Take My Mother, Please

One of my favorite lines in a movie came when Holly Hunter — who played the scheming, domineering mother in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom — shakes her head and mutters ruefully, “The things you do for your kids.”

At the time, she’s plotting to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s main cheerleading rival, which might strike some people as a bit extreme. But hey, motives aside, the underlying sentiment is universal. The things we do for our kids!

All of which I was thinking when my friend Betsy revealed a shocking revelation about her newly grown son, Aaron. Aaron, who in real life is a fledgling engineer, does standup comedy on the weekends. So far, so good, right? Not so fast, kemo sabe. Aaron does his entire comedy routine without ever mentioning his mother.

“What do you mean, he doesn’t mention you?” I asked Betsy, horrified.

“He doesn’t mention me at all,” she said.

Every comedian on earth complains about his mother,” I said. “I don’t think you can be a comedian without joking about your mother. What did you do wrong that he doesn’t complain about you?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Does Aaron realize how much time you and I’ve spent obsessing about child-rearing?” I asked. “We’ve probably taken years off our lives worrying about our children.”

These discussions, admittedly, were pretty self-serving, with Betsy and me repeatedly reassuring each other that — most recent evidence to the contrary — we were great mothers. Even if we’d never been room mothers, cleanliness- or nutrition-obsessives, or minivan drivers, even if we had pretty low expectations by Tiger Mom standards, we’d still shown up most days, hadn’t we?

Well, except for the time I’d told my traitor-son he had to walk a half-mile home from middle school in perfectly good weather since I had an emergency appointment to get my nails done. Instead of walking, he telephoned the neighborhood supermom and asked her to come pick him up. Which she did. When I heard the story, I asked our son what he said I’d been busy doing, since I hadn’t been able to pick him up from school. (I was hoping, obviously, for a casual mention of a pressing medical or professional appointment. Well, ha.) “I told her you were getting a manicure,” my son said, with a certain young male flatness in his voice. A manicure? God, I just wanted to die. After that, every time I ran into the Supermom, I was pretty sure she was examining my nails for any other signs of child neglect.

But, anyway. That’s one of those lovable, cringe-inducing mother-son moments tucked into the past like a frayed old bookmark. Betsy’s dilemma was a more immediate crisis. I wondered what I’d do if my son were cranking up a comedy routine that didn’t contain some flattering references to me as a witty, madcap presence who helped mold his great sense of humor or something. What would I feel? Like I wasn’t an immediate concern to his life right now?

Oh, wait a minute. Hold on. Actually, that’s what any parent — mother or father — feels as their kids grow up. They still love us, hopefully, but we’re not in the thick of their existences as we once were. They’re making their own lives and comedy routines with themselves — and not us — on center stage.

The things you do for your kids. Oh, yeah, right.  Here’s one of the last, great things you do for your kids: You try to let them grow up and leave you behind without feeling too guilty about it.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)




14 comments… add one
  • My mother gives me endless opportunities for outrageous stories. For example, every year on my birthday my mother recounts the story of my birth–what she calls the “agony story.” Last week she told me she never uses her car’s rear-view mirror because she drives on instinct. If I didn’t find her amusing I’d lose my mind.

  • Even now with my children 6 and 7 I have to let go at times – more often than I realized and sometimes it isn’t too smooth. But, I’m trying.

    Indeed! How could he not have his mother in his routine!

  • Cindy A Link

    Oh, Ruth, obviously you have never seen how mothers are mentioned in comedy routines! Not usually one bit flattering. My favorite is Eddie Murphy’s mom who would whip off a shoe and hurl it at the kids (he still hates high heels).

    My mom drives down the road constantly tapping the brakes. It’s like riding in a boat on choppy water. She says it makes people behind her pay attention. And they certainly do!

  • Maria Link

    As a mother, letting go is the most bittersweet, difficult, painful, joyful thing in my life. Why did my mother never warn me about how hard this is?

  • Marsha Canright Link

    Having been involved in a number of hare brain schemes in my 20s, I’d love to advise my daughter on things to avoid. Sadly, we mostly learn by living our own lives, and not by following the advice of loving parents. I now spend time metaphorically biting my lower lip to avoid giving advice. Ruth, she’s left me behind but I know my voice is in her head already, forever, and I hope it’s urging her to live fully and without fear. This week I told my 90-year old mother that I’m taking surfing lessons, and she said: “Are you sure that’s safe?”

  • Love it: The “mortifying” manicure story (not) and the sage advice at the end. It’s so important to keep in mind that our job as parents is to raise independent beings who can fend for themselves in the world.

  • Loved this!

  • Ha! I want my kids to feel guilty about leaving me behind. As guilty as possible. My prerogative since we’re Jewish. Smile.

  • This is so funny. I too, thought of the Eddie Murphy routine. If her son was mentioning him, she probably wouldn’t want to know!

  • I think I’ve been behind Cindy A.’s mom when driving… And hey, as a mom you’ve got to do a few crazy things, right? I once had to pick up my tweener from bball practice mid hair highlight. Yeah, she loved that–mom covered with little pieces of aluminum foil and what looked like a plastic picnic tablecloth. Good times.

  • Susan Link

    Love the manicure story! My mother is a real character so she’d most certainly be part of my standup routine (if I had one). But she might not like the stories I’d tell, so perhaps it’s for the best that your friend isn’t in her son’s routine (and that I don’t have one at all).

  • Sheryl Link

    Ruth, I’d truly hope to be part of my son’s stand-up routine, even if it was at my expense. After all, my kids should remember and acknowledge all the sacrifices I’ve made for both of them, including even rescheduling
    said manicure appointments !

  • I’m already resisting the foolish idea that my teenagers will grow up and leave the nest. Nope, that’s not ever gonna happen. On the other end of the spectrum, the 16-year-old finds it utterly amusing that I’m down with the idea of him joining the mob. Hey, as long as he’s the boss and the money’s good enough to support me in my old age. On the other hand, look what happened to Tony Soprano’s mom. Hmmm, might have to re-think that one…

  • Merr Link

    Not certain, but was it Neil Simon who based one of his plays on his parents, or one of his parents, but when they came to the show wondered how he came up with such characters?!

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