Like a Motherless Child

When I was 15, I had a job but no car, and a relatively cranky disposition from being held down by the powers that be.  When Mother’s Day came around, I was unprepared.  After church, I holed up in my room, and wrote my mom a song.  It was naive and tacky, like any early songs, but I cringe at it for a different reason.  It’s a solid start–

Moms around the world get diamonds and pearls
For all the things they do.
Those I did not buy, I hope you don’t mind–
I wrote this song for you.

Not a great songwriter, yet, but I was excellent at term papers.  Here is the synopsis– a brief overview, and what you can expect.  Do not expect to be given precious jewels on a 15-year-old’s pay grade.  Check.  Understand that there are better gifts, but you are merely getting a song.  Check.  Appeal to empathy and understanding in this hack job of a gift.  Check.

I was on a roll.  But it’s the second verse that stings–

In the years I’ve lived you promised to give
The love I don’t always deserve.
And without a doubt, I can’t figure out,
How you always live up to your word.

Sure, it’s all out flattery– a nod to the power structure, the binding agreement that she is, in fact, the mother, and I am the one she cooked for 9 months before spewing me out.  But what I can’t figure is, why was I undeserving of love?  When did it occur to me that being born and growing up and going through puberty with all of its normal human changes somehow made me unworthy?  Not to brag, but I was a straight A student.  I willingly went to church three or four times a week.  I participated in extracurricular activities and most of the time even dressed the way my parents preferred– with a brief goth period somewhere in the middle.  But even if I hadn’t been a picture, I was their daughter.  I didn’t choose to be here.  I didn’t choose to be someone’s daughter.

But wait, the self loathing continues into the minor key chorus:

Through joys and sorrow,
Though tears have fallen
And skies will turn to grey–
Through the changing seasons,
I know not the reason,
You’ve stayed with me all the way.

But I should know the reason.  The reason is because I exist.  I am a human being.  Which means, even with all of those shortcomings we have, I am deserving of my mother’s love.

My groveling humility may have been foresight.  After all, the seasons have changed, and my mother is no longer staying with me.  Certainly not all the way.  Maybe that happened when I stopped groveling and started asking for the unconditional kind of love.

girlsvsboysIt’s much easier to be a son than a daughter on Mother’s Day.  It may be true that it’s easier to be a son than a daughter any day.  But Mother’s Day, in particular, for all of the after-bedtime banners I crafted and jingles to the tune of “Rockin’ Robin” I composed, for all the bedazzling and, later in life, flowers and cards I’d give, it could never quite compare to my brother.  He would stumble out of his room, or call from wherever he was living and mumble “Um, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”  That’s it.

I couldn’t bedazzle enough handmade cards to catch that kind of glimmer in her eye.


It was the local gossip at the dinner table, who’s having kids, who’s moving out.  I’ve been coming to this town for a decade, but never quite got the hang of the town patter.  My Someone chirped here and there, but mostly we sat, vaguely listening and occasionally side barring in the California sunset.

“I heard they had four daughters,” someone said.

“Oh, what a shame,” someone else replied.

My Someone got rigid.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.

I shook my head slightly and looked down.  I swallowed my anger.  He should know by now.  Hasn’t he watched it again and again?  Hasn’t he watched me doing my very best?  Hasn’t he heard me tell a story just to be interrupted– “But what about him?”

It’s much harder to be a daughter.  And not just because the whole world demands that you earn your love while it’s given freely to your brother.  But because our mothers never felt that they earned theirs.

What a shame.


It was time to wrap this gift up.  I wrote the final verse–

There may come a day, though I’m much afraid
When I step out there on my own.
Come as it may, I might be far away,
But I know I won’t face it alone.

And I didn’t.

My mother cried when she sat in my bedroom listening to it.  She cried when I graduated high school and college.  She cried when I told her I’d been abused for four years right under her nose by a man who she and my father repeatedly invited into their home.  She cried when I moved away and never came back.  She cried when I asked her to let me be her daughter again.  She cried when I asked her, for the last time almost a year ago, to call me– just call me.  Just once a month.

I don’t know if she cries for me, anymore.  She’s sent a couple of texts.  She’s sent an email.  She’s even sent a large check I’ll never cash to bribe me back.  She’s tried every which way but the way I asked for, the way I know I deserve.  A phone call.

Or maybe the point of the silence is, I don’t deserve it.

That can’t be true, though.  Not anymore.  Here is how I know.

I’ve had a gaggle of women stepping up.  From a college professor to my college and post-college housemates, an estranged aunt, one good sister, and my friends’ mothers.  I’ve been called the daughter they never had.  I’ve been called a good friend.  I’ve been offered to join other peoples’ families.  I’ve accepted it.  Because there are a lot of people out there who have come to love being a daughter, and in turn love their daughters– and other people’s daughters.

In this way, I am getting the love I didn’t know I’ve always known I deserve.  In this way, I throw the line out–

“I don’t deserve this!”

I wait for the objection.  And it comes.

Yes, you do. 

I have a lot of hope for my friends’ daughters.  Because I have a lot of hope for me, too.

I’m a much better songwriter, now.  I reckon it’s time for a rewrite.  We daughters deserve it.


  1. I’m so sorry for this truth. I want to offer the tiniest consolation with this:
    The relationship between mother and daughter is so incredibly complex. I know a thimble-full of information about your mother, and I mourn what you have lost as a daughter. That being said, I feel it’s so horrible that women are taught to downplay their strengths, shine a spotlight on their weaknesses, and never, ever root for their own success.
    In being a reflection of the mother, the daughter can become the whipping boy of the mothers own insecurities. If mom feels ugly, she often can’t see her daughter’s beauty because that would mean seeing beauty in her own reflection.
    A son, not being a mother’s reflection, can be the light of her life. She can give him all of the love and care that she can’t heap upon her own (daughter’s) head. He can be a reflection of the husband she chose and loves completely.
    It is terribly unfair, loathsome, and tragic for the innocent and pure baby girl who didn’t ask to be. It is also a self mutilating cry of intense and deeply buried knowledge of deficiency in the mother.
    This is not to excuse your mom. As I’ve said, what I know of her could barely fill 30 seconds of conversation. But I’m reminded of when you told us about realizing that your strictness toward Magpie was an outpouring of a type of self hatred. You had to learn to love you when learning to fully love Mags.
    I’m sorry for what you have endured, I’m so extremely sorry for a story that includes the details of your relationship with your mom and dad.
    Know that you are deeply loved. You are deeply important, and you are deeply, deeply cherished by literally scores of people. 💕

    1. Thank you, Sacha. This is extremely helpful– and something I’ve circled in my brain, but wasn’t able to put quite as eloquently or succinctly as you did. I’m gonna keep chewing on this.

      1. I’m glad. I love you, and I’m here if I can ever help to talk it out more.

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