I still remember the first time I confided in my mother about sex. I was nine years old, living in South Africa, and had a secret that seemed so terrible I thought everyone could tell what I’d done just by looking at me. I had played spin the bottle with Simon from up the street. He spun. It pointed at me. I let him see my underpants.
My mother immediately went to my father with it and I never told her another embarrassing secret. Even when I really could have used her advice.
Fast forward thirteen years to Beaufort, SC when I began to realize that Byrne Miller was my other mother. She was 82 and I was 22 – so the age gap alone made it somehow easier to talk to her. But it was more than that. I could share secrets with her because we had chosen each other, we shared no genetic ties. She didn’t know about Simon or spin the bottle and she wouldn’t have cared. This former burlesque dancer had seen and done things that would shock Miley Cyrus today.
Over the course of ten years, I was able to tell Byrne things that would have upset my mother more than she could bear. If I had told mom about the man who stole my dog, broke my hand and tried to crash a plane with me in it – she would have been reminded of too many parallels in her own marriage.
But Byrne and I had no shared history. Our relationship was fresh and self-determined. I learned to trust that she would never judge my decisions or critique my opinions. She didn’t have to. She wasn’t responsible for me. She just told stories of choices she made in her life, colorful anecdotes and analogies I call womenisms in the book.
I could never even discuss spin the bottle with my mother, let alone infidelity and forgiveness. There are some things only meant for an other mother’s ears. And Mother’s Day is the perfect time to make sure she knows how much you appreciate zipped lips.