Telling Mom About the Washington Post

 

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My mother lives in Utah. I live in Oregon. We haven’t been
in the same room for nearly two years. Most of our communication is over the
phone.
I don’t think my mother has ever really understood my passion
for writing. Before I moved to Minnesota for an MFA in creative writing, her
first question was, “What are you going to do with that?”
I’d been asked that a few times already from other people,
and never really knew how to answer it, so I said, “Become homeless.”
When she didn’t laugh, I said, “With that kind of education
I will be the king of the homeless. Does that make you feel better?”
“No. Not really,” she said.
It was at that point I tried to comfort her by talking about
all the practical things I could do with a degree in creative writing. However,
the list was short, and most of the jobs were in education, which my mother
assumes doesn’t pay well. I now work in education, and I know that she was
right.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that I took a huge gamble
uprooting my family of four from our home in Utah, and landing us in Minnesota,
where we lived on a pitiful graduate stipend ($9,000 a year) and student loans
to chase my passions.
My mother is too practical to understand something like that.
She’s a republican, who understands the value of money. After my father left,
she lived in near poverty for several years as a single mother. She knows what
it means to be poor, and I think that’s what she was afraid of. She couldn’t
understand why I would willingly take out student debt to learn how to become
an author, a terribly unmarketable skill.
This gamble still hasn’t really paid off.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother was right.
I’m still in terrible debt, and I haven’t made much money on
my writing. Until this year, my only publications had been in university
literary journals with a circulation of about 500 that no had heard of outside
of literary snobs.
So when I was first published in The Huffington Post, a publication with a large circulation and
name recognition, I felt that maybe, just maybe this was a sign that things
were starting to work out.
So I called my mother.
The conversation went like this.
“I’m going to be published in The Huffington Post,” I said.
“Hmmm…” my mother replied. “What’s that?”
My mother is in her early sixties. When she replied with a
question, I thought about the time I tried to teach her how to use Facebook,
and she got so frustrated that she started crying.  She’s held a job at the power company for
years, and she can answer emails, but surfing the web was not something she is
in to, so being published in an online only news source didn’t really hit her
over the head as significant. There was also the fact that my mother only reads
local newspapers. She’d probably have been ecstatic if I’d been published in
some local daily that was delivered to her home. She’s kind of a small town gal
when it comes to her news.
I explained to her what The
Huffington Post
was, and she responded with, “Hmmm… how much are they
paying you.”
“Nothing,” I said. “They don’t pay contributors. But they do
have a lot of readers and I’m just really excited to have my work get out
there.”
“Yeah…” she said. “That’s something.”
We talked for a minute more, but that was it. The whole
conversation was really a let down.
It wasn’t until I was published in The New York Times that her ears seemed to perk a little. She asked
me again if they pay, and I told her that they did. However, I didn’t tell her
how much because it really wasn’t that much money. Then she said, “I don’t read
The New York Times,” she said. “What
day will it be out, and where can I get a copy?”
“It won’t be in print,” I said. “It will only be online.”
“Hmmm…” she said. “Was it not good enough for print, or
something?”
I didn’t really know how to respond to that question, so I
just said, “Yeah… probably.”
I’ve published a lot this year. More than any year before. Every
time it’s something significant, I call my mother, tell her the news, and the
reaction is always less then stellar. When my list of things I wanted my daughters
to know about marriage was on The
Washington Post
main page, she said, “Now what is this place called again?
Washington what?”
I feel like the majority of my life has been spent in an
attempt to impress my mother, and failing miserably at it. Now I see this same longing
for praise in my children. Every time I come home from work, Norah (my four
year old) shows me a scribble or two on a slip of paper, tells me it’s a dog or
a kitty, and expects me to be thrilled with her artistic ability. Like most
parents, I throw down some fake enthusiasm, but ultimately, I am not all that
impressed. When I compare my reaction to Norah’s scribbles to my mother’s
reaction to me being published in the largest newspaper in the United States, I
can see a striking resemblance.
I don’t know why I have never grown out of wanting my
mother’s praise. Maybe this is a normal thing that all kids deal with, or
perhaps it’s because I have almost never received it. Or perhaps it’s that I’ve
never gotten her praise in the way I’ve wanted it. I suppose what I’ve always
wanted was for my mother to simply say, “I’m proud of you.” However, most of
her praise comes in code. I often have to read between the lines to find it.
I can only think of a few times she has used the words, “I’m
proud of you.” Once when I got a job cutting grass at the parks department. And
once more when I got a job working for the power company. Both were low wage,
temporary jobs, but I think they were jobs she understood. My mother never went
to college. She’s worked at the city utilities for several decades. When I told
her I wanted to go to college at age 21, she said, “You’ve never been too good
at school. How about you get a good job with the city.”
When I think about stuff like this, it feels like the two of
us are from different worlds and need a translator.
Two weeks ago, that translation happened. I got a call from
my mother early one morning. I was in my office.
“What was the name of that place you were published in last
week?” she said.
The Washington Post,”
I said.
“Hold on,” she replied. I could hear her talking to someone
in the distance, and I assumed it was one of her co-workers. “It was the Washington Post place,” she said.
“Wow,” the co-worker said in the distance. “That’s huge.”
“Yeah…” Mom said, “I hear it is. I’m really proud of him.”
Mom got back on for a moment, asked me some questions about
my daughter’s upcoming birthday, and that was it.
I hung up the phone, beaming.

Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife,
a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play
dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood,
he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His
essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The
Huffington Post
, Scary
Mommy
, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in
Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Photo by Lucinda Higley

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Showing 2 comments
  • sue adams

    I think you are a great writer. I stumbled on your blog last week and I have been reading all of your entries like crazy.
    I love your sense of humor.

    • Clint

      Wow! Thanks, Sue.