“Mom, I have to ask you something,” my seven-year-old Henry begins. He stares at me with those solemn eyes and I steel myself. Considering our unique family, it could be any number of things. Why do you and Dad live in separate places? (We are married but never could stand to live together.) Why is Gus so different from other kids? (Henry’s twin brother is mildly autistic.) Why does Dad look tired all the time? (My husband was 68 when our sons were born.... You do the math.) I’m ready.
“Do you think spit cleans better than water?” he asks. “You always use it to clean my face.”
You know, it isn’t a bad question. And, in a way, every burst of curiosity gives me hope that my boys will continue to quiz me about ever more interesting and personal things. Because, as adults, so many of us don’t ask enough about our mothers. (Maybe we’re scared. More likely we just don’t get around to it.) Yet there’s no better way to become closer to a person, even if you’ve known her all your life. So, after an utterly unscientific survey of friends and acquaintances, I’ve come up with 10 queries to get you started. Try them out this Mother’s Day. You may even learn something about yourself.
1. What’s the one thing you would have done differently as a mom? Recently I had this conversation with someone I had considered one of the best mothers I know―the kind who never missed a kid’s concert or a PTA conference. Her children are grown now, and they are neither independent nor particularly grateful. “I should have let them fail,” she told me. “When my daughter forgot to do her homework, I shouldn’t have done it for her. When the other one got caught shoplifting, I should have let her spend a night in jail.” For better or worse, your mother has probably given this subject a good deal of thought.
2. Why did you choose to be with my father? “Look at him!” my mother says adoringly. “He looks just like Jascha Heifetz!” He does, actually. But Heifetz, perhaps the world’s greatest violinist, was one weird-looking dude. And my dad doesn’t even play the violin. (Which is a bit like an accountant being the spitting image of Mick Jagger.) So was there anything else? “Well, he liked smart women,” says my mom, who was in medical school when they met in the 1950s. “So many men didn’t back then.” Not a bad reason to marry someone. I’m glad I asked.