The Reverse Kvell: A Perspective on Motherhood from the Other Side
By J.J. Gesher
After toiling for three years, we completed a novel, our debut book. We found a legitimate publisher, secured advance praise, and scheduled a launch event at a respectable bookstore (A Narrow Bridge will be published in February, 2017). Although we are deeply pleased, what we really want is a reverse kvell. We want our adult children to voice their pride.
From the moment our children enter our lives, we kvell at their every accomplishment, no matter how small. Gaining weight, sitting up, walking, talking, all the landmarks of early childhood – kvells of relief that our child is normal. Making friends, mastering basic literacy, performing in the school play, all the milestones of the elementary years – kvells of joy. Sports, the arts, community activism, academic excellence, all the signposts of successful adolescence – kvells of pride. The ultimate kvell? Acceptance at a university. Our work is done, our child is on his or her way to a life of achievement and fulfillment. A mate of equal resume and potential is kvelling to the second power.
We don’t expect gratitude for the ingenious birthday parties, the relentless cheering from the sidelines, the tutoring and coaching we deem necessary to give our child a leg-up in the world. We never expected a payback.
Or did we?
When they are young, we don’t expect our children to understand our work lives. The world revolves around them, and they reluctantly accept the hours that we are away. Then they grow a bit, and they understand that parents must work to support their lifestyle (food, shoes, roof over the head). As they mature into young adults, they may appreciate wisdom and expertise, but they rarely show an interest in their mothers’ professional lives. As young adults enter relationships, launch careers, and plan their future, moms are just not that interesting.
Why the myopia? Why can’t they see us? Why can’t they at least feign an interest? What about OUR accomplishments as professionals, creatives, activists, and humans?
I hear you say, “You were a child once. You’ve had your turn to be the object of kvelling.” But our parents, those who are still here, have transitioned from kvelling to kvetching. Sure, they rooted for us every step of the way, but we are finished products now.
So we turn to our children for encouragement and a dash of cheerleading. We want them to see us as whole people, not just mothers. Take an interest, dammit!
With children out of the house and scrambled eggs an acceptable dinner option, mothers have more time to deepen their work lives and pursue their interests. For some, that means a change in career, perhaps from corporate executive to non-profit volunteer, or from manager to entrepreneur. For some, without the financial burden of supporting a family, creativity in art, music, or writing is finally excavated. Whatever the choice, the post-children years are productive and exciting, and we want our children’s support and enthusiasm. We need the reverse kvell.
Our children don’t seem to understand the necessity of support and praise. That has never been their role. Take Sheila. She toiled for twenty-five years in a second grade classroom and raised two bright, hard-working children. Finally freed of parental responsibilities, she began to paint, a passion she had tucked away when she bought her first pack of diapers. She studied with some well-known artists, and her skills grew. Her work is good, damn good, and she began to enter competitions, display in galleries, and market her work. Neither of her bright, hard-working children has ever come to one of her events.
Or take Gail, a successful insurance executive for thirty years who always wanted to be a teacher but didn’t want to earn like one. So at 50, with her only daughter in college, she went back to school for her credentials, and at 55, loves her life teaching first grade. She won teacher-of-the-year from parents and staff at her school. Her daughter was late for the ceremony.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Back to us, the novelists. Joyce, mother of two, had a fulfilling career in television as both a writer and director, working on shows like Wings and Frasier. When she aged out, she reinvented as a private college counselor. But always, her creativity beckoned. Janet, mother of three, spent her professional career teaching college literature and writing. As all English teachers say, “some day I will write.” Some day arrived when we met. We have written and produced screenplays together, and now, a published novel.
Our children aren’t sure who we are. “My mother, the novelist,” doesn’t flow easily from their mouths. They want us to be moms, ready with a sandwich, a checkbook, and free time to babysit, not disciplined professional writers preparing to launch a novel. Some day they may take interest and even pride in our accomplishments, but for now, we must embrace inner satisfaction. Such is the lot of a mother.
We wait patiently for the reverse kvell. Meanwhile, tell your mother that you’re proud of her and tell her why.
J.J.Gesher is the pen name for Janet B. Fattal and Joyce Gittlin. Their debut novel, A Narrow Bridge, will be published by Prospect Park Books in February, 2017.