Susan and Linda
It’s a really hard Mother’s Day. Not sure if it’s because I’m turning 30 soon or because everyone and their mom (killed it!) is posting Mother’s Day pics to social media and I look at that garbage far too often, or if it’s what my therapist said about grieving at different capacities as you get older. It’s probably a combination and let me tell you, it doesn’t feel very good, but it doesn’t feel completely bad either, because it makes me feel like a human.
I was born to a family of two moms and two dads. In short, two gay couples who wanted children but didn’t want to live a lie decided to start a family, and nearly 30 years later here I am, a happily functioning member of society. As a kid, I had the best childhood imaginable. Unconditional love from not two, but four parents, who were all 100% involved in my life, teaching me how to be a good person and respect others and pretty much spoiling the shit out of me. On my 5th birthday, there were pony rides in my own backyard. PONIES.
Then, when I was 11, my biological mother, Susan, randomly died of a brain aneurism. It was shocking and strange and how can someone go from ponies in her backyard to finding her mom lifeless on the floor? But hey, I still had three parents, so in the grand scheme, I was pretty lucky. Three years after that, though, my living mom, Linda, came down with stage 4 ovarian cancer and there she went.
That was 19 and 16 years ago respectively, and it’s frustrating that I still sometimes get sad and emotional on Mother’s Day. It’s not the tenderest of scenarios — I am definitely not a model motherless daughter. Every few years I’ll work up the courage to visit the cemetery and sit on the grass that buries their stacked pine boxes of bones and hair. Since corpses aren’t the best conversationalists, I bring a pen and a notepad to scribble down everything I’m feeling and thinking while crying a whole lot. It’s a pretty good emotional purge, especially since I’m the type who hates confronting deep, negative realities. I’m pretty sure life’s too short to dwell on sadness and anger, so why not just let it all out every couple years at a cemetery, or wherever you feel safe doing so? In the same vein, it’s very rare that I write about them and there are a few reasons for that. As I mentioned before, confronting feelings is not my favorite and writing about this pretty much plops those feelings right in my lap. And, will my words even do justice to their legacy? I also realize that my story is only tragic in suburban America. In other parts of the world, kids lose their parents all the time, and I’m pretty sure a lot of them don’t whine about it. Plus, I still have society’s ideal number of parents (2!), so where do I come off writing about all this? I thought about it for a while and realized, well, shit! People write about their dating lives and diets and drug problems all the time so why shouldn’t I be able to put my stuff out into the world? It’s easy for me to write about food and work and silly anecdotes, but I feel it’s time to put my anxiety aside and convey some realness to whoever stumbles across this place in the digital ether.
So, if you’re still reading this, I’d like to share some memories about my awesome moms who were taken from Earth too soon. Specifically, life lessons that I’ll pass down to my kids. Happy Mother’s Day to my moms, Susan Friedman Pardess and Linda Arlene Mahru, and all the other moms everywhere who are involved in their children’s lives. I’m stoked to be a mom one day.
Susan Jane Friedman, May 20, 1945 – July 31, 1995
My biological mom, Mommy, was born in Brooklyn, NY and moved out to California in high school. She was a 5’7″ tennis player with a degree from USC and a knack for entertaining. As the arrangement went, she’d be the homemaker while my other mom ran her private practice as a marriage and family therapist. Some of my earliest memories are of being home during the day as she did housework, always with music blaring out of our big, brown 80s floor speakers. Sometimes it was Spanish guitar, other times it was Elvis and oftentimes it was Ray Charles. She’d sing along with her gorgeous, 40s lounge singer voice, but whenever I’d tell her how beautiful it was she refused to believe it. Some nights she’d soothe me to sleep by strumming her guitar and singing a Hebrew song called “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” even though I’d beg her to play “The Cat Came Back.” He just kept coming back the very next day, silly cat. Life lesson: Music. Everywhere. All the time.
Our home was the venue for many a holiday party, birthday party, Dad’s Phd surprise party, Uncle Mike’s birthday luaus etc. and she just loved it. She got such joy out of bringing people together and inviting anyone and everyone who wanted to join. Our house was everyone’s house as far as she was concerned and just being alive called for celebration. Life lesson: Life is a celebration and everyone’s invited.
Our home was also a very Jewish, kosher home. One side of the kitchen was for meat, and one side was for milk. I hadn’t the slightest idea what bacon or shrimp tasted like, and putting cheese on a turkey sandwich? How dare I. But while our dietary rules were strict, she always tried to mix it up in the kitchen. Living in Van Nuys, we were surrounded by Mexican families, one of which shared a recipe for chicken fajitas, and you best believe she put a kosher spin on it. They were pretty damn good. I have many memories of her in the kitchen, de-feathering chickens over an open flame, grating fresh mozzarella and adding spices to her cioppino. We may have been kosher, but she still found a way to put interesting dishes in front of us. Life lesson: Master new recipes as much as possible.
We were real big into RV camping. One time, as we were preparing the RV for our journey home, she started cranking down the awning and a huge puddle of rain water crashed down onto her. She was soaked and shocked, but broke out into hilarious laughter. Life lesson: Don’t take life too seriously.
Linda Arlene Mahru, December 7, 1940 – August 18, 1998
My non-biological mom, Mama, was from Chicago and, as mentioned above, had a private practice as a marriage and family therapist. She counseled some pretty famous actors and musicians, might I boast. While I didn’t see her as much as Mommy, Mama took us on weekend adventures. Whether it was fishing or karate classes or a trip to the zoo, she made sure her kids got to experience all life had to offer. I can’t even remember one weekend when we just sat at home, doing nothing. There was always something to see and learn about. Life lesson: Life is only as good as your experiences.
She was a major animal lover. I grew up with dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, a green iguana and a pot bellied pig. Before I was born, she’d had macaw parrots and a raccoon. We never had cats because Mommy was allergic, which once foiled our plans for getting a skunk. Apparently skunks have the same allergens as cats? In any case, animals were very important to us then, and are very important to me now, though, I’m no longer into keeping birds in cages. You live, you learn. Life lesson: Animals are our best friends.
She always took me second-hand clothes shopping. We could very well afford to shop at Bullocks and Robinsons May, like all my private school friends did, but when I asked her about it she said: “The clothes are all the same at those places. Why would you want to look like everyone else? It’s better to be different.” To this day, I much prefer Crossroads over Madewell. Life lesson: Be different (and save money while doing so).
Kids come first. I’ve never met a more selfless person than Mama. Every move she made was done with my brother and me in mind. Even while she was going through her chemo treatments, she let me have friends over at our house and made sure the kitchen was stocked with food that they liked. “What does Loni like to eat? Drumsticks? How about Sevonne? Diet Coke, right?” When she was in convalescence, she encouraged me to take my first trip to Israel, and when I got back, she demanded to see pictures. And, maybe the most badass part, I only ever saw her cry once during her 9-month battle with cancer. Life lesson: Be selfless for your children.
Man am I lucky to have been created by these two incredible human beings. I have no idea what life would be like if they were still here today, but I’m grateful for the foundation they laid that’s given me such a fantastic life so far.