My Mother, the Send-Back Queen

How to find the gift in a difficult mom

Sara Davidson
Human Parts

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The author and her mother © Sara Davidson

I was reluctant, at first, when asked to be a guest on the podcast, Our Mothers Ourselves. Other guests had raved about their mothers’ inspiring qualities and unconditional love. My mother, Alice Davidson, however, was the quintessential Jewish mother — critical, dominant — who never seemed satisfied with what I did or who I was. She was complex: funny, high-spirited, and creative, and she was quick to become enraged and hold a grudge. It was not until the end of her life that I was able to appreciate what I’d inherited from her: a love of story-telling, curiosity, and the confidence to aim high and not let any barriers stand in the way.

Before I’d listened to the podcast, my niece, Summer, sent me a clip of a standup comic, Sarge, doing a bit about Jewish mothers. Summer wrote, “Reminds me of Alice. Love her.” I sent it to my daughter, Rachel, who said it was not a caricature. “It’s spot on.”

So. Alice was born in Los Angeles in 1914, named after Alice Roosevelt. Her father had traveled from Hungary to New York in 1904, but couldn’t find steady work there, so he went to San Francisco with no better outcome. As a last resort, he took the train to Los Angeles, where Sunset Blvd had just been opened. Because he’d learned the upholstery trade in his Hungarian village, he…

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Sara Davidson
Human Parts

Sara Davidson is the N.Y. Times best-selling author of Loose Change, The December Project, and The Didion Files, 50 Years of Friendship with Joan Didion