August 9, 2009 – 1:00 am
I grew up in 1960s suburban Los Angeles.Â My mother didn’t like me to smile at strangers, play outside after dusk, and most importantly, be far away from her.
By: Leslie Gilbert-Lurie
“Mommy, I was afraid that you died.”
“I didn’t die. Sleeping. I was sleeping.” Holding my cell phone, I propped myself up on the pillow and regained my bearings. I was in an elegant hotel room in Washington, D.C. Judging from the burning sensation in my eyes, I had not been asleep for long.
“I was so worried when you didn’t answer the phone.” My daughter’s small voice trembled.
“I answered the phone, honey. We’re talking.”
“Not until the fourth ring.”
Her sadness and the demands I knew were soon to follow sent blood rushing to my temples. “Mikaela, I’m fine.”
“I can’t stay here, Mommy.”
I took a deep breath and thought fast. My voice softened. “I just dropped you off a few hours ago. We talked about the fact that the first night might be an adjustment. What did you do this evening?”
“Nothing. I didn’t eat. I just cried.”
She was in Bethesda, about twenty minutes away. “Honey, it was a big honor to be chosen for this leadership conference. You were so excited about going, you have a good friend there, you’ll learn all about government, and — ”
“Mommy, please! Take me home! I’m only eleven years old, and I’m not ready for this. Please.”
“Mikaela, you are ready. You’ll be so proud of yourself for sticking it out. What do you want to bet you’ll love it there by the end of the five days?”
She was sobbing now. “I won’t. I hate it! I don’t even feel like myself here. I’m hiding in the bathroom so I don’t wake up my roommates, worrying that you’re going to die!”
“I’m not going to die. Not for fifty more years at least.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
I was afraid she would say that. “You’re right, I don’t. But I eat healthy foods, I exercise, I wear sunscreen, and I don’t drink and drive, so I should live for a very long time, right?”
“Can you at least come over here to give me a hug goodnight?”
It’s a trap. She’ll never let me leave without her. If I had just flown out of town this afternoon, we would not be having this negotiation. “It won’t help, sweetie. You’ll just miss me more if you see me.” By now my head was aching.
“I won’t. I swear.”
I was not surprised by her determination, but I held firm. “No.”
“You just don’t understand,” she said angrily.
“Yes, I do.” I did understand. She was in pain, a kind with which I was all too familiar, and I could alleviate her anxiety just by jumping into a taxi. But it would be a mistake. Even though she had always been apprehensive about being away from me, she had made significant strides as of late. She’d been nervous about a recent two-night class trip to northern California, but had gone anyway and had ended up having a great time. I was certain that this new adventure would also surprise her, and provide further evidence that she could survive without me. After all, she was a survivor. She came by that honestly.
I grew up in 1960s suburban Los Angeles, part of a family who was living the American Dream. My parents raised my siblings and me in a friendly, safe, and well- kept community. Every home on the block and every kid looked more or less the same, with a smattering of ethnic diversity to break the monotony. I loved sports, especially baseball, made friends easily enough, and was a good student. My family ate dinner together nearly every night and took occasional vacations, just like the other families we knew.
Yet some things were different in our family. My mother believed that I could be president of the United States, but she hoped I could make the leap to high office directly from my cozy bedroom, where she knew I was safe. My mother didn’t like me to smile at strangers, play outside after dusk, visit friends whose parents weren’t nurturing enough, and most importantly, be far away from her. While I bristled at these restrictions, I lived by them. I knew that my mother’s fears were birthed by tragedy. She carried wounds whose power I could never comprehend.
About the Author:
Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir, is a writer, lawyer, teacher, child advocate, and a member and past President of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
Gilbert-Lurie also is a founding board member and immediate past President of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a non-profit legal rights organization for indigent children, chair of the education committee for the Los Angeles Music Center, and a board member of several schools including Sierra Canyon and New Visions Foundation. Finally, she has just completed serving as a member of the mayor’s task force charged with developing a new cultural plan for the City of Los Angeles.
Previously, Leslie spent close to a decade as an executive at NBC, where, at various times, she oversaw NBC Productions, Comedy, wrote television episodes, and co-founded a new NBC in-house production company, Lurie-Horwits productions. As a lawyer, Leslie worked briefly at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney and served as a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Law Clerk. She is a graduate of UCLA and UCLA School of Law.
Leslie lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter and step-son.
For more information please visit http://www.bendingtowardthesun.com/