May is motherhood memoir month

Of Winning with Daughters

You might remember that daughter #2 won the Central Oregon Writers Guild poetry award last year at 17( She won it again at 18, and I won an award for non-fiction by wrapping a story around one of her poems. It started as a letter to her (see

There is a lot of power in reciting someone’s own words back to them sometimes, in the right spirit. Here is the story:                             Such Unkind Things

The way your dark mascara dripped and blurred under your eyes when you peeked out from behind your pink blankie made me think of a Pierrot doll, and I asked if you were okay.

Your whispered response turned into a sobbing storm, so I encircled you with outstretched arms, and I thought, how much are you willing to put up with?

I see you reaching for this mechanical boy beneath you, wanting to be wanted, seen, heard. I wonder, what makes you willing to try so hard?

You might have a bit of a savior complex, I say the next morning after hearing your cries in the kitchen, finding you clutched in your baby sister’s arms, holding her so tight she is bouncing with the rhythm of your heaving sobs before she heads out the door for another day of fourth grade.

Maybe it’s true, you say, as you fill your favorite honey bee mug with lavender tea.

Well, I know you’ll figure it out, you always do, I say, affirming what I want to be true. You are only 17. I sip coffee that has grown cold, waiting.

And then you share a new poem with me, the one that begins as a conversation with your brother who has left, along with the other two, but the one you miss most, the one you wrote that poem for, All the Unkind Things, about how it’s weird that love is not enough and he’s the only one you talk with about it.

I see you two sharing familiar side hugs, his eyes settled on some patch of ground, your hands fidgeting when you say to him, You were there for all the unkind things,

when whispers turned into heavy raincloud sobs

and realizations folded up like sheets

that fell out in wrinkled mumbles.

My brothers scattered long ago in the aftermath of our parent’s divorce. Maybe I’m trying to prematurely save you from the pain of that fate, but I can barely save myself.

And yet I watch your brother help you

bring the corners back together.

His words fill holes like spackling in the spaces left behind

by all the pushpin ghosts.

He tries to teach you love like putting posters up with tape,

but you can’t get away from tacks

pushing all those souls through your punctured skin.

I think it scares him that he’s the reason you’re okay.

And from all those states away

he somehow helps you keep your shape,

reminding you who you are with every word.

He closes up the cracks.

And all the unkind things fall away.*

When I was your age I had a boyfriend who was almost always nice to me. One late fall afternoon another guy asked me to go for a motorcycle ride. I climbed on and felt the fall breeze speeding through my hair, tangling with his words thrown back at me, my hands clutched to his waist.

My boyfriend saw us and chased us down in his midnight blue El Camino. He almost ran us off the curved road before I told my friend to stop.

My boyfriend jumped out, his long arms filled with all my leftover things — art books and colored pencils, a pair of sandals, my favorite sweater, a forgotten hat, my coffee cup and make-up, all held tight in his lumberyard arms for one moment while he stared down at me. Then all my things flew up in the air, my after-school life scattering across the center lane. My best pot of pink lipgloss rolled under a passing car and cracked open before I could retrieve it.

My boyfriend said I could go now with the guy on the motorcycle and take all my stuff with me, or I could come with him. I bent down to pick up my stuff, and he bent down to help me. He said he’d buy me new lip gloss, and he whispered how love made him crazy. He took me out to dinner.

I loved him. 40 years later I still think of him, that first real love. It took until New Year’s Eve to figure out how to say good-bye, but that day I found out I wasn’t willing to put up with such unkind things.

*phrases of Lily’s poem, All the Unkind Things, are collaged in, with permission

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