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Things I Wish I Told My Mother


MY MOTHER LOVES TO travel. And she’s done a lot of it. At a time when there were very few female gynecologists, she was in great demand and had speaking invitations from all over the world.

Come help us set up a prenatal clinic in Soviet Georgia

Come talk to the women of Senegal about the trauma of genital mutilation. 

Come to Lima/Cambodia/Colombia/Xinjiang and tell us about STDs/birth control/menopause. 

Whenever my late father, a manager at an insurance agency, was able to take off work, he would join her. If her trips fell over school holidays, sometimes I would too. 

My mother was a great speaker. Calm, with a terrific grasp of her subject matter. 

Not the warmest, perhaps, but certainly one of the most qualified. And besides, they weren’t inviting her for her charm. 

But the only time she and I traveled alone together was a total disaster. And it was to the one place you’d never think would fail: Disney World. 

A kid’s paradise, right? Well, maybe for other kids. But I guess Dr. Liz Ormson was just not a Disney World kind of gal. From the moment we went through the entrance gate, she seemed determined to tamp down the fun. 

Rule Number One: No Going On Scary Rides. Any ride that went up and down, or round and round, or even the mildest loop de loop — anything more spirited than a carousel — was out of the question. I had just turned a very grown-up seven. Way too old for the kiddie park rides, I thought. So out of spite, I refused to go on anything. 

As hundreds of kids walked by, munching on giant barbequed turkey legs the size of their heads, my mother shared Rule Number Two: No Turkey Legs. (“Who knows how long they’ve been sitting out in the sun, collecting bacteria?”) 

Perhaps the most crushing disappointment of all: I was not allowed to go on Cinderella’s Golden Carousel. Too sexist, my mother said. “A smart, capable young woman waiting around for a rich man to come find her? I don’t think so.” 

As I got older, nothing changed. Even a simple trip to the supermarket together could turn us into Mrs. Hatfield and Miss McCoy. Wegman’s parking lot is where I’ve learned, on various occasions, that I park too far from the entrance . . . spend too much on olives . . . buy the wrong brand of toilet paper . . . and should never put my purse in the cart. 

“You know,” I said to my mother once, “I’m really lucky. Some of my friends have mothers who’ve retired to Flagstaff or Boca. They have to wait months to find out what they’re doing wrong. But with you around, I get to learn several times a week.” 

Yet here I am, planning a full fourteen-day trip away with my mother. And it’s too late to turn back. I suggest a few places where we might go. 

“I’ve heard good things about Iceland,” I say. 

“Too cold.” 

“Key West?” 

“Are you serious? Now? In the middle of hurricane season?” 

I cite various people I know who’ve just come back from India, Vietnam, the Galápagos, Manitoba, Newfoundland. My mother’s reaction to all of these: “Why would anybody want to go there?” 

Then she has an idea of her own. Paris! She seems surprised when I hesitate. 

“I thought you loved Paris,” she says. 

I do. That’s why I chose the most romantic city in the world for my honeymoon with Andrew — the man I divorced less than two years later. 

“I have a better idea,” I say. “How about Norway?” 


My mother was born in Norway. She left for America when she was a teenager, and always said she wanted to go back. 

I can see this excites her. I can hear it, too. Her usual wisp of a Norwegian accent becomes more noticeable when she says, “We could start in Oslo and wend our way up north by rail, to the glaciers.” 

Sounds good to me. I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights. “And maybe we’ll even swing by your old hometown.” 

“I don’t know about that, Laurie,” she says. “But yes, let’s go to Norway.” 

“Great,” I say. “I’ll start looking into fights when I get home. I mean, flights.” 

“And Paris first,” she adds. 

Say, what? 

How did Paris get back into the mix? Maybe my subconscious was right: I did mean “fights.” 

But as she closes her eyes and begins to fall asleep, a rare smile on her face, I decide I can’t bear to burst her bubble. This is a trip for her, not me. And she looks so happy. 

So — fine. I’ll go to Paris again. It’ll be okay. I travel light. I will pack only what I need. 

And I’ll leave all my memories behind.

Things I Wish I Told My Mother
by by Susan Patterson and Susan DiLallo, with James Patterson

  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538710935
  • ISBN-13: 9781538710937