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Lesson From My Mother

By Ju-Don Marshall Roberts

There are many lessons I've learned in my 11 years as a mom, but the biggest has been learning to forgive my own mother for all the flaws my rebellious teenage self once condemned her for. Back then, I had a litany of complaints. Like most teenagers, I was right, and she was wrong, and that was that.

Our relationship improved after I left for college, but there were still too many wounds left unhealed from our most turbulent years. So, we discovered a different kind of closeness -- a pseudo closeness that allowed us to talk like friends as long as we didn't deal with the past.

Several years ago, my mother and I were talking and I knew she was still carrying the weight of the past. "Mommy," I said, "I forgive you. You did the best you knew how to do."

"That means a lot to me," she said. And then we talked about things we had left unsaid for far too long.

I can honestly say that it was my own motherhood that allowed me to see my mother through different eyes -- allowed me to speak words of forgiveness and let go of the past. Each day, I try to make the best decisions for my children. Sometimes, I get it right. Other times, I fall short: My work-life balance is out of whack; I'm impatient; I'm tired; I need "me time"; or I'm a little too tough on them.

I see my own flaws, and it gives me a deeper appreciation for my mother -- for all mothers (and fathers) who do their best and, yet, sometimes fall short of their own expectations and those of their children. One day, my children -- I suspect once the terrible teens take hold -- will be old enough to articulate their judgment of my parenting skills. And if the best (or worst) they can say is, "She did the best she knew how to do," I'll be happy with that.

What lessons have you learned from your mother or other mothers? What impact have they had on how you parent your children?

Ju-Don Marshall Roberts is managing editor of washingtonpost.com.

By Ju-Don Roberts |  May 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments


I am now a 57 year old grandmother so this is what I know now -- my mother probably did a better job than I did! (at least according to the complaints of my children - laugh!)

Posted by: priscilla | May 9, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I have a problem with your line "Mommy," I said, "I forgive you. You did the best you knew how to do."

You forgive her? As an adult with four children ranging in age (21 to 14), I asked forgiveness from my mother for my reaction to her during my teenage years. As a mother, I can now see that whatever restrictions she lay down all those years ago were to ensure that I was safe and grew up to be a moral and law abiding citizen. I think you should have asked for her forgiveness for your defiant behaviors.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I also asked my mother for forgiveness when my children reached teenage-hood. Even though I didn't, and still don't, agree with all of my mother's methods, I always knew that she did what she did because she truly believed it was best for her children.

Posted by: anon | May 9, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Well, in fairness to the author of today's blog, her mother did seem to be asking for forgiveness.

But I, like others, don't see myself "forgiving" my mother. Gracious, what is to forgive--that she raised me to be a productive member of society and taught me how to be a mother myself? I thank her for that. And although she did make mistakes (she is human), it is clear that no ill intent was ever intended.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

"And although she did make mistakes (she is human), it is clear that no ill intent was ever intended."

Do we let drunk drivers off with this pablum?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

YOU forgive HER? That is the definition of chutzpah.

Wow. If you're really that clueless, I feel sorry for both you and your mom.

Posted by: A Dad | May 9, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

"I have a problem with your line "Mommy," I said, "I forgive you. You did the best you knew how to do.""

Yeah, I agree, it doesn't sit well. I mean, if she was showing up drunk for back-to-school night, that would be one thing. But that's not what it sounds like here, where you describe yourself as a "rebellious teenager" with a "litany of complaints."

My mother wasn't perfect, but she was a great mom anyway. On the other hand, I think I was a pretty easy kid to raise for the most part, so we always got along pretty well. She was not overly strict, but she didn't really need to be, either. I'm glad I have the benefits of a good mother/daughter relationship now that I have a little one and two new ones on the way. I don't always take with her advice, but it's nice to have the benefit of her years of experience.

Posted by: va | May 9, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I don't see myself forgiving my mom, but only because she refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on her part. The beatings? Never happened. Throwing me and my siblings out of the house, then calling the cops and telling them we ran away? Our imaginations. The millions of times she called us names, told us she never wanted us, told us we were mentally ill, told us we were the devil's spawn? Oh, didn't we know she was kidding? Jeez, we just can't take a joke.

Those of you judging today's poster for granting her mom forgiveness should be very grateful your moms were so wonderful. You have no idea what her mom was like. Not all of us are as lucky as you were. The best (and perhaps only) gift my mom ever gave me was throwing me out at age 18. Life became so much easier once I wasn't in her orbit.

