Last fall, I posted a SCN online course called “Writing About Your Mom without Guilt,” an offshoot from a workshop I conducted at the last SCN conference in Texas. Within days, I reached my maximum number of eight students. Len Leatherwood, online course coordinator, said, “Who knew there were so many women wanting to write about their moms.” I knew. For decades, I participated in all-female writing groups, dating back to consciousness-raising sessions from the 1970s when our favorite topic of discussion was, “How I’m Like My Mom.” For most women, our mothers—living or not—remain a driving force and often creep into our writing. Our mother’s voice hovers over us, criticizing our words, editing our sentences, and threatening with nothing short of disinheritance.
Three members (from Washington state, New York, and North Carolina) who enrolled were loyal friends from my long-term writing group, two of whom had taken another SCN course that I taught. A Texas author was from the last SCN conference workshop and kept in touch. One enrollee was my younger cousin, an emergency room physician in Idaho, who loved to write. I didn’t know three women: a retired businesswoman from California and currently in graduate school studying Italian; a Texas entrepreneur of used books and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor; and an artist and ghostwriter from Melbourne, Australia. We scheduled our meetings when some were finishing lunch, others dinner, and our Aussie contributor was having breakfast the following day.
I held a Zoom introductory session, and we went around the “room” voicing our expectations, focusing on our mother/daughter relationships. Within an hour, many fought back tears (and some let them flow) as we confessed long-held issues to some who were complete strangers. In our safe place, we had an immediate sense of belonging. And, since we had been sequestered because of the pandemic, we were “hungry” for connection.
As the group “leader,” I wondered, “How could I have been so fortunate to attract such fascinating and talented women to one spot?” My task was to harvest this treasure, to encourage individual expression, to inspire constructive comments, and to maintain humor even under emotional duress.
So many stories came out. One woman, a successful writer of published historical fiction, wrote about her painful childhood for the first time. A retired art teacher began a memoir about discovering her true lineage. Several wrote about the death or illness of their mothers; and some experimented with the “mother in autobiography” prompt, walking in her shoes. It was not all about guilt and bitterness; many gained new insights and appreciation of their mother’s gifts along with a newfound respect and compassion. Life experiences sometimes exposed often-unexpressed heartaches, such as sexual abuse, a cultish and restrictive religion, and attempted suicide. Our trust in each other was unbounded; no topic was off limits.
And there were tons of funny stories, complete with foreign accents and descriptions of food. We found common bonds besides our desire to write about our mothers. Most had traveled extensively and had multiple talents, including two former opera singers and those dabbling in the fine arts. Mostly, we all loved words and coveted physical books.
As our last session drew to a close, we were devastated. We didn’t want to leave each other. I proposed we continue the group monthly. We agreed to put the subject of our mothers aside and share other writings.
Now at our monthly meetings, a different member leads each session. That moderator provides prompts on any subject and conducts the meeting as she sees fit. So far, we have written and discussed travels, favorite books, influential teachers, and whatever comes up.
We created a group name. Due to our Zoom arrangement of appearing in our rectangular group setting, we named ourselves after the iconic television show, The Brady Bunch. We are the Lady Bunch. At first, I was uncomfortable about using the word “lady,” not a favorite of my feminist days when we avoided such laden terms. But I got used to it.
As a teacher, I am gratified to confirm my belief that women are capable of generous and congenial support. I don’t see a jealous bone. We are a mix of seasoned writers with several published books and those who write journals and other personal pieces. In our special place, we Lady Bunchers are equal, equal to being ourselves with something worthwhile to share. As the Brady Bunch song begins, “Here’s the story…”