An Imperfect Daughter


I would hope my mother, who announces regularly these days that she’s not getting any younger, feels completely and absolutely adored by her family as she rides out her twilight years (she’ll outlive all of us, I am certain). That her dreams for me and my brother have surpassed any expectations. That even though none of it went as she’d planned, she feels fulfillment as a mother.

I don’t feel much of a pull to be celebrated on Mother’s Day, which feels so loaded and contrived to me. It’s not flowers and brunch that makes me feel like a mom to my almost-4-year-old. It’s more like how the other day, I was doing a sewing project for Grace, turing a too-big skirt she’d picked out at the thrift store into a dress that reaches down to her ankles (she’s into a princess silhouette these days). I felt like I was doing something motherly, one of the things my mother was always so good at, and I, sadly, am not. I’m a regular mom every day–“did you brush your teeth?” “What did you learn in karate?” “We don’t talk about poop at the table”–but there are certain actions that mean more, I suppose, because my mother did them for me.

My mother and I didn’t have the regular day-to-day mother-daughter relationship. I can’t ever remember her asking me to brush my hair or helping me with homework, though there was the one epic fight in high school over a pair of sneakers that look liked they’d been bombed and run over by a humvee, and she grabbed them off my feet and insisted on washing them before I went out. My father, whose first son had been kidnapped at 3 by his mother and taken to Israel, was of no mind to lose other children. He’d fiercely grabbed custody of me and my younger brother in 1973, at a time when men simply didn’t do that, when laws and rules around such things were still muddy as the nation’s couples began splitting en masse. We’d see Mom on the weekends, and in junior high, when we moved across the country to rural Washington state, maybe a couple times a year. That first year, my mother, feeling helpless and too poor to hire a big-gun attorney, spent the year sweeping the floor of a Tibetan monastery, weeping.

I would like to be a better daughter. The ultimate act would like to invite my mother to live with me, as I know she wants to, and not worry about things like the weeds overgrowing her doorstep, or if turning up the heat means going without something else. So she can make up lost time, if that is even possible. Of course she wants to be near us, in the same way I hope Grace lives at home, with me, forever and ever. But, for a variety of reasons, I just can’t. I know myself too well. I don’t know how three generations of spirited, opinionated and willful McGrady-Bennett women could possibly survive, with our wildly different schedules and needs and ways, in my small home.

I have been impatient and crabby with my mother, most recently, when she tried to sell me on the computer guy in her town–a three-day drive away. I have been forgetful and lazy. I want to help her, and she needs so much, that I don’t know where to start. I have tactics, but no strategies.

I am ashamed to say that I can’t, or don’t know how, to fix all the systemic problems that she encounters. I didn’t know how to help her when Bank of America double-billed her on her debit card for a year–she never got reimbursed, though we tried. I don’t know where to begin when she says she wants to move out of her home, because last time I took her and showed her all the options I could think of and none were OK. I don’t know, in short, how to be a better daughter.

A few days ago she asked me for a favor: Would I check my local thrift store for a typewriter? After 10 years, she’s giving up on computers. She can’t figure them out, they never work for her, she can’t do what she wants to do, artistically. The excellent daughter would be patient enough to travel up there for a few days and teach her, to hold her hand through all the tech trouble. The imperfect daughter? I just ordered her a typewriter.

Happy Mother’s Day, to the imperfect ones. No flowers required.

Vanessa McGradyAn Imperfect Daughter

Comments 5

  1. Kaumudi

    This is a beautiful essay and reflection (I cannot call it a blog post because it is more than that), Vanessa. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the complexities and contradictions involved in a mother-daughter relationship, especially as parents age (and we do too!).

    You are a good daughter and I know your mother knows that. Happy Mother’s Day!

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  3. Jules

    Dear Vanessa,

    I stumbled across your work today and love the way you write. Funny, emotional, and thought-provoking all at the same time.

    Very cool.


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