help me. She said she couldn’t help financially because it would put a strain on her cash flow. Alternatively, she couldn’t let me and the kids live with her in her SUMMER HOUSE in CT. because it would inconvenience her cook (we would be using the kitchen) and cramp her social life (we would be using her guest rooms).

She expected me to accept these as totally valid reasons for her ‘inability’ to help me. I stayed with my ex for another eight years.

The literature on narcissism says that most children of narcissists either become narcissists or become subservient enablers to narcissists. I didn’t realize it but I was groomed to be the perfect narcissist’s side kick — in my mom’s shadow and at her service. I became a satellite. A small planet revolving around her sun. Unsurprisingly, my first husband, though bi-polar, was also a narcissist. For 25 years, my mother and husband fought with each other — constantly — over who would control me and get my ultimate loyalty and devotion. Each devoted themselves to trying to get me to push the other out of my life. I was a human wish bone.

The silver lining in all this is that I became the ‘good’ person I was brought up to believe my mother was. On the down side, I’ve had to learn to be less selfless and stand up for myself. I’ve had to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. I’m just learning how to be there for other people while staying true to myself as well.

I can be proud of who I turned out to be, so I guess that’s my happy ending. I just have to learn to forgive my Mother for not being the person she claimed to be and who I grew up admiring and emulating.

MOM WAS RIGHT

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

July 1963

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me about being young when FDR became president. How, when the National Recovery Act was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all. How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots and put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving.

I thought she was just paranoid, but recent events have made me change that opinion.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us. He had a long list — and we were on it. She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yuk) and natural medicine when no one seemed to have heard of it. She wanted all religion out of schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No decades of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday as well as appropriately anatomical books about sex. She figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions.

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would eagerly debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express them. But she made sure my brother had his Bar Mitzvah and never ate pork. Tradition.

She was the most cynical person I’ve known. I was always sure she was wrong, that people were better than that. I can’t even imagine what she would say about the way the world is turning out. I expect she would feel vindicated because on some level, this is exactly what she expected. She did not believe in the goodness of human beings or that god would step in to rescue us. With all my heart, I wanted her to be wrong.

So here I am. Nearly as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, possibly more than I liked myself. It just took me a long time to “get” her.

I’m very glad she isn’t here to see how the world has changed.

DOING WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVING WHAT YOU DO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. They both practiced as therapists. It seemed like the greatest profession and I grew up wanting to be a therapist too. You get to help people but you can be your own boss and set your own schedule. I always thought I would go to medical school, like my Dad, and become a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I sucked at science. After my first year in college, I realized that I would never get good enough grades in the sciences to get into medical school. So I followed my interests and became an American Studies major, with a minor in history. Toward the end of my college career, I announced that I would become a therapist by going to social work or psychology grad school.

My father went ballistic. He was actually famous in his profession. He was devastated at the thought that his daughter would not go to medical school. ‘Just’ being a therapist, without a medical degree, was unthinkable for any daughter of his. I would have been an embarrassment.

Like a young, insecure idiot, I bowed to his wishes and gave up my dream. I realized I could go to law school if I just took the LSAT exam. So that’s what I did. I basically chose a career based on where I could go to grad school — with the least amount of hassle. I was interested in the law, but not excited. I had no idea what it meant to be a practicing lawyer, day-to-day.

I made it through law school, still not really motivated to practice law. It turned out that the only kind of law I was really interested in, found intellectually challenging, was litigation, or trial practice. But litigators had to put in crazy, unpredictable hours and my husband was already doing that. I wanted children and didn’t think I could handle a demanding career, a demanding husband, running our lives and bringing up kids. I don’t thrive on stress and hyperactivity – they sap me and overwhelm me. I ended up being overwhelmed anyway, at home, with a bi-polar husband and one child with psychological and learning issues.

So I opted for a small, general practice law firm in New York City. I did contracts, trusts and estates, some leases, etc. I was bored out of my mind. Lots of paperwork and endless bureaucracy to negotiate. Not stimulating or gratifying in any way. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant so I could quit and become a stay at home Mom. Being a Mother was the one thing I was really excited about.

It turns out that the day my son was born, two months prematurely, I found my ideal career. I loved being a Mom and managing a home for my family. I worked hard, with no weekends off and few vacations. I was never bored. I always felt challenged by whatever phase my kids were going through. I was happy and satisfied with my life style.

I never looked back or regretted my decision to leave the law for motherhood. The decision I regret was appeasing my father and not pursuing the career I really wanted, in whatever way I wanted. Had I found a career I loved, my life would have played out differently. I could have worked part-time as a psychologist while my kids grew up, like my Mom did. (At that time, part-time work or job sharing was almost non-existent in law firms). I would also have had a career to go back to when my kids left home. It would have been nice to have a job I loved to fill the empty nest years, in my 50’s and 60’s.

What is depressing to me now is that I gave up the chance to fulfill my dreams of being a therapist. And I gave it all up to assuage my father’s ego. I wish I could go back now and tell my 21-year-old self to stand up to my Dad. To just go for the life I wanted. What makes it worse is that my Dad and I had a very limited and strained relationship. He was not really involved in my life. Except to step in and put the kibosh on my career choice.

I loved my job as a home maker and Mom. But I could also have loved my job as a therapist. And, I would have never felt I missed out on a big part of life.

A MOTHER’S WALTZ: MUSIC & PICTURES IN COLLABORATION

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 14, 2017


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): It has arrived. The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago … but of course, it is brand new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 … with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.

 

PARENTING CLASSES SHOULD BE MANDATORY – by ELLIN CURLEY

To get a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass two tests, one written and one practical. To be a teacher, you need a master’s degree and years of specialized training, academic and on-the-job. To do the hardest, most important job on the planet — parenting — there are no requirements. None. Zip. No required preparation of any kind. No training. No test. You’re on your own. The first time I ever held a baby, I was six months pregnant with my first child.

I spent this past weekend with family in a house with a young mom, Jennifer, her eight-year-old daughter Jayda, and her two-year-old son Jase. I saw firsthand the tremendous advantage of training for parenthood. Jennifer had been a grade school teacher, trained in early childhood behavior and education. She is now a principal in an elementary school.

She was the best parent I’ve ever seen. She had mad skills!

jen-and-kids

Jennifer had clearly studied child development and the best ways to handle young kids. She stayed mellow whatever was going on, so she was able to use her knowledge. In nearly three days, I never saw her lose her temper — or even her cool.

She was amazingly consistent with both children. Consistency is critical and was something I could never achieve. Every time Jase did something he wasn’t supposed to, like throwing something, he got a matter of fact, short time out. No drama, no anger. When told he needed a time out, he said “Yes, Mama” and went quietly.

jase

Jennifer knew how to distract and redirect a hyper-active and sometimes antsy toddler. Jase never reached the point of meltdown and neither did anyone else. He went down for naps and to bed without fuss because Mom was gentle but firm. She made it clear that there was no negotiation possible.

She also managed to spend time with Jayda. She got the two kids to interact peacefully. There was no sibling rivalry or fights for Mom’s attention. Peace reigned for more than 48 straight hours with only a few short bouts of toddler tears. In defense of all other mothers reading this, this child was an angel with a wonderful, happy disposition. He also had other relatives around to help entertain him.

But I could see in Jennifer’s actions textbook child-rearing techniques I’d read about. I believe those techniques and knowledge let Jennifer feel confident and in control. This, in turn, allowed her to stay calm and handle situations rationally and intelligently. She spread the calm to her kids. It was awesome. Humbling to watch.

all-4

I was a good parent but I had an ideal in my head to which I was never able to attain. Jennifer embodied that ideal. I’m sure she has the innate temperament to be a wonderful mother. But I’m also sure she was helped by the practical tools her training gave her. They made it possible for her to reach the goal of most parents: to be the best parent we can be.

We can all use all the help we can get!

MY MOTHER. REALLY.

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

MOTHER’S WALTZ: A MUSICAL & VISUAL COLLABORATION

Mother’s Day – May 8, 2016


FROM swo8: Mother’s Day is May 10th and the great American author and photographer (blush), Marilyn Armstrong and I have worked on another collaboration. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity: It has arrived. The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago … but of course, it is brand new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 … with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.


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