And yeah, pretty much every day with my daughter is spent in the hope that she'll never have cause to say the same about me.

Posted by: NewSAHM | May 9, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Yes, sometimes it is about the grown child forgiving the parent, especially if you grew up in an abusive household. If you want to break the cycles of abuse and to move forward into healthy relationships with your spouse, your children and your friends, you may need to forgive your parents for their actions.

Posted by: Ishgebibble | May 9, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

This post has hit home for me. I am 27, and I feel like my mom and I are close... but I think it is exactly that pseudo-closeness that involves studiously disregarding our past. If I ever have the guts, I'll ask her the real questions that linger... Why did you suspect I was molested? If you suspected I was molested, why did you stay? Why did you let a hurting child's anger keep you from holding her close?

Posted by: anony | May 9, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Those of you judging today's poster for granting her mom forgiveness should be very grateful your moms were so wonderful. You have no idea what her mom was like."

You're right, she didn't go into too much detail, but the little detail she gave, she made it pretty clear that the misunderstandings were due to the usual rebeliousness of teenage years, where she was "always right" and her mother "always wrong", and "that was that." It doesn't take a genius to realize that the lady is still under the impression that she was always right. She's deluded. And she thinks she's this great person because she "forgave" her mother for whatever her teenage mind thought was the wrongdoing at the time.

Sorry, but in the same breath she doles out forgiveness, she should be asking for it as well.

Posted by: Tribilin | May 9, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Since when is wanting some "me time" not getting it right? I am a better mom when I manage to squeeze some of this in, frankly. Let's me re-charge and have a break . . . however short.

Posted by: Jen | May 9, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

The "forgiving your mother" comment is weird. Seems like it should be more "forgive me as I know understand why you did the things you did when raising me".

I also thought my parents were not good at all when I was a teenager and young adult - until I became a parent. Now my parents are Saints in my book - especially my mother. Even the things they could have done better - I more than understand the why's behind it.

My teenage son now tells me how horrible a mother I am and the mistakes I've made. it stings; but I realize I did the same to my mom and pray one day he'll understand. Examples of what I did wrong? Not making him do more chores... not following-thru properly with discipline... not coming up with better ways to make him do his homework.

Posted by: cyns | May 9, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I find this blog post offensive on many levels. Yes, if her mother abused her, or allowed her to be molested and didn't stop it, or terrible things like that, then her forgiving her mother might be the right direction.

But she doesn't say that. She says "Back then, I had a litany of complaints. Like most teenagers, I was right, and she was wrong, and that was that." In other words, standard teenage rebellion. For that, she should be asking forgiveness, not granting it.

Ju-Don then says "Each day, I try to make the best decisions for my children. Sometimes, I get it right. Other times, I fall short: My work-life balance is out of whack; I'm impatient; I'm tired; I need "me time"; or I'm a little too tough on them."

In other words - my children are perfect. My children never fail to do what I ask of them. They never bug out, or lie, or sass; and if they do it's my fault because I just didn't get enough "me time". Yes, as parents we make mistakes and we need to own them, but guess what? Your children - particularly your teens - will do things wrong, too. Ju-Don, you did things wrong when you were a teen. Sometimes you were wrong, and your mother was right. And for this you forgive her? And you hope that some day your children will forgive you? And that they'll one day say that you did the best you could, WITHOUT acknowledging that once in a great while the child was simply wrong and the mother was simply right?

I rebelled against my parents when I was a teen. It's normal. It's called "growing up." It's part of becoming an adult. Okay, Ju-Don did that.

But an important part of becoming an adult is recognizing that "in these areas, I was right, and somebody else (my mother) was wrong; while in those areas, I was wrong and somebody else was right."

Sounds like Ju-Don has gotten that second clause under control yet. Pity. Go back to her comment above. Back then, I was right and she was wrong. How is it different now?

Yes, there are some terrible parents - terrible mothers and terrible fathers - who SHOULD ask their children for forgiveness. But there aren't THAT many of them, and Ju-Don never says her mother fits that category.


Posted by: Grow Up | May 9, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

to newSAHM: the author of article did not indicate she was raised in an abusive environment. Surely there are mothers do a bad job at raising their kids - yours one of them. That is a case of forgiving your mother to give yourself internal peace. Ever watch the movie "Pay It Forward"? Blessings to you this Mother's Day.

