In my soon-to-be-released memoir, “The Woman in the Photograph,” I lament that my mother didn’t tell me enough about her past to help me comprehend what happened to her, and how it might have affected me.
Now, after twenty years of searching for my mother’s vanished past, I do know what happened to her and have at least a sense of what she had to face, and what she left behind, when she left Leipzig in the 1930s to escape the persecution of the Nazi regime. I also can see that the woman in the photograph, from which my book takes its name, had once truly expected that she would chart a life full of possibilities, opportunities, glamour and love. I believe that she must have trusted life, and perhaps this trust was the biggest casualty of her experience. She recreated some of the material things she lost, but the scar of losing faith in existence left its shadow on her perspective.
Other people say their mothers told them too much. Such an irony. When we are children, we don’t want to know about our parent’s disappointments, about their problems, or their past traumas. We want our mothers and fathers to paint an encouraging world for our impressionable eyes. We need to be assured that we are safe and life is good. Many children, especially children of alcoholic parents, or of parents who have many unresolved issues of their own, feel like they knew way more than they wanted to know about their parents’ problems.
Yet as adults, understanding their problems helps us sort out our own needs from theirs. Now I hang on every word from someone who knew my mother, study every photograph, and even traveled to Germany, the country of her birth, to walk in her footsteps. I was compelled to pursue this exploration, not only to better understand the forces that shaped me, but because I loved my mother and thought she was a fascinating person, someone I wanted to know not just as my mother.
There are many books that explore the mother-daughter relationship. A couple I have enjoyed are “Not Becoming My Mother” by Ruth Reichl, and “Traveling with Pomegranates” by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Monk Taylor. Have you read any good reads about adult relationships to mothers or fathers? Let me know your experiences.