Ma Raison d’ Etre!

By Erika Hoffman

“You’re to blame!” The voice on the line scolded, half laughing.

“For what?” I answered.

“My life!”

“Huh?”

“And my four siblings’ lives, too!”

“Hold on, now!”

“Mom told us the story. We exist solely because of you.”

“Carol, what on earth…”

“Dad changed his mind. When he married, he told Mom flatly he wanted no kids, no how, no way.”

“Really?”

Soon after this phone conversation, I received a letter from Aunt Trudy. It was a couple of days following my last non-descript birthday. I held a sneaky suspicion my cousin Carol told her how I’d thrown myself a pity party on the actual day because no one seemed prepared to celebrate it, and how I finally became weary of planning my own preparations, baking my own cake, continuing my own tradition. My twenty-something kids had bought me presents, but I slipped off to bed at 10 pm without opening them; my busy spouse pulled something (from his stash of stuff he finds on sale and pulls out when an occasion arrives), and he wrapped it himself and tucked it under a pillow near me. Yet I ignored it. It turned out my 89 year old father who lives with us whom I take care of announced glumly that night that he too felt bad he’d forgotten what day it was! Of course, that is pretty much how his life goes these days.

I e-mailed my cousin my resolution that from here on out, I wasn’t going to be around for my birthday. Instead, I vowed I’d skip town for “Erika’s fun day” rather than hang around, anticipating a surprise, getting disappointed and then resentful and schlepping off to bed, dissatisfied and feeling sorry for myself. Next year, I’ll go to a spa! I complained about all this in my cyber missive to my Western cousin, but added, “I was over it!” The day had passed. Next year will be different I pledged to myself, as I always do!

Within the week of my “special day,” I received a basket of flowers from my aunt and then a long letter.

My aunt wrote: “Your uncle Tom found you precious, beautiful, ideal!  Tom’s step dad told me when we married that Tom would never want children. I asked him why. He said Tom saw the kids his step brothers and sisters were raising, and he found them wild, disrespectful and stupid.” My aunt added, “Quite a few of ‘em wound up in prison.”

“Your uncle was raised by a step father and had no biological siblings of his own, and the step ones that came when his step father remarried a woman with eight kids were cruel to Tom and made fun of his being a boy scout, a church regular and hell bent on educating himself.”

I read on. “After we were married a few years, we went east to visit. You weren’t even two.”

My uncle and aunt lived in Arizona in 1953, and my folks and grandparents lived in New Jersey. I’d heard before how Uncle Tom loved playing with me. “You changed Tom’s opinion about children.  He wanted a child as pretty, sweet, loving and fun to be around as you.  See what an impression you made – even at 18 months! I am grateful you were such a lovely child!”

I had to smile at that as I never thought of myself that way. I always figured my sister as the “lovely, photogenic child” and me as “the ingrate.” I read on. “I always wanted children and was happy to have five of them. And it was because you were so special! Love, Aunt Trudy.”

So, now I understand that my being born affected the birth of at least five more people – cousins – and most likely two more – my younger siblings – and who knows how many countless others who got a gander at the adorable, well-behaved paradigm of toddlerhood I was! According to my dad’s gushing sister, I was a walking, talking antidote to birth control!

I had to chuckle!

My aunt’s message was the best kind of birthday present – not some last minute rush job; an afterthought; a find at a red dot special; not something I’ll later lose, use up or break. It’s a present from the heart for the heart.

My mother – who worked hard as a high school teacher; who was an only child with elder care falling only on her shoulders; who stood by my dad through good days and those bleak days when he lost his job; who stressed providing her own children with superior educations above all else including her own wants – died 25 years ago. No one can replace her. Yet, since my mom’s passing, I have found solace, guidance and joy in the presence and wisdom of women my mother’s age. Just as a substitute can never fill-in completely for a dedicated classroom teacher, there are instructors who do a more than adequate job at moving the curriculum forward while encouraging the charges in their temporary care.

So too, in our lives, there exist those “momma subs” who may flit in and out and appear just in the nick-of-time to rescue a daughter who feels a bit alone, neglected and underappreciated. These mothers, though not our natural moms, must be thanked, too, for picking up the slack and providing that measure of comfort to a gal, no matter how long in the tooth that gal becomes or how long she’s been mothering others, herself. Everyone wants that “Atta, Boy!” cheer parents provide from the sidelines. Everyone wants to be remembered and appreciated on one’s birthday if not on any other day of the year! Who remembers that day more than one’s mother? And when one’s mommy is no longer there then…

Every person wants to believe he or she has made a difference in someone’s life. Apparently, I did – early on! All this time I thought I was the ugly duckling only to bloom later during my teen years. Instead, I may have reached my apex of influence at the ripe old age of 18 months!  And didn’t even know it! Until now! What a nice birthday surprise!

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman writes stories and essays about her life. She also teaches a course on penning non-fiction narratives, hoping others will find the same satisfaction she does in this vocation/avocation.

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3 Responses to “Ma Raison d’ Etre!”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Ha! Erika, and to think you had it all at age 18 months. What influence you have had…certainly through your writing.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    This has to be the best birthday gift, ever!

  3. Jane W says:

    Such a sweet story. You never know the power of people…even at just 18 months. Thank you.

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