Posted by: cyns | May 9, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I've had the opposite experience. Since having kids, I now realize for the first time what I missed, and how sad that is. My mom was competent, but never loving or warm. She rarely held us or cuddled us and I don't remember ever hearing the words "I love you" from either parent. We were mostly left to our own devices as our parents were absorbed in their careers and their own interests.

I didn't think about this much until I had my own kids. It is unthinkable to me that a mom would be so cold to these little miracles. I give them as much love, affection, support, and nurturing as I know how ... and wonder what I missed not getting this myself.

Posted by: Virginia | May 9, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I notice that the tendency of commenters is to evaluate and criticize the blogger, whether they did the right or wrong thing, what they should have or shouldn't have said/done, etc. Fine, that's fair enough. But I think the value of these blogs is that the allow us to reflect on OUR lives, not pass judgement on others, especially when we are missing so much detail and information about the posters history. Instead of making assumptions about Ju-Don's story, why not take her message and reflect on how it does or does not resonate with our own lives.

Posted by: anony | May 9, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Ditto what anony 11:05 AM posted. Sharing our own stories and reflections can be helpful and healing. We can learn something from others and we can even learn something when we (respectfully) disagree. Personally, I've learned a lot from folks on this blog.

Posted by: Ishgebibble | May 9, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Instead of making assumptions about Ju-Don's story, why not take her message and reflect on how it does or does not resonate with our own lives."

The "message" doesn't make sense.
Writing 101. I expect a LOT better writing from the managing editor of washingtonpost.com.

Sheesh!


Posted by: Jake | May 9, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

anony@1105 and Ishgebibble@1111: okay, I'll take your bait.

How does Ju-Don's story resonate with my life? Not very well.

Like her, I rebelled as a teen. At times, I thought my parents were idiots. How could they force me to do things their old, anachronistic way? How could they not see that my generation and I were on course to solve all the world's problems and still have change from a ten dollar bill? (To paraphrase a commercial of the times.) They were old. They were out of touch. They were ridiculous.

Then you know what happened? I GREW UP! I became an adult, and I understood that while my generation and I could and did change the world, there were some fundamental things my parents knew that I just didn't understand. They weren't too tough on me when they made me do my homework and study for tests and clean my room and do my laundry and do the dishes and mow the lawn. They were teaching me how to get along in society. They were teaching me how to take responsibility for myself. They were teaching me skills I'd need. They were ensuring I got the education that would serve me so well. That's not "too tough", that's "loving."

And I think I'll talk to my parents again tonight and once again ask their forgiveness for all of my escapades and attitudes in those days. No, my parents weren't perfect; far from it. But you know what? I was a lot less perfect than they were.

Okay, I took your challenge. I told you how this blog didn't resonate with me, and why.

Got any more comments?

Posted by: Grow Up | May 9, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

We don't know what her situation was, so maybe there WAS something that needed to be forgiven. It's not always as drastic as allowing molestation to occur or drastic physical abuse.

That was my situation (verbal abuse, lack of warmth or caring, making me feel as if I'd never be good enough, etc), and while I will probably never forgive my mother for truly crippling me emotionally in some ways with how I deal with other people- I have learned to respect her as an adult. She did the best she could, I suppose.

Posted by: Allie | May 9, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Allie

"That was my situation (verbal abuse, lack of warmth or caring, making me feel as if I'd never be good enough, etc), and while I will probably never forgive my mother for truly crippling me emotionally in some "ways with how I deal with other people- I have learned to respect her as an adult. "

Get help to deal with your emotional problems.

"She did the best she could, I suppose."

Dunno. She clearly sucked as a mother,fr whatever reasons. It's your call about foregiveness and it's your choice to recover from bad parenting.

Posted by: Break the cycle | May 9, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

All kids eventually find some fault with their parents. That's called reality since no one is perfect. My parents (mom, mostly, since dad was pretty silent) fell short of my hopes many times. I am sure I feel short of theirs just as often. We all wanted the very best life for ourselves and each other but life is not always simple. There was always love and good intentions.

When you grow to know mom (and dad) as adults it is finally possible to see that intentions were good, resources were often limited, and most parents do the best they can.

One thing my own mom used to say was "You will understand when you have children of your own." And she was right.

Chances are good that you will try very hard to NOT make the same mistakes your parents did. But you will instead make plenty of your very own mistakes. No one is perfect. But it's okay to try!

And any need for forgiveness should go both ways. Were you a perfect kid? Are you perfect now? I think not! You are part of the "entitled" generations (about ages 0-45 now) that are/were given, by their hard-working parents, a chance for an education and a wealth of other opportunities - but somehow think you did it all by yourself and the world should bow down at your feet. My smart, able, but uneducated working-class mom had a (yeah, crude) saying for that, too: "She thinks her s**t doesn't stink like everyones else's!"

All my mom's kids have college degrees. She was so proud.

Posted by: older, hopefully wiser | May 9, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

There's a lot of misunderstanding of forgiveness, because it's really very hard to understand and achieve. Many people believe that forgiveness is patronizing. True forgiveness is not--it is an act of love that extends in multiple directions.

Sometimes forgiveness from the child is what's called for. Mr. Nonymous has a good relationship with his parents--now. He knows that they had good intentions, and did the best they could.

But their good intentions often came out in ways that were very damaging. It would mean the world to him if they would acknowledge that, but I don't think they're going to. They are too fixed on defending their good intentions, and do not seem willing or able to say that, yes, their intentions were good, but their execution often was not.

He knows that can't control what they do or say, and he does understand them. That's why they have a good relationship now, although for most of his life that was not the case.

But forgiving them is another level entirely, and would come from inside him rather than from them. I hope he can reach that, because I think it will bring him a kind of peace that his parents have never provided, and may never provide.

Posted by: KateNonymous | May 9, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

To Grow Up: Yes, I can learn something from discussions like this one. I have learned that there were and are good parents out there. I am not talking about perfect parents but parents who were not like mine were. To me, this means that the world is not really quite as negative as the one I was raised in.

The part of the blog that was meaningful to me was the forgiveness part, not the (normal) teenage rebellion part (not an option for me at that time). I was hoping this was common ground for folks who had "normal" parents and folks like me.

Posted by: Ishgebibble | May 9, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

My mother continuously reminds me that I still owe her an apology for my teenage years (I'm in my mid-30s). I've explained that my behavior was normal and actually rather benign comparatively speaking. I have no intention of apologizing for being a teenager.

Posted by: 21117 | May 9, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

My comment is coloured by my experience with my mother but... I guess I see it more like the post.

Although an adult relationship is a two-way street, a parent-child relationship when the child is young is not. Parents bring kids into the world knowing that they will have to be the primary source of socialization, that there will be times that their kids rebel against them or are rude, etc. That is part of taking on the responsibility of making and raising a child.

I really hope that my son becomes the kind of human being who sees and admits to his own mistakes and seeks forgiveness and resolution when appropriate.

But I see it as par for the course that in getting there, he will make many of his mistakes at home with me. I don't expect him to ask me to forgive him in any global sense.

Posted by: Shandra | May 9, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Shandra,
"But I see it as par for the course that in getting there, he will make many of his mistakes at home with me. I don't expect him to ask me to forgive him in any global sense."

Why not? Seriously, if you as a kid make a mistake, own it and learn from it. If your mistake harms someone else, ask that person for forgiveness.

Simple case in point: when I was 10, I was playing baseball with my friends in the yard of a vacant house, despite the fact that I had been told by my parents many times not to. So what happened? We broke a sliding glass door. Line drive, right through it. Our parents had to pay for it. (I was ten; my share was a LOT of money.) Should I have asked forgiveness for my parents for violating their rules and causing them a lot of financial pain? I certainly think so.

Posted by: Grow Up | May 9, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Grow Up

"Should I have asked forgiveness for my parents for violating their rules and causing them a lot of financial pain? I certainly think so."


You were TEN when this happened?

Posted by: ???????? | May 9, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Whenever forgiveness is needed, it should be humbly asked for. And it should also be kindly given.

No 'and', 'or', or especially 'but' in any apology.

No holding grudges. So nonproductive.

Posted by: older, hopfully wiser | May 9, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Admittedly, the author's gesture of forgiving her mother initially struck me as odd. (Yes, I am one of those adult women who should throw herself at her mother's feet, beg for forgiveness and thank her for surviving my teen years without strangling me!). HOWEVER, I quickly changed my tune. First, I am impressed that the author discovered what her mother seemed to need emotionally and gave it to her. Second, my beloved sisters who have a different memory of our mother and our childhood should do the same and move on. Forgiveness can be more about the forgiver than the forgiven. Third, I am now the mother of teenagers. My mothering is subject to constant scrutiny and evaluation by those to whom it matters most - my children. I honestly believe that it is my job as a mother to be the mother each of them needs, not the mother I feel like being or the same mother to all. Will I be successful? Only they and time will be able to say . But if any one of them decides I have failed him - hearing the words the author gave to her mother would be a wonderful gift.

Posted by: Breckphr | May 9, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Grow Up

It is quite revealing that the incident from your childhood that you have chosen to make your point mostly concerns MONEY.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Grow Up

"And I think I'll talk to my parents again tonight and once again ask their forgiveness for all of my escapades and attitudes in those days. No, my parents weren't perfect; far from it. But you know what? I was a lot less perfect than they were.

Okay, I took your challenge. I told you how this blog didn't resonate with me, and why.

Got any more comments?"

Yes. Your post brings up more questions than it answers.


Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Dearest Diary,

I lay pen to paper in the fervent wish that today's blogger doesn't assign herself/highjack the "Lesson From My Father" topic for Father's Day...........

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The author's comments resonated with me as well. I hope my children forgive me for my mistakes when they are older. I may be an adult, but still very imperfect.

And the "pseudo-closeness" - I dunno, there's something safe in that, honestly.

I try very hard not to presume guilt with my very well behaved teenager (like my mother did), or have harsh and inconsistent punishments that make no sense (and ones that I knew my father would then do away with). I don't always get it right, but I try to admit it when I get it wrong.

I want to know who my children are and who they become, not who I think they are. I want to listen to what they say, not hear only the words I think they are saying.

It's all very benign, honestly, but even now many (many) years later, I'm glad that I left when I did. It was painful and suffocating. And yes, it may have been the best she could do. Doesn't mean it didn't hurt like heck, though.

Posted by: rva | May 9, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

To: ???????? : yes, what's your point?

To: anon @1:42: Well, the other ones were a little more personal and I'm not really willing to share them on this blog. So, that's what you get. (I mean, who's willing to discuss the fact that despite his mother telling him over and over not to star in porn videos, he did anyway, with the result that he caught STDs from two of his female costars and the third wound up pregnant? You'd have to be nuts to discuss that on a blog, even using a pseudonym. Oops.)

To: anon @ 1:46: Those would be?

Posted by: Grow Up | May 9, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I think the biggest lesson I learned from my mother is to listen to my children. My mother did what she thought best, but in a rather controlling manner that didn't take into account our feelings, wishes and reactions to various situations. The focus was always on HER feelings, wishes, etc.

My parents raised me to be a kind, educated and productive citizen, for which I am very grateful. But it wasn't until I did some intense (talk) therapy for a few years that I got my own ability to have a relationship with those close to me (particularly my husband) somewhat smoothed out and the right thing to do clarified. I came to realize I was showing a lot of the narcissistic behaviors of my mother when I got angry, for instance.

Today, I do have a mostly positive relationship with my mother, but no one in our family can deal with her 100% honestly. Most walk on eggshells around her to some extent. She is somewhat irrational in her behavior and everyone, including her siblings, is a little bit afraid of her temper.

Do I understand her better now that I have a child? No, it hasn't helped me gain greater understanding of her behavior. Perhaps I've gotten as far as I wished, and I'm trying to focus on my own life now. It's almost a relief to give myself permission to move my own needs to the forefront. I still struggle with feeling I am a bad daughter if I don't let her control things or if I have to say no to any ideas she may have about spending time together.

Posted by: SJR | May 9, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Fear is not a motivator. I hope that as long as I parent my step-children I will not have to resort to fear to encourage positive behaviour. I hope I never feel so desperate that I need to hit them, throw things at them or scream like a crazy woman.

So far... so good. I have certainly raised my voice at them and barked out a command or admonishment but no screaming. I have gotten exasperated and wanted to throttle them but no hitting (except once when he belted his younger sister across the face) or throwing things.

I am also seeing if praise spoils a child. From the little bit of praise that came my way, that would seem to be what my mother thought. I praise my step-children when they do something correctly. I tell them thank you when they help me with something.

Posted by: Billie | May 9, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

"I am also seeing if praise spoils a child. From the little bit of praise that came my way, that would seem to be what my mother thought. I praise my step-children when they do something correctly. I tell them thank you when they help me with something."

Good for you. Praise is a good thing. Let them know that they've done something right. Notice also the little things that are important. (Baseball analogy - don't just praise the shortstop who caught the pop-up, praise the third baseman who was in the right position to back up the play and had it covered in case the shortstop messed up.)

Make it age appropriate - at some