truthful conversations

The Conversation Beneath the Conversation

debra-emma-walking-down-the-streetWe weren’t sworn enemies but we had had words. Well, she’d had words with me while I held my tongue. At the time, my daughter thought I was a being wuss, especially because I’d never called this mother about the times her daughter had hurt mine. During the conversation in question, I said what I thought was appropriate — that our daughters, at fifteen, could settle their own differences; if she wanted to meet with me we could do so with our girls and the school counselor. She said I was an unfit mother and a phony. In my mind I was taking the high road but was my daughter right? Should I have responded in kind,  recounting  the times her daughter had mean-girled mine to the point of tears? My pounding heart closed my throat on a whole ton of words, all justified. For months I silently castigated myself. What kind of a mother doesn’t stand up for her daughter, or herself, in the face of such an attack?

We’ve bumped into each other from time to time. I decided long ago to take a page from the “kill ’em with kindness” rule book.  When I saw her at the post office a few years ago, she hesitated. “Come,”    I said moving toward her. “It’s time for a hug.” We caught up on where our daughters were and what they were doing. Hers wields a scalpel; mine a very cool iPad stylus. They are both healing lives and spirits in their chosen professions.

When I saw her this week at a show, I moved from behind my table to greet her and give her a hug. She hugged me back. She looked good; I looked good.  The kids are good.  All is good. Thank God.

I knew way back then the source of her pain, and that’s why I had held my seemingly chicken-hearted tongue. I knew then, as now, that I wasn’t walking in her shoes.  This week I heard more consciously another layer of the conversation that had kept me quiet all those years ago. Because this is likely what the mother was really saying: “It’s not fair your daughter is healthy and mine had cancer. I’m furious that your daughter has gorgeous long dark hair because I’ll never forget the months my daughter had none. You are unfit because in the darkest parts of my soul I fear I am unfit, else why did my daughter have to suffer through chemo? You may think you have all the answers but I cannot find the answer to this question: What did I do to make my daughter get cancer before she even got her period?

In our rational moments we all know how little of this great big life we can control. And yet as mothers, we still feel we should, and ought to, have the power to keep monstrous things from hurting our children.  So when X and I cross paths, I greet her kindly.  I hug her because were her shoes ever on my feet, I don’t know how I could cope. Maybe on some level, my hug is an irrational talisman of hope that my kindness today will bless my daughter, keeping her and even her one-time nemesis,  safe for a lifetime of tomorrows.

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