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the memoir writing process

My Good Mother Organizes a Kindergarten for Me

DL: In this excerpt, Martha demonstrates the ambivalence of her relationship with her mother. On the one hand, she charges her with not being a good mother, and on the other hand, she praises her for her mothering skills.


Although I loved being at the house on the hill, I was sometimes lonely for other children to play with. As there were no neighbors at the house’s level, the isolation was real. One day, perhaps remembering my friends in Worcester and my birthday party with Gordie and Louise and Billy, I demanded that my mother find me a playmate. I must have, as I have been told I used to do, stomped my foot as I demanded redress to the wrong that was being inflicted on me. (My mother who was docile was unwittingly teaching me how I could have my way by implying—or, in my case, proclaiming—she was not a good mother.)

My mother turned to the church community for a playmate. One day, a woman brought a girl to play with me, but I found her dull and dim-witted and her play did not correspond with mine. We did not become friends.

But, if this experience did not produce a friend, it did demonstrate to me—at some level that I could certainly not articulate then—that I could force my mother into certain actions. The key was to suggest she was not “good”—in this case, not a good mother for failing to correct my isolation. Perhaps this was an “ur” experience that my mother and I were to repeat over the years.

In view of this, and I am guessing here as the cause-and-effect relationship, my mother soon organized a kindergarten group that was held at the church. (The effort may also have been seen as a ministry as my mother was forever viewing the world as a possible ministerial opportunity.) This kindergarten group was run by Ruby Noyes, the organist at the Second Congregational Church and later my piano teacher. There, I met many children who would be in school with me through to junior high school. They would be the children from “church” who would stand out from the public-school crowd. That year, I was impressed that Marsha Day could color so lightly with a yellow crayon, and in the kindergarten recital, I was thrilled to be an icicle. My mother, who excelled at organizing church pageants, fashioned a cellophane grass skirt encrusted with silver glitter. While it was inventive and transformed me—at least in my mind—into an icicle, the outfit, was very scratchy and uncomfortable.

In creating this kindergarten for me to have companions, my mother exhibited a strength for parenting young children that inspired my own parenting. She was at heart very loving and kind woman who placed her children’s well-being high in her priorities—right after what people thought of her, her husband and her family.

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