A Mother’s Day Letter to My Son

Mother’s Day hovers around the May corner.  As one of the oldest living unwed mothers in America, I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have the honor of addressing a child from this status.  I started adulthood sure that I would give birth to a large rambling brood as my mother had.  By thirty-five, I had despaired of even one.    But one I had; and oh, what a joyful experience!

So. . .

Dear Patrick, from your mother, “Mrs. Patrick Corley’s Mommy”:

I have so many platitudes in mind for you, Patrick; but I happen to know that you disdain reliance on weak literary devices.  So I’ll try to avoid cliches as I embarrass you with what’s clamoring to escape my brain as I think of you this morning.

I’ve set so many horrible examples for you.  I practically single-handedly validated the US Census statistics about American divorce rates.  Yet I remain hopeful that you will find a partner with whom to make a life; and I encourage you to keep your heart ready for her when she wanders across your path.  If you need examples of enduring marriages, look no farther than your aunt Ann or your uncle Frank.  In fact, make sure you cultivate them, so you can observe their behavior.  Emulate them, please, and not me, in the progress of your relationships.

As for communication style, you brought Non-Violent Communication to me, so I won’t bother to suggest a course of action for your own human congress.  I vividly recall my astonishment as I watched what we called “the Red Shirt Videos”, a series of talks by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who created NVC.  While I have not yet fully conquered my life-long proclivity for jackal-speak, two of my clients report that their lives have been immeasurably improved by NVC.  One of them did so well with his conversion to nonviolent communication that we won his custody trial in part because of his memorably gracious treatment of his former spouse on cross-examination.  The judge actually complimented him on his kindness towards the treacherous vindictiveness confronting him.  I would not have known to recommend that he try NVC had you not brought it to me and suggested that it might change my life.  You were right.

What I know of loyalty, I also learned from you.  Though you criticize yourself more than I think you deserve, you have always defended victims from bullies.  I will never forget the phone call from your grade school vice principal assuring me that you were all right.  The 5th-grade bully had choked you and slammed you against a locker while I was hours away in deposition in Chillicothe.  You had stepped between the bully and a smaller child, and suffered the consequences without hesitation.  The irony of the occurrence lay in the suggestion that you should be disciplined for sassing the principal during the ensuing investigation.  Your crime?  Gesturing to the boy who assaulted you and remarking, “And these are the Catholic kids that you think I should emulate?”  I could not have been more proud.

You have a tender heart.  When your faithful dog finally fell into her last decline, you did not hesitate to authorize the vet to ease her pain.  But you also felt the loss with an intensity that bespoke of your enduring attachment to Little Girl.  Though you did not get to be present in her last moments, be assured that she always loved you as much as you loved her.  Popular country songs caution that women should judge men by how they treat their mothers and their dogs.  You pass both tests with flying colors.

As for your choice of profession, writing, I encourage you not to surrender to the fear of failure which sabotaged your mother’s ambitions.  I understand that maternal critique of what you author means little.  I have every motivation to lie, and little to be honest.  Except this:  I’m a writer, too; and I abhor mediocrity.  Your stuff sings.  Your insight and your attention to the flow of ideas makes your writing truly memorable.  I wanted to “be a writer” but sold out, and for my cowardice, I got a life-time of average lawyering with little to show for my efforts.  If I have any actual advice for you, it lies here.  Trust your gift.  Keep writing.  Write for yourself, but write for the world, too.  Your voice and your pen will contribute to the salvation of society one day; and in the meantime, what you write provides some damn fine reading.

I will always remember the moment when I discovered that a child grew inside me.  I stood in the bathroom in my house in Winslow, Arkansas, with the plastic stick of a home pregnancy test reflected beneath the astonished face of my image.  This occurred in November of 1990.  I was 35 years old and unmarried.  Though I would have moments when I did not think I could handle being your mother, I have never had one second when I wished that test had been negative.  My only regrets relate to how I  performed as your mother.    You have been the absolute best son that a mother could have ever wanted.  Being your mother has been the most marvelous experience, even counter-balanced with any anguish that I might have known along the way.  It’s water under the bridge, Patrick; let it flow.

So, now that I’ve made myself cry, I’ll close with just a few more sappy sentences.    As Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking of my own mother as much as I do my son.  She died six years before your birth, more’s the pity.  You would have liked her, Patrick.  She had many of your finest qualities — loyalty, gentleness, and a certain tendency to wear her heart conspicuously pinned to her sleeve.  But she also gave you that  sassy attitude which you’ve brought to many of my darkest hours, evoking laughter when I would have otherwise despaired.  You’ve done so much for me, my son, helping me through crisis after crisis with the indomitable spirit which you get from your Grandma Lucy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Patrick.  Thank you for everything.  And don’t forget:  Just as I promised you when you were 5, I intend to live to be 103 and nag you every day of your life.  I’ve got forty more years to go and I intend to get there.  As you always said, “a promise is a promise; and Mothers have to keep their promises”.  So I shall.  But remember this, too:  You retorted that you would annoy me every day of my life.  You’ve fallen down on that count, Patrick! You are the opposite of annoying.  In fact, you have done nothing but bring me joy.  So thank you.  Thank you.  And again:  thank you.

With much love,

Mary Corinne Teresa Corley

otherwise known as your mother

Patrick and me. Photo credit Penny Thieme