by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 13, 2001
Momentum: HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, MOM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Although the mother-daughter relationship is grounded=
in a deep, deep love, it can also be a psychological minefield. Resolving its problems, I've found, can be a journey of discovery and delight.
Last month, when my mother, Rose Kagan, and I went to Paris, I had a lon= g list of things I was going to do. For sure, I was going to visit all the= flea markets. I was going to get a stylish French haircut. I was going to walk in picturesque neighborhoods and daydream that I lived there. I was go= ing to see the Van Gogh's at the Musee D'Orsay. I was going to eat pate eve= ry single day and to hell with my cholesterol level.
I did one of the above. I also had a list of things I was definitely n= ot going to do. I was not going to play tourist. I was not going to visit historical sites. I was not going to gawk at the Eiffel Tower.
I did all of the above. The reason? My mother. Yet the trip was the= best one I've ever had, and my mother feels the same way.
The idea for the trip came a few years ago, when I realized that since I= had left my mother's womb, we not spent any time alone together. When I wa= s young, she was busy with my father, my brother, and our large extended fa= mily. Also, as a frustrated Broadway musical comedy star, she was fighting= to make space in her rigidly structured 1950s suburban life for dancing, c= horeographing, and performing.
Back then, I never appreciated her struggle; I only felt abandoned by he= r ever-increasing involvement in amateur theatrics. Also, our family suffer= ed from many of the more common dysfunctional family dynamics -- we could b= e a heart-wrenching, best-selling memoir, if anyone had the heart to write it.
But people grow up. They change. If they're lucky, they learn to forgive= . During the last 10 years, my mother and I have buried my father and my= younger brother and started reaching out to each other. I happily gave her= away at her second marriage, to Harold Filler, who I love. They started v= isiting me in Vermont, although Harold, who washes his white Lincoln Contin= ental every day at home in Ft. Lauderdale, has a hard time understanding wh= y we have dirt roads.
I started visiting them in their Florida condominium, timing my trips to= coincide with the Broadway-style productions my mother writes, directs, ch= oreographs and performs in. I've grown to love the dress rehearsals, the di= va-like temper tantrums, the dancers -- all over 65 with great legs, the gl= itzy make-up and costumes. Most of all, I love watching my mother -- who ha= s real star quality -- on stage. I'm also impressed that with these shows= , she touches the lives of over a thousand people every year.
But as time went by, I started longing to share a one-on-one experience with her. I suggested many things, but, it was the idea of a leisurely cru= ise down the Canal du Midi, followed by a visit to Paris, that finally drew= her away from her busy life and into an adventure with me.
When we met at Charles DeGaulle Airport, though, I was afraid we had wai= ted too long. The overnight Miami-Paris trip can be brutal for a woman in her 80s. She was nervous about not speaking the language, afraid she could= n't handle the money, scared to be in an environment where she had no contr= ol. She hadn't traveled without a tour guide for 30 years. She had vertigo.= My dynamic, beautiful mother was a small, terrified, bewildered creature. I hadn't realized how frail she was. I had a moment of terror -- was I goin= g to kill her just because I wanted to spend some time with her?
Travelin= g through France was difficult, but once we reached the boat I was impresse= d with her good cheer and resourcefulness. When it was too cold to be on de= ck, she gave dance classes below. She studied her French. While I held my breath, she stole lilacs out of a walled garden in Homps. About the rich f= ood, she joked that she would tell her friends weate peanut butter and jell= y sandwiches so they wouldn't get too jealous.
One day, on a visit to a winery, she tasted so many fine wines thatI fou= nd her humming and two-stepping alone in a corner. On the last night, she d= elighted the other passengers and the crew by writing charming limericks fo= r them. (Sample: "There was a lady named Betty, and please don't think I am= petty, but with a gin and tonic, she became supersonic, and they called he= r Betty Confetti.")
At one point, we talked about what kind of story we m= ight write about our trip.
"I thought we would have two contrasting viewpoints," I said.
"But we don't," Mother said. "We both see things in almost exactly the same way."
We were amazed by this discovery.
In Paris, because Mom couldn't do much walking, we bought tickets for on= e of those endlessly circling buses that had a tape loop describing the sig= hts in four languages. We hopped on and off it at will. At the Musee d'Ors= ay, I loved the Van Goghs, while, with a look of childlike wonder, she ador= ed the Degas dancers. We ate in small restaurants to save money. I showed= how to read home-town newspapers on the Internet.
So I didn't do any of the things I had planned to do. Instead, I did som= ething unexpected-- I walked around Paris holding hands with my mother, lau= ghing at all the same things.
At the airport again, I watched Mom walking down the tunnel to her overn= ight flight. Her hands trembled, but her head was tilted upward, her nose w= as pointed into the air, and her face was determined. She's quite a charac= ter, I thought, a formidable woman. How lucky I am to be so much like her. How much I love her.
For days after I got home, I missed her presence.
"I miss you too," she said. "After all, we were Siamese twins for 13 ve= ry arduous and exciting days. I now feel the distance in miles between us."=
So whatever happens to us in the future, Mom, remember this (and yes, I'= ve been waiting the whole column to say this). We'll always have Paris. H= appy Mother's Day.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics= , economics and travel.