Guilt and celebration are strange bedfellows. Throw in obligation and expectations and you have the plot of most indie films and every Tennessee Williams play. What have we done with that potent mix? Created a pseudo holiday. For me nothing made this more clear than that lovely poem by Billy Collins
My own kids detest Mother’s Day. I don’t know if detest is the right word, but they can smell a con a mile off. They hate being forced to exhibit sibling love, to make handprint heart cards in school, and bring me breakfast in bed. I always sense their reserve and it makes every gift just a little bit off. I’m sure I’m not the only mother to feel this way.
The paperback of the Roots of the Olive Tree came out right in the thick of Mother’s Day season. I wrote this book about mothers and daughters in a small part so that I could get a better understanding of who my mother is. (In a nod to Turgenev, a very early version of the book was even called Mothers and Daughters.) As I thought about this, I realized that behind much of the book are stories I collected from my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
And so, I have a proposal. Let’s start a new Mother’s Day Tradition. Instead of a card, or in addition to that breakfast in bed, ask your mother to tell you a story about her life. It’s been said that our mother’s stories are the stories of our own lives. I believe that’s true. I also believe that those of us with mothers who grew up during a time when their stories did not carry as much weight as those of the men in their lives, that it might be difficult to get them to talk about their lives.
Here are 25 questions to get you started. I’d love to hear what you’d add to the list or even better what stories your mother shared when you asked her one of these questions. I hope that these will be the start of a conversation and the beginnings of many stories. But mostly I hope that your Mother’s Day becomes less about guilt and obligation and more about listening and learning. Please share!
Tell me about your first kiss.
Describe your childhood bedroom.
Who taught you how to drive and what was your first car?
What did you buy with your first paycheck?
Describe a typical summer day in your childhood neighborhood.
What was your favorite treat as a child and how did you get it?
Sing a song you remember from your youth.
What movie have you seen more than once?
What was the worst punishment you received from your parents?
Does your name hold any significance?
Who do you look the most like in your family?
Tell me about the first time you got your heart broken.
Who do you know that drowned?
Do you know anyone who spent time in jail?
Have you ever been fired from a job?
Tell me about the neighbors you couldn’t stand.
What event from your past still makes you laugh?
Is there a story you hope you never have to hear again?
Who did you hate?
When did you know you loved your spouse?
When did you fail as a parent?
What do you love that everyone else hates?
Tell me what you know about your parents that nobody else does.
Where is the worst place you’ve ever been?
What memory still makes you angry?