85: Honest Love

85: Honest Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Honest Love

Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.

~Thomas Jefferson

If there were a “Worst Mother of the Year” award, my mom would have won it, hands down. At least that’s what I was thinking one afternoon as I stood out in the barn, mucking horse stalls. I mean, clearly, the woman did not love me—not as much as mothers were supposed to love their daughters, anyway. That fact was evident from her review of my recently completed novel. Tears stung my eyes as Mom’s scathing words replayed themselves: “I don’t think anybody’s going to want to read this.”

What did she know, anyway? She hadn’t even finished reading it, so how could she already judge it so harshly? My book was great, and if she couldn’t appreciate it, I would simply find someone else who could. There were plenty of people who’d be eager for a sneak peek at my much-anticipated first draft, people who’d delight in all the laugh-out-loud humor, subtle metaphors, and thrilling action sequences. People who would say the words my own mother so cruelly withheld: “Good job. I’m proud of you. Your book is wonderful.”

Anyone else’s mom would’ve said those things. If Mom truly loved me, she would have said them, too.

My tears blurred my vision. The pitchfork missed the wheelbarrow, dribbling manure onto the concrete floor. It was the perfect complement to my mood: crappy.

With a sigh, I scooped up the mess and carried on. Despite my angry bravado from a few moments before, I had no real intention of showing the book to anyone other than Mom. I mean, if your own mother thinks your novel is unreadable, then it’s probably not fit for public consumption, right? Enduring her comments had been brutal enough. Hearing them echoed by a friend or another family member would be more than I could handle. No matter how much I resented it, Mom was all I had.

A few days later, when the worst of the ache had subsided, I heaved another sigh and started leafing through my manuscript, digesting Mom’s handwritten notes. Most pages had so much red ink they looked like evidence from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Making all of her corrections would take months, if not years. Trekking up Mount Everest would probably be easier. Nonetheless, I got climbing. Er, typing. And, slowly but surely, the novel’s new, sleeker shape began to emerge. Even I had to grudgingly admit that Draft Two outshined its predecessor. But that still didn’t erase the sting of Mom’s initial criticism, or the fact that for every positive comment she made on the most recent draft, there were still at least ten negative ones.

Just as I feared, months turned into years. As I continued to plow through draft after draft, the notion of ever writing another novel was laughable. I would be lucky if I lived long enough to finish revisions on the first one. My passion for writing was still burning, though, so I channeled my creativity into something less daunting: short stories.

Whenever I finished one, I’d bite my lip and hand it over to my nitpicky editor. Each time, some deep, never-voiced part of my soul hoped that, just this once, Mom wouldn’t take the cap off her marker as she read. That Sharpie fumes wouldn’t permeate the living room. That she would set down the stack of clean white pages without ever having made a single mark, and say, “Perfect!”

They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again, expecting different results. Mom’s comments usually ranged from single words like “Confusing” or “Repetitive” to entire paragraphs detailing how I should rewrite a particular scene. I ground my teeth as I made the corrections. When every last comment was addressed—even the ones I really, really disagreed with—I’d hand the story back to her. Surely, now she would be satisfied… right?

Wrong.

Off popped the red cap:

“Poor word choice.” “Unclear.” “Typo?”

Eventually, I could no longer stay in the room while she edited—I barely had any tooth enamel left. One night, after finishing my latest story, I had an idea. Mom was heading off to the flea market in the morning to sell some of her antiques. Instead of giving her the story to read right away, I hid it under the flap of her big brown purse with a red marker (I know—masochist) and a note asking for feedback.

All the next day, as I dumped horse feed into bins and refilled water buckets, my mind was at the flea market with my unfortunate manuscript. Was she reading it right now, that familiar frown of discontent on her face? Had she unsheathed the Sharpie yet? Would she tell me, as she sometimes did, that this particular story was not worthy of publication?

When Mom’s Jeep crackled into the driveway that evening, I ran outside. The dogs frolicked around me as Mom handed me some groceries over the fence. She told me which knick-knacks she’d sold, and how she’d bought some cantaloupes from the fruit guy because he hadn’t sold anything all day. Then she said the words I’d been waiting—and dreading—to hear:

“Oh, I read your story.”

My heart stuttered. “And…?”

Mom scowled, irritation darkening her face. “Why did you give me that thing to read in public?”

I blinked, totally taken aback. That “thing?” And why the heck wouldn’t she want to read my story in public?

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Is this because it’s fan fiction and not ‘real’ fiction?”

She fixed me with a strange look. “It made me cry.”

I stared at her, forgetting the heavy grocery bags dangling from my fingers. “You cried?”

“Yes! It was awful. I was sitting there at my table with tears running down my face. Everyone was looking at me. It was completely humiliating….”

A warm, beautiful flame sprang to life inside me. She had cried. My mom, who didn’t even sniffle when a beloved character died in the fifth Harry Potter book, had been moved to tears by something I wrote.

Once we got inside, I flipped through the manuscript. “You didn’t make any notes,” I said, oddly disappointed. “There must at least be some typos.”

“I couldn’t look at it anymore,” she admitted.

“Take it back to the flea market with you tomorrow,” I instructed. “And write all over it.”

My editor glared at me. “Fine.”

And sure enough, when she handed my baby back to me the next evening, there were plenty of notes on it. There would always be notes. But somehow, this didn’t seem like a bad thing anymore. As I started making corrections, my mind drifted back to that day several years before, when I’d stood out in the barn, seething over Mom’s comments. The memory almost made me smile. Turns out, I was actually right about something that day:

My mom didn’t love me as much as other mothers loved their daughters.

She loved me more.

She loved me enough to tell me the truth.

~Gretchen Bassier

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