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Mothers and Daughters: Can You Give Your Daughter a Happy Life?

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When I first told my husband about my inspired idea to do a Mother/Daughter blog there was a long silence on the other end of the phone.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he said.

"Of course," I replied using my confident voice, but there was a dropping feeling in my stomach. Don usually thinks all my ideas are great. "I'll get to do something with Emily. We'll have a project together and there will be interaction back and forth on a regular basis, how could that not be a good idea? Besides, don't you think it would be interesting for readers? The dance of mothers and daughters is a pretty universal thing."

"Yeah, sure, it would be interesting."

"You sound so...cautious."

"Well, Meg," he said, clearing his throat. "I don't know what to tell you. It will either bring you closer together, or it will be a disaster. As far as interesting, yes, it would be a contrast of personalities and styles: Emily is like an intense, interesting, beautiful piece of modern art, her writing is highly intelligent, witty, and your writing is, well sort of like stepping into a comfy robe."

I blogged for the first two weeks. I tried to keep positive, not to think about what could go wrong.
My daughter's blog was going to be posted, Thursday, June 9. I didn't know what time the Huffington Post put up the new blogs for the day. I checked their website right after midnight on Wednesday night, again at 4:50 a.m., still nothing. Finally at 6 a.m. Thursday morning, there it was.

Reading it, my feelings were like a yarn basket a litter of kittens had been sleeping in, a multitude of colors, textures, impossible to untangle one skein from another, the most predominate color however, was one of intense pride.

I read Emily's blog several times, woke Don up and had him read it as well.

Needless to say, her posting has been on my mind all week. It's not the foremost thought for the majority of time. I am in the middle of intense rehearsals and when I am in Martha's skin there isn't room for anything else.

But at night, when the room is dark and Don is sleeping peacefully beside me, that is when I replay certain sentences of my daughter's blog over in my head.

Obviously, reading that I had not given her the childhood she would have chosen for herself, caused a wistful sorrow to wash over me, even though it wasn't a surprise. I know this is true.

I tried to give her the childhood and the mother I imagined and longed for, growing up in turbulent circumstances. I was determined to keep my children safe and protected and happy. Happy. That is the operative word.

"I just want you to be happy. To have a happy childhood. A happy life!" This was the theme song that played throughout their childhood. I got up early, made sure my children had hot breakfast every single day, warm cookies when they came home, hot homemade dinners.

Well, what if an overabundance of home-cooked food isn't what a child is craving? What if a child feels sad or melancholy or depressed and they've got the good-ship-lollypop dancing around the room flinging generous fistfuls of glitter and pretending it is fairy dust?

There were challenges. Obviously, otherwise I would not have gone through four major relationships, with three different father figures marching in and then out the door. And before they marched out, there would be the drama, the arguments and tears. And no matter how much happy-happy time I would try to create for them, a sensitive child would have caught onto the sorrows being played out behind closed doors.

I didn't give my children chores, because growing up, I had to work so brutally hard. In hindsight, I can see what a mistake that was.

"Your homework and schoolwork are your chores," I would say. "I want you to do well in school so that you can be successful. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Do well in school and the world is your oyster!"

And in hindsight, what a pressure that unintentionally could create. Instead of encouraging, could fill one with the dread that one's mother is waiting, perched on the sofa, filled with impossibly high, unrealistic expectations of her offspring marching out and conquering the world.

Which brings us back to my daughter's blog:

"It's hard not to look inadequate beside her: by my age she had a Golden Globe, a baby (me) and a husband; I have only a Masters degree and a dog that now lives with my brother."

This is the section of her post that burrows in deep and my heart aches and my throat constricts with a million things I want to say.

The public persona, the private life, two very different things.

When I think back on me at 26, I do not see a success. When I think back on that time of my life I feel panic, like the room is closing in on me and I can't breathe. I get scared sometimes, even now, that somehow this happy life I am living is only an illusion, a good dream and when I wake up I'll be plunged back into the skin of the old me and that fake unhappy suffocating life I was trapped in.

Yes, when I was 26, I had a beautiful two-year-old daughter and gave birth that year to a gorgeous dark eyed, dark haired son, both of whom I loved fiercely. It is true, I had won a Golden Globe for Agnes of God and was nominated for an Oscar. Yes, I was married. And that is where the fairy tale shifts.

How I ended up married to my first husband was a source of huge embarrassment and shame. It still is to me now, at 51 years of age. How is it possible that anyone could be so wishy-washy, so inadvertently cruel as to marry someone that they didn't even like, let alone love? And yet, I did. I dated someone and ended up marrying him and having two children by him because I did not know how to, did not have the guts to say no.

And yes, I grew up in an environment where physical, emotional and sexual abuse ran rampant. And yes, I know this was part of the reason I allowed myself to be trapped in such an untenable situation, but it doesn't stop the slightly nauseous oily feeling that coats my gut whenever I think back on that time.

My daughter, she would never marry someone she didn't want to. And to me, that makes her much more of a success at 26 than I could have even dreamed of being. Emily is very clear in what she does and doesn't want. There is nothing wishy-washy about her. She is strong and stands up for herself and knows how to deal a heel-palm or fierce blow to the groin if need be.

At 26, my daughter has earned a honours bachelor in English at the University of Toronto. She went on to receive her masters of fine arts in creative writing at the University of Michigan, was the recipient of a Hugh Stephenson Memorial Scholarship, multiple academic awards, and the prestigious SSHRC and OGS scholarships from the Canadian government. Was the winner of a Hopwood award for poetry, a first year Zell fellowship at the University of Michigan, and was a finalist for the Poetry Foundation's 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship!

Me, I barely stumbled past the finish line of high school, not knowing my multiplication tables, sentence structure, am an abysmal speller, mispronounce words on a daily basis. I get nervous around her college friends worried I'm going to come off as ditzy and uneducated and be an embarrassment to her.

She feels inadequate next to me and I find that kind of amusing in a sad sort of way, because I feel inadequate next to her as well.

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