(Adapted from a speech I gave at my mother’s 80th birthday on April 14, 2022)
One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever read is something that a lot of people wish Maya Angelou wrote, because it seems like the kind of advice that she might give: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
That quote seems like the best way to summarize the good fortune that goes along with being one of Phyllis Bonfield’s children. The things I remember her saying to me are fading like my hair color and eyesight. On the other hand, the feelings of gratitude, of mattering to someone who matters to me, of appreciation for the ways she cared for me and shaped me — those feelings are getting stronger and richer every year.
I remember how she would make me fried eggs any time I had to take a standardized test. They filled my belly with a gentle, fireside warmth that made me feel calm and confident, like the tests were a game and I should have fun with them. That was why it felt so good when she would let me cook dinner for our family, or make her a milkshake or sundae for dessert. It felt similar, years later, when she passed her editorial red pen to me, at least symbolically, and let me help her with a ghostwriting assignment for the president of the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters and Chartered Financial Consultants. Neither felt like a role reversal. They were more like initiations. A chance to experience something with her that felt both loving and powerful. Arranging a meal for people you love. Communing with others through the written word.
She stood in line at the Sears when I was 15 and away at summer camp, and bought tickets to Live Aid so my friends and I could go to our first real concert alone. I will always feel proud and grateful that it was my mother who made it happen.
I remember when my family stayed at the Sheraton Society Hill and she and I walked to the South Street Diner for late-night Greek omelets. I was 18 at the time and felt particularly awkward and unsure of myself because I was going through my first heartbreak. We sat in a booth next to a window and I felt mature and cool, like maybe it was a matter of time until I found my place.
A few years later she made me feel cool again, this time in Greenwich Village. More than anything in the world I wanted a pair of Doc Martens boots. She picked them out with me and reassured me that I’d made a good choice. I loved those boots for decades, thought of her every time I put them on, and I still wear Doc Martens to work every day.
A few years later, she let me accompany her to New York again, this time in a hand-me-down tuxedo. I was her plus one for the annual Public Relations Society of America award ceremony. As much as I appreciate Meals on Wheels and the elegance of Reynolds Wrap becoming their sponsor, I will always feel misgivings about both of them, because Mom’s Edward Gorey campaign — having him illustrate PR pieces about the importance of buying life insurance from a credentialed salesperson — was so much more inspired and artistic and funny and deserving of recognition as Public Relations Campaign of the Year. I felt jilted on her behalf and full of pride at what she accomplished.
She has always been as happy for my happiness, as proud of my successes, and as forgiving of my weaknesses and failures as anyone in my life. She makes me feel loved and grateful and eager to be the kind of person who can help others feel the way that she makes me feel. I love you, Mom.
Welcome to April 2022’s Disappearing Moment, an inventory of my experiences. I hope you enjoy it.
When I’m gloomy, I listen to unplayed episodes from my favorite podcasts. Familiar hosts and topics are comforting, and so is reducing my backlog.
Squoosh is for reducing image file sizes, so they need less memory in a website, email, or text. Its interface makes me feel smart.
Bidet evangelists, oy vey. Yet here we are. I went cheap and minimal, and love my decision.
Brené Brown, Dare to Lead (2018) (I Loved It): I wish she had a different editor, which doesn't diminish my appreciation for her research. I have a lot more to learn from her.
My life is half set up and half punchline.
Thanks for spending a few moments with me. I look forward to corresponding again next month.