mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

A Mother-Daughter Moment

These days it's hard to believe that my mother and I ever saw the world in radically different ways. It's even harder to visualize my taking a religious postion and my mom's being horrified by it.

Let's say it was a Tuesday evening early in my senior year of high school. 1966. My mom was ironing in the kitchen. My dad wasn't due home till late. The house was quiet. I decided to take the opportunity to announce my decision to join the convent.

My mom is a serious Catholic, but she was never the kind who prayed for her children to have religious vocations. I didn't expect her to be overjoyed, but since she usually went along with my decisions, I thought she'd go along that night. I did not expect her to be horrified. Tears sprang to her eyes. She was crying! I made my mother cry!

"How could you throw away your life like that?" she asked.

I don't know what kind of argument I gave her. I know I assured her that I didn't intend to make a move till after college. Did I talk about God? I don't think so. I knew darn well why I wanted to become a nun and it had nothing to do with "throwing away."

Yesterday, I talked about societies of women and mentioned that both my high school and college were run by nuns — Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. BVMs for short. They were totally cool. In contrast with my working class family, they were well-educated and well-travelled. They were open-minded and passionate. Since I didn't have a boyfriend and didn't miss having one, I figured that becoming a BVM was my ticket to worldliness.

(It's also possible I was trying to get in good with my teachers. In a sincere sort of way.)

On the other hand, my mother's experience of nuns was quite different. She grew up in the shadow of the humorless Notre Dame order of nuns. Stern and authoritarian. Yet isolated and simple-minded. And in her mother's eyes, priests and nuns existed only to pass judgment in times of trouble, never to help. To have a daughter join the convent was to lose her to a kind of emotional and mental sterility.

So we clashed. I had confused the religious life with an easy path to adventure. And she saw it, perhaps, as the despair of the dateless.

The whole thing sort of blew over. Mom had a word with Dad. He had a word with me — something calm. And I don't think we ever spoke of it again. The following summer I went to school at Yale where I discovered that classes with college men were different from blind dates with high school boys and that the world was full of paths to the cosmopolitan life.

The rest is history.

It cracks me up to think of this now.

Happy Birthday, Mom!