The Meanest Mother in the World

By Laura Edwards

Growing up, I thought I had the meanest mother in the world.

My friends’ mothers did most of the work on their science fair projects, but I had to do almost all of the work on mine. One year, I tested different brands of store-bought popcorn for their popping prowess. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, my mother made me sit at the kitchen table counting hundreds of popped and unpopped kernels while my friends played outside.

In elementary and middle school, I hated wearing dresses and got nervous around boys, but during my sixth grade year, my mother forced me to participate in Teen Cotillion. On Wednesday nights, instead of building forts in the woods or going to Charlotte Hornets games with my dad, I had to put on a skirt and go to a middle school gym to learn how to do the waltz and the shag and the electric slide and hold hands with boys.

For more than a decade, my mother dragged me to piano lessons once a week, and the other six days, she made me practice for at least 45 minutes, setting the timer on the oven so I couldn’t cheat. While other kids got to play fun music from movie soundtracks and chart-topping albums, I had to play the classics. And while lots of kids got away with just playing in the annual recital, I had to play in all of the competitions, too. I got a ‘superior,’ the best score, every single competition in every single year – all but one. That time, I got an ‘excellent,’ the second best score. On the way home, my mother told me I didn’t play to my potential.

Some of my friends bought pizza in the school cafeteria five days a week, but my mother sent me to school with thermoses of chicken noodle soup and apple slices and peanut butter sandwiches with the crust still attached.

A lot of my friends’ rooms looked like war zones, but my mother made me clean my room and took away privileges if I didn’t. She used to follow me around with the vacuum cleaner and got mad when I wore my muddy soccer cleats into the kitchen.

Most of my high school friends had midnight (or later) curfews, but my mother insisted that I arrive home by 10:30. During my sophomore year, on the night before I turned 16, I went to the senior follies production at school with my junior and senior friends. One of them convinced me to stick around for a birthday celebration with store-bought cupcakes and mismatched candles at midnight. I walked in the door of my house at 12:25, almost two hours after curfew. My mother grounded me.

None of my friends’ parents pressured them about their grades like my mother pressured me. The first semester of my freshman year of high school, I got my first-ever ‘C,’ in English. My teacher told my parents that I got the ‘C’ because I didn’t apply myself, so my mother took away my Cliffs Notes, threatened to hire a tutor, and insisted on reading my take-home papers before I turned them in. I never got another ‘C’ again; that spring, I took the state writing test and got the highest score in the school. Seven years later, I graduated from college with an English degree and an ‘A’ average.

Many of my soccer teammates’ moms came to every single game – even the weekend-long tournaments out of the state – and waited in the parking lot after practice so they could yell at the coaches about their daughter’s playing time. My mother never came to practice, never yelled at my coaches, and never even came to many games. She was too busy being president of the Junior League or serving on some other board to give kids with handicaps or from less fortunate families a chance to believe. And while my teammates’ mothers helped them research college soccer programs and athletic scholarship opportunities, my mother told me to go to the best school, even if I had to walk on the team or, worse yet, never got a chance to play on the varsity.

When I became extremely homesick at the beginning of my freshman year of college, my mother wouldn’t let me move home to go to the school my boyfriend attended. She told me that if I didn’t like my school, I could go somewhere else, but I couldn’t come home.

When I told my mother my boyfriend and I wanted to spend the summer after my graduation driving across the country, she told me no. Instead, she made me get a PR internship at a local ad agency while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, since my original plan to be a starving artist didn’t solve the issue of getting me off my parents’ payroll. That internship led to the career I have today. And when I wanted to get married after I earned my undergraduate degree but before my husband finished his, she convinced me to wait until he was halfway through grad school.

Finally, after years of waiting, my wedding day was the happiest of my life. That day, I stood in front of 75 of our closest family and friends and toasted my father and my mother for giving me everything a daughter ever could ask for.

Since that day, I’ve seen my mother torn apart by the disease that shattered our family the same day we learned of its existence for the first time, just one month after my wedding. I’ve watched her fight for my sister, Taylor, like her own life depended on it – and maybe it does. I’ve watched her demand the best of the people who have a chance to give kids with Batten disease a future, just like she used to demand the best out of me. I’ve seen her at her most desperate, and in those moments, I’ve tried, often in vain, to be the rock for her that she’s always been for me, even though I used to be too naive to see it.

I love my sister, but I’m not only fighting for her. I’m fighting for my mother – the greatest mother in the world. Because that’s what she always did for me.

Mother’s Day is almost two weeks away, but my mother deserves to be honored 365 days a year. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you!

The Girl Who Escaped in the Middle of the Night

By Laura Edwards

My piano teacher of many years, Dzidra Reimanis, called me today. I sent her a note yesterday to check in on her and also share the news that I now have a grand piano and plan on playing regularly again. This afternoon, not 36 hours after I put the envelope in my mailbox, my cell phone rang. I was shocked to learn that Dzidra is 83 years old (but still teaching full-time).

I started taking lessons from Dzidra before my feet reached the floor.

Dzidra was always ageless in my eyes. The day my mother, a piano teacher herself, took me to Dzidra’s house for my first-ever piano lesson, I was 4 years old and still learning to read – so I guess you could say I learned my ABCs, treble clef and bass clef all at the same time. Over the 14-odd years that I went to that house, growing and changing constantly and in the later years still wearing soccer shorts and shin guards from practice and driving my own car, she was always the same Dzidra.

Dzidra left Latvia, a tiny country on the Baltic Sea in northern Europe, in the middle of the night as a young girl. I discovered her origins one day when I asked about the meaning of the letters ‘RIGA,’ which adorned her car license plate. Dzidra explained that Riga is the capital of Latvia. I was always fascinated with Dzidra’s story after that day. I was proud of the fact that I was one of the only students who always spelled her name correctly on competition entry forms. And as much as I hated practicing the piano at home, I was in awe of Dzidra’s love for the art of playing it and teaching it. And it is an art. When you walk in Dzidra’s back door, you enter an open room with a couch, coffee table, shelf, and two Steinway grands standing back to back – one for students, and one for Dzidra.

I have been back in my hometown since the day I graduated from UNC. I live 10 minutes away from Dzidra and work two minutes away from her. And yet I haven’t been to see her at all in the past six years. After talking to her for a few fleeting minutes this afternoon, I wondered why. That’s why I’m going to see her first thing in the morning on my way to the office.

Think about the people who’ve touched you in some way. Do you get to see them every day? How often do you talk to them? Maybe you live under the same roof and drink coffee at the same table every morning or go to sleep in the same bed every night. If you’re like me, you can easily rattle off the names of people who have had a profound impact on your life, and yet for half of them, you can’t remember the last time you saw each other or even talked on the phone. If you’re anything like me in this regard, I hope you’ll make this one promise to yourself and the special people in your life, either past or present: call them. Send them a letter or a card. Show up on their doorstep. Schedule time to catch up. And though it’s awfully convenient, Facebook doesn’t count. I take the easy way out sometimes, too. But it just isn’t the same.

I haven’t tried hard enough with Dzidra or anyone else for that matter – other teachers; my grandparents; parents; friends; cousins I suddenly stopped treating like cousins when the marriage broke up; my sister, whose beautiful life slips away more and more with each passing year. I care so much about all of them, but then I get busy and tell myself that tomorrow’s another day. It took a series of tragic events in my life over the past four years – each and every one of which deeply affects someone I love – to understand this, and still, I forget. But then I come across an old photo, or the phone rings, and I remember.


By Laura Edwards

It’s been a nostalgic week around here.

Friday night, John and I flew through the aisles at Michael’s 10 minutes before they closed and made it up to checkout with armfuls of art supplies just as they locked the front door. We recently dragged out our high school art portfolios and got inspired (to make more art, not take the time to move the enormous portfolios from the office floor back to the closet where they belong). This fall, whenever our interest in the football game on TV is just lukewarm, we’ll watch it from the back of our bonus room, where we have a rickety table that wouldn’t exactly strike you as a place for art but will become one just the same.

Two days after our adventure at Michael’s, the Panthers were down two touchdowns when I heard the piano movers arrive (I wish I could have seen their faces the moment they discovered my mountainous driveway, double-checked the address on the mailbox, realized that yes, that was the house, and regret that they weren’t charging me a whole lot more money). The grand piano my mom got for her 14th birthday – the one that has resided at my grandmother’s house ever since – is now sitting in my great room. It is a resilient instrument, having survived a fire and a couple of moves. It is a beautiful piece of art and deserves to be played by someone who is not 10 years out of practice, which is why I tried to teach myself to sight-read again tonight and unexpectedly played a duet with my dog, Daisy, who isn’t used to the piano and, as I just learned, likes to sit behind the bench and bark on the high notes.

After Daisy and I finished our duet tonight, I returned to my laptop and bought tickets to our high school reunion. I don’t look all that much different than I did 10 years ago, but somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, I got 10 years older.

I can explain the sudden urge to relearn the piano after all these years, but I can’t explain why John and I dug through all of the junk in our storage closet to get to a bunch of drawings/paintings we did in high school, nor can I explain what possessed us to spend all that money on art supplies (money well spent, but why now?). I also can’t explain why I sat cross-legged in the floor of our office after dinner tonight, rifling through photos from my Charlotte Soccer Club days, or why I’m listening to Deep Blue Something right now, which hasn’t been cool since I was 14 (if it ever was). Maybe I’m running away from the present. After all, it’s been raining in my world this week, and for all the optimism I preach in this space, for all that talk about dancing in the rain, a lot of times, I just want to crawl into my shell and try in vain to stay dry. My life wasn’t perfect before I knew my sister has Batten disease, but it sure was a hell of a lot easier. I only wish I’d known how blessed I was at the time. Don’t we all say that at some point in our lives?

Mom, Taylor and I went to the Blumenthal Sunday night to see Mary Poppins. For all the injustices that have been done to T, she’s still better at dancing in the rain than her big sister. She couldn’t see the coolest parts of the show (when Bert walked up one wall, across the ceiling and down the other wall, and when Mary Poppins floated out over the crowd and glided into one of the balconies), but she still smiled and laughed and had a great time and clapped along with the crowd when the cast sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.” T loves theater/ballet/etc. and always has. Even when she was really little, The Nutcracker was one of the highlights of the year for her.

Here is an old picture of T, our brother Stephen and me at one of those Christmas productions when T was a toddler. I realize the picture quality’s bad, but does she look happy or what? Back then, I took those moments for granted. Now, I treasure them, partly because I don’t have any idea how many more we’ll share. I’m already nostalgic for our night at Mary Poppins. I’m nostalgic for the dinner we shared at Jason’s Deli two weeks ago. I’m nostalgic for future moments with T, and I hope to God there will be a lot of them.