What an (awful, terrible, rotten) mother I am

August 18th, 2008

“Mom, are you ever going to grow your hair out again?” she asks for the trillionth time, while I am sitting at the kitchen table trimming her nails for the billionth time. This after one of those long, full exhausting Sundays of overdue chores that quite nearly empties me out. (Quite nearly.)

“No,” I snip in reply. (I am a Buddhist priest and what length of hair I still have tells you everything about the ego I’ve yet to let go.)

She looks away and says nothing, and I feel the temperature climb up my spine to a rolling boil.

“Why would I?” I erupt. “I’m just a slave around here!” (Did I say that? Or was it my mother, or her mother, or the ancient mother of all mothers?)

It’s quiet as I finish up her hands and feet, then she skips up the hallway to her room.

“Here, I want you to have this,” she says when she returns, holding out a folded bill. It’s $10 from her savings.

I shake my head in remorse.

“It’s for helping us,” and here she pauses to find the words, “to live.”

(Leaving me to repay the favor.)


  1. Wow. The universe works at lightning speed at your house too. I speak in ancient mother quite frequently. Feels best when I whispering I love you’s in sleeping ears.

    Comment by spielbee — August 18, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

  2. Deep breath. Your success as a mother and your beautiful humanity are both present in this post.

    Comment by bluelikethesky — August 18, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  3. i love to visit for a lesson in calm. as I am always so impressed by your calmess but it was your honesty about these moments in momma zen, and daily here that keeps me coming back day after day.

    Comment by latisha — August 18, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

  4. momentary shock to the system–momentary glimpse of unbridled wisdom–
    oh lordy, how they do propel us back to what is real and right.
    thanks karen. all of us bad moms thank you.

    Comment by Holly — August 18, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  5. How DO they do that?

    Comment by Mama Zen — August 18, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  6. thank you.

    Comment by Sarah — August 18, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

  7. Oh I got all choked up – beautiful – out of the mouth’s of babes’!

    Comment by Cat — August 18, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

  8. Thank you for reading, all. Thank you for recognizing, all. And Latisha, you provoke still further truth. To be honest, a state of pure, uncontrived, unpretentious, ordinary calm is the most honest way to be. So while it might seem that I’m revealing my honesty, I’m just being honest about my dishonesty! And this is why I practice. You are all helping me by witnessing my eternal need to practice this one true authentic life.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 18, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  9. Great post. Great picture to go with the post. The “slave around here” comment has left my lips a few times. Then I remember that I wouldn’t have anyone BUT me slaving for my family, and go on about the business of Mom.

    Comment by Kristin H. — August 18, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

  10. Your day sounds oh so familiar. Smart girl you’ve got there Mama! Smart.

    Comment by Shalet — August 18, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  11. Oh my. I got teary reading this. There’s more I could say but don’t have brain or time to find the words.

    Comment by kathryn — August 18, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  12. I think I’ve said this before, but she is something else!

    Comment by Shelli — August 18, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  13. Stunning moment. Come and gone.

    Comment by Jena Strong — August 19, 2008 @ 1:24 am

  14. I’ve said something along the lines–I’m not on this planet to clean. Today I said the, um, line–it’s like hitting my bleeding head against the wall.

    And on we go.

    Comment by mapelba — August 19, 2008 @ 3:53 am

  15. i can’t find the words…(tears)

    Comment by Wendy — August 19, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  16. Thank you for sharing. Your blog is quickly becoming one of the first I read in my morning.

    Comment by Anna — August 19, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  17. OK, i think i have some words for what i’m feeling….thank you for sharing your humanness. it helps the rest of us feel like it’s ok to be human and have our less shiny moments. what blows my mind is how gg has the wisdom to say what needs to be said. a trait she clearly gets from her mother.

    thank you, mae, for helping us ALL to live.

    Comment by Wendy — August 19, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  18. Oh, those moments hurt. I want so much to teach my children and not the other way around.

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — August 19, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  19. she just gets it, doesn’t she?
    she certainly woke me up.

    Comment by jessamyn — August 20, 2008 @ 4:49 am

  20. The universal mother yells in my head sometimes and when I let her slip out I feel horrible. I feel like hanging my head, sticking my foot in my mouth, running down the street screaming, feeling that I can’t ever take it back. And then the boys just smile, give me a hug, and say something that shatters me and allows me to be me again. I love how kids do that.

    Comment by denise — August 20, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  21. I recognize myself in this post–in both you and your daughter.


    Comment by Anonymous — August 22, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  22. Gosh they know us well, don’t they Karen?

    Beautiful, beautiful post. One I will remember.

    Comment by Debra W — August 23, 2008 @ 5:15 am

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