By Eric Poole
If you’ve ever considered testing the limits of your mother’s love, I highly recommend writing a memoir.
In my book, I refer to my mother as General Patton in pedal pushers, and frequently paint her as a shrieking harridan for whom water in the kitchen sink or unraked shag carpeting could produce bouts of rage: earsplitting, fist-shaking, God-summoning rage that fortunately predated the presence of guns in the suburban household.
And while this sort of depiction makes for, as my agent gently put it, “a great character”; it does not exactly endear one to said mother when the book is published.
I can’t say I hadn’t been warned about this. Laurie Notaro (author of the Idiot Girl’s series), said to me, “I don’t think you’ll live to see sunrise the day after this is published if you’re not careful, because your mother is going to take you out, or at least try.”
She did attempt to reassure me: “I’ve been on the run from my mom for the better part of ten years now. All you really need to do is stay a little bit ahead; they get old and eventually need new hips”.
But the damage was done.
“Good heavens,” Mother said after reading the first few chapters, “was I really the Dragon Lady?”
This broke my heart, because she is nothing like that now, and hasn’t been for decades. But in the ‘70’s, it was all too common to hear a hit parade of high-decibel proclamations, like “Why, God, why is there water in this sink?!?” and “If there’s scum in that soap dish, you’d better sleep with one eye open!”
I like to say that as my sister Valerie and I grew up, so did Mother. Although this is purely a hypothesis since we prefer to speculate wildly rather than ask, Val and I believe that she didn’t really want to be a mother, at least at the young age at which she became one. She just wanted to be a career woman, like Gloria Steinem, but without all the protesting and ponchos. But being a mother was what society expected of her at the time, and she dutifully complied, whether we liked it or not.
Once we were young adults, however, and she could relate to us on a peer level, our relationship changed dramatically. As much as someone who vacuums the garage can relax, she relaxed. We became great friends, and Val and I began to see the incredibly warm and caring side that she exhibited to people she had not gestated.
But now, in this moment, with my mother’s feelings raw and exposed, I stood my ground.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I have to paint you as you were then, not as you are now. And frankly, I think God made me deaf in one ear to give me a discount on the amount of screaming I actually heard.”
My book isn’t actually about my mother, and I did recount moments of real redemption because, of course, it wasn’t all sturm and drang; but perhaps understandably, Mother doesn’t quite see it that way.
“Friends have advised me,” she wrote jokingly in an e-mail, “to seek shelter in the Witness Protection Program.”
I really didn’t mean to test her this way. Perhaps I should have auditioned a heroin problem. Or tried to knock over a tanning salon. Maybe getting caught embezzling from a children’s charity or hiding a body in an Igloo cooler would have been easier, since those don’t comment quite as directly on her parenting skills.
But Mother passed the test of her love with flying colors. Never once has she voice any objections to being portrayed in a not altogether flattering light. She has maintained, from day one, a steadfast pride in her only son. If she was angry, or disappointed, or hurt by the book, she has hid it in favor of the kind of undying support that a child who exposes his family for a publishing deal probably doesn’t even deserve.
“I guess if Leona Helmsley can be the Queen of Mean,” she said to me the other day, “I can be the Queen of Clean.”
With that said – the book comes out June 1st. if I should die mysteriously on May 31st, you still might wanna question her.