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An Open Letter to my Mother

mom pretty

The plan was, your letter would post in the night and be there for you first thing, Mother’s Day morning. Look, I missed it! This is how you know this letter is really from your daughter. I look at my letter to Jane, and I know you would never ever have forgotten your mother in law’s birthday or posted your own mother’s letter at the last second, scrambling with html to make the images not be weird at 6 am. We are different, you and I. You have a clock in your head and perfect manners. I have a discombobulated scrambling crazed white rabbit in my head, and sketchy manners, and regret.

I don’t look like you all that much, either, which is a pity. I have always had the most beautiful mother, whatever room we were in.

We are not passionate about the same things. You love to garden. “I want to go dig in the dirt,” you say, and I could do without plants altogether if it wasn’t for the oxygen and food.

Meanwhile, I fill my house with spoiled, hairy mammals, and you boggle at each new stray I collect. You smiled for the sake of the children, but the aquarium full of incestuous gerbils on the kitchen counter ALMOST did you in.

I love horror and sci fi and fart jokes and you like F. Scott Fitzgerald and NOT fart jokes. I think SPOILERS are a high crime against art-manity. You flip to the end of a book to see how it comes out—and Mom, I am pretty sure that people can be sent to hell for that.

I don’t have all your gorgeous red in my hair—but oh, I have it in my temper. Irish, you and I. We both have that.

But here is what I got from you:

I got how to be a mother. You taught me that, because you were the best mother who ever was and is and yet shall be.

We were so LOVED, my brother and I. Even when you were furious with us, even when we were awful, that bedrock absolute firmament of love was underneath us. If a truck rolled onto me, I knew that you would lift that truck. Period.

You showed me how a woman loves her babies every day of my life. It took me less by surprise than it might have, when Sam and Maisy came out of me, and I found myself wondering how it was possible for a person to keep breathing with her heart outside her body. It isn’t possible, actually. The world is too dangerous and terrifying. But because of you, I knew how to lean into the impossible, instead of away.

The thing that amazes me most is this: you invented it. You invented motherhood. You made your house by walking it away from houses you had seen and known and lived in, and made your own up differently. You made yours how you always wished a house could be. You and daddy invented what your family would be like together; it was my great gift to be born to you.

I will say, with no details and also no apologies, that you did not have good role models. No one showed you. No one even gave you a book. How did you know to do that? How did you know how to be the woman and the mother that you are? What a rich, bright mind you have, and what a good heart, to imagine such beautiful mothering into being.

Today I want to tell you this—You got it right. You got it all right, all the parts that matter.

People meet you and they are surprised at how delightful you are, because in my books, many times, the mothers are monsters. My fictional mothers are often failed or absent or cannibal-hamster-mamas, eating their own young. And yet in almost every story, I write about the fierce glory of invented motherhood—that weird choosing of a love that is beyond reason. The miracle of how you invented motherhood is the heart of my work, and also the heart of my much filthier, less organized home.

Look, I am not a perfect mother. No one is. I am not sure WHICH thing I do or have done that will put my kids in therapy, but I am still doing or already did it. But this is what I DO know, because of you:

Love fills the gaps. Whatever I do wrong, whatever I misunderstand or bork up or mishandle, if I love my kids in that unceasing, bedrock, no-matter-what way you showed me, love will fill the gaps.

This is what we call faith, and you invented that for me, too.

Thank you, Thank you. Thank you. You are my dearest and my best mother, and I love you,
joshilyn sig

joss and mom 1979

10 comments to An Open Letter to my Mother

  • J Myers

    You bring tears to my eyes. Blessed are they who can imagine — and then create — a better definition of ‘family’ than that in which they grew up. I was blessed with great family, but I see all around me the friends and acquaintances who weren’t, and I marvel at those who manage to rise above it and break the cycle, creating a better life for their own children. Hooray for your mother, and — as always, cannibalustic hamsters and all — hooray for you!

  • Jennifer

    this is so brilliantly lovely I’m in tears.

  • michelle

    Wow…a glorious tribute to your mom….my tears drop. You are truly blessed to have lived on that bedrock since your beginning. I do believe it’s the best treasure any parent can give.

  • What a beautiful give for your mother…and for you. Happy Mother’s Day!

  • Angie

    Joshilyn, beautifully worded as usual!! And the fact that I actually am blessed to have had Betty in my life makes it even more beautiful. She truly is an example of beauty and grace and to know her is a blessing beyond measure. Happy Mother’s Day Betty from one of the Gateway kids!!

  • Chris

    That is lovely as is the photo of the two of you – both beautiful ladies!!!

  • An amazing tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman. And weren’t you blessed? Wow! Have a happy Mother’s Day, Joshilyn.

  • Leslie Madden

    So lovely.

  • Trisha

    Great tribute to a lovely woman! It brought tears to my eyes, too.