Mother's Day Diary
By Wendy Haskell Meyer
First, memories of my mother. Everyone adored her. Always smiling. A strong
woman, when it was not fashionable to be strong. A caring woman. But with a
lifetime of disappointments and tragedies. Her parents divorced. She married my
father at 18 to escape a bizarre and unhappy family situation. Then she herself
divorced when I was three. Kept house for her physician father in a big
Commonwealth Avenue brownstone in Boston. Until he began acting strangely
and was eventually committed to a mental hospital with neurosyphilis. One of a
series of challenges she accepted with good humor. During them all, she taught
me the most enduring lesson of my life: Laugh — at the world, at yourself, at your
problems. Then you survive.
Memories of my mother. We have moved to the suburbs so I can go to good
public schools. She runs a knitting shop in our house and has married again to a
very sweet person who seems to love me too. His business does not go well and
she goes to work selling printing to small businesses. It means walking all over
Boston every day and she makes it sound funny and exciting.
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But how embarrassed, enraged, sad, mortified I am when my mother
frequently has too much to drink. I can tell her intake at a glance by the way she
holds her mouth. "Mom," I tell her in my most scathing voice, "your teeth are
loose again." And I cry in my bed at the top of the stairs one night when I hear her
staggering and falling on her way to bed. And I shout so only I can hear: "I hate
you when you're like that!"
Memories of my mother. I suppose she disciplined me but I never recall a
really cross word. I wanted to please her and when I left her every summer to visit
my grandparents in Maine, I had to run to the bathroom three times a day for the
first week to cry with homesickness. And when she was dying of cancer, and I was
by then 35 and living in Michigan, I felt myself torn apart, for I was 1000 miles
away and had four daughters of my own. I flew back to Boston at least three times
when her doctor said her death was imminent. She looked like a skeleton, her
cheeks sunk in, her bones sticking out. She was 52. And still laughing. My
husband would call me and say, "We need you. This could go on forever. You'd
better come home." So the day she died, I wasn't even there. And I wondered
then about loyalties — to your mother, to your daughters, to your husband and
to yourself. Who comes first?
Memories of my daughters who are so beautiful. But then I'm prejudiced.
Looking back to 1949, it was a marvelous atmosphere in which Jane and I had our
rites of passage together — I into motherhood and she into life itself. It was at
Grace New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. Natural childbirth was the local
obstetrical religion and I was an enthusiastic communicant. I learned my lessons
well. "Take a deep breath, now push hard, no, slow down now, take some short
gasps," my obstetrician coached me. After I gave that last grunt and pushed her
out, I was as euphoric, as high, .as I guess I have ever been before or since. I
wanted to sing and laugh and shout to everybody — Look what I did. Look at my
baby. Look at us. And oh my Cod, was I thirsty for* a glass of ginger ale.
Had I thought to choose motherhood? Of course not. It had never once
occurred to me in my first 25-vears that I would do anything but get married and
have'a family. That was what normal, desirable womlsn did. Period. I remember
the pall of pity which enshrouded my cousirf Cynthia. She had not conceived in
two years of marriage. This, in the Forties, was such a tragedy that we were all
instructed not to bring up subjects related to pregnancy or children in her
presence. We all pitied Cynthia as a woman without a future.
I kept having babies. Each pregnancywas a diaphragm mistakebut welcomed
by my husband as another possible son and by me as something that happened.
Another child-to love. Unplanned, unquestioned.
I was rapidly finding a new role as the mother.of — getting on the PTA board,
running car pools, and, before long, interrogating dates who by this time were
calling on my teenaged daughters. I was also becoming the wife of John, who
worked long hours and was mych jought after in medical and social circles and
shared his life with me as much a$ he could. That was fastinating. K took rneto the
White House and to Europe several times.
Funny, with all that going for me, I began to slip into degression, f didn't feel
comfortable in suburbia'where the other women seemed prettier and chic-er
and cleverer than I. Other peopleVkids conformed. Mine didn't and there just
didn't seem to be anything I was good at. I ruled out suicide only because I didn't
think my five girls could manage without me.
I started my secret journal that year. Sharing my 3g0/iies with it, pages of
introspective misery and poetry. When my husband and 1 had a fight, which we
began to have more often, instead of teHing him what I was feeling, I told my
journal. That's how I started writing — to survive, like laughing, which I'd
temporarily forgotten how to do (it comes back).
My worried husband sent me to a psychiatrist. I was expected to do most of the
talking, between sniffs, bgt he did say that the reason my self e$teem was sq low
must be that I'd felt rejected by my father when he and my mother divorced. I
said I felt worthless because I was worthless: I'd never been anything but the
daughter of, the Wife of, the mother of. And I wasn't so hot at any of them. Wendy
Meyer wasn't anyone just by herself.
About that time, I read The Feminine Mystique. OhmyGod, somebody else
feek the same way. Halleluja! Instant feminist. But a closet feminist for the first
We moved to Houston in 1969. I startedgoing to NOW meetings. I had some
initial anxieties at them because it appeared I was the only feminist over 40,
married and planning to stay married. When I tried to discuss feminism with
other married women of my age, they said that either my head or my marriage
was rocky, when, in fact, both were doing very well, thank you.
I brought at least one dinner party to a screaming halt by suggesting to my host,
an airline pilot, that women be allowed to fly too.
I bided my time and made close friendships with young journalists in town,
worked on Houston Journalism Review, began publishing fairly steadily in Texas
Monthly, the National Observer and other markets — not the secret journals, but
lifestyle and medical stories. Once over his initial concern that my interest in a
writing career camouflaged a disinterest in our family, my husband became
So here I am at 52, having recovered from that angry stage most middle-aged,
newly baptized feminists experience. I'm no longer blaming society or my
husband or my children or myself for keeping me down. In fact, the irony of my
position is that I most cherish what came out of those years down under. I have
something my feminist daughters will likely not have themselves: five daughters.
And a 30-year-old marriage held together with love through the usual deaths
and rebirths of every marriage. Until all those shared joys and agonies have made
it, if not impregnable, then certainly warm and comfortable. I suspect that our
certainty since our twenties that our marriage was for a lifetime became a self-
fulfilling prophecy. Who would make a dumb prediction like that today?
A household of women must be hard for a man to live in. A world of stockings
and tampaxes and breasts and curlers and dresses and high heels: And in our
family, at least, no car manuals. No baseballs. No lawnmowers. We kept our
conventional sex roles. Now, when my girls and I, all six of us, are together (which
rarely happens), we are so close, so full of inside jokes, of shared confidences
and reminiscences, that it takes special care not to offend/exclude husbands and
I look back and wonder about that stranger, Wendy Meyer, in her twenties and
thirties. If I'd known then what I know now, everything would have been
And I'm not so sure I'd. like that at all.
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH • MAY 1977 • PACE 1