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Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

No sooner had I  had finished writing my post about my Dad “In Praise of the Neighborhood Grocer,” than I felt a pang of guilt for overlooking my mother.

Mom & Dad on their honeymoon, 1938

Mom & Dad on their honeymoon, 1938

Whereas it feels like my Dad just left the room, my Mother began to take her departure about a decade before her death in the early 90’s.  It’s more difficult to reassemble her.  When her illness (Alzheimers) finally gained the upper hand, I had to look at her hands that I loved so much, to know this shrunken, irrevocably altered person before me was my Mom.  Her hands were the least changed part of her.

She was a strong figure in my life.  In my adolescence, I rebelled against my mother’s wishes, not my father’s.  I fought with her, never my father. She had the oversight of a single parent. My father rarely, if ever, doled out discipline or chastisements. Recognizing my talent and desire to dance,  she spent untold hours taking me to dance classes throughout my youth.  My Dad squirmed through recitals.  My mother made sure I saw Broadway musicals that inspired me for decades. She taught me the importance of family.  She was there when I was sick.  She kissed me nightly when I was a child, before she went to bed. She showed me how to throw a party. I was loved, there was no doubt.

mom in her first car

Mom, in her early 20’s, first car

My Mother!  How much more complex a relationship I had with her than with my Dad?  Where to begin?  what to relate?  Feelings shift so much over the years, pain lessens, understanding deepens.  Love remains.

The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way.

Joyce Carol Oates

Maybe that explains the challenges!  Childhood was relatively uncomplicated, but I began to pull away as a teen-ager.

It wasn’t difficult to see that my mother was caught in the web of a proscribed formula that dictated what middle class  wives and mothers of the 1950’s could and could not do.  She buried her dreams for a career of her own in order to adapt to my father’s needs.  If she wanted to work, she must work for him.  She became the Grocer’s Wife, helping out at the cash register as needed and raising the children.  She got bored and restless at times, but she stuck with it, never letting my father down.  She expressed her creative urges by decorating our house, putting up curtains and taking them down, knitting dresses and afghans, changing paint colors in our house,  rearranging furniture, planting flowers and taking amateur art classes at the Jewish Community Center.  I’d watch her dress for a night out with my Father, marvelling at how beautiful she looked to me.  She had great taste.

My brother and my Mom

My brother and my Mom

I understood perfectly her dissatisfaction at being stuck in an  unattractive small town.  She’d wanted to move to California soon after she got married, but that desire was not shared by my father. When we moved to California,although she was already showing signs of illness, I think she understood.

She repeatedly expressed to me the mother/daughter myths that were dictated by the era.  They weren’t a great help.   Her two greatest fears were , #2 that I’d get pregnant (not that I was promiscuous!)and #1  that I’d marry someone who was not Jewish.  I cannot over- emphasize how important that was to her.  It drove a wedge between us for several years.  Now, I understand, those were the times.  More Messages from Mom below:

Nice girls don’t.

You could get all A’s if you only applied yourself.

 I put you up on a pedestal and you keep knocking yourself off.

It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor man.

 Non-Jewish men are often alcoholics and beat their wives.

You’re selfish.

The pedestal remark always caused me wonder how I could knock myself off?!  Those shibboleths never sat well with me. They served as a jumping off point for my own 1950’s style rebelliousness, which primarily was about going places I didn’t tell her about and having a secret boyfriend for a while who happened to be Irish Catholic.  He was my first real crush.  It had to be hidden.

I don’t want that boy calling here.

Someone saw you speeding down Lincoln Street late at night.

 Are you going out dressed like that?

Why don’t you call your cousin Betsy?

 You’re so selfish!

I did not have parents who assured me that I could be anything I wanted to be. Mothers of that era just knew that wasn’t true. As a child, I never dreamed of being anything but a dancer . Once that dream ended, nothing replaced it for a long time.  I was encouraged to become a teacher, because,

It’s a good job for a woman.

When I went off to Miami to  teach school after college, Mom told me she’d feel a lot better if  there was someone to look after me.  It wasn’t a great endorsement for self sufficiency.

On the other hand, I thank my mom for my many things that she instilled that continue to enrich my life.

As soon as you get up in the morning, you must get dressed.  No lounging.

It’s just as easy to do something right as it is to do it wrong.

You’d never want to trade your problems for someone else’s.

 If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.

I know I get my appreciation of beauty from her, as well as my attention to detail. Her generosity knew no bounds.  She could be fun-loving and together we often had wonderful, laugh-filled times when we became each other’s best friend.  For every special event in my life, I would receive a special piece of jewelry; pearls when I graduated from high school, rings made of garnet birthstones for my birthday, an antique pin when I had my first baby.

mom and lara

My Mom (very tan) with my first born daughter Lara, 3 weeks old.

When I lost an infant to SIDS, it was my Mom’s words that would bring me consolation.  Whereas my mother-in-law, told me after a few months of grieving ,that I should move on, my mother told me that everyone processes grief differently and no one should tell me how I should be feeling.  I kept those words close to my heart for years.  They brought me a lot of comfort in a time of inner turmoil.

Towards the end of her life, I remember standing by her bedside for quite some time one evening, when she was quite ill with Alzheimers, but still living at home.  She had stopped speaking by this time. My own heart was breaking, but I was desperate to connect with her. I held her frail familiar hands in mine and said what was in my heart, “I love you, Mom.”  There was quiet for a few minutes.  Then came her reply, which I hadn’t expected.  It moved me deeply.  “I love you too.”  Those were the last words she was able to speak to me.


Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • devapnek says:

    So glad it resonated with you, Mora. Thanks for taking the time to share a bit of your own story!

  • Mora Chartrand says:

    Thank you for this very special segment. I had a similar relationship with my mother. In fact, while reading I could easily have put my mother’s name and my name in at several spots. My mother passed from mini-stroke related dementia. I miss her, keep her lessons close, and know that now that she’s on the other side she is aware of all the things I did that that she never knew about. Each time I bend over to pick up speck of something on the floor I think of her doing this throughout her life. Mothers…such powerful influencers on our lives.

  • Sheri Overall says:

    You were well loved by BOTH your parents! Moving thoughts on both your Dad and Mom.

  • charlotte lussier says:

    You write beautifully, Dianne………I feel like my early life in Holyoke paralleled yours so closely.

  • devapnek says:

    Writing this essay brought her close to me again. So interesting! Thanks as always for your comments.

  • Judi Wallner says:

    So beautiful Dianne. it made me cry! I wish that your Mother could read it. >

  • Susan Alexander says:

    Thank you for sharing such deep feelings and intimate memories about your relationship with your mother. It brought tears to my eyes, and made me think about my mom and our relationship (an early Mother’s Day, as you said). So much to reflect upon. I love the photos you shared with us also –the resemblance between you and your mom is striking!

  • Nova Loverro says:

    lovely, thanks for sharing Diane. xo

    On Sat, Mar 5, 2016 at 5:17 PM, wrote:

    > devapnek posted: ” Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant > with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, > one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has > labored to give birth to the other. The materia” >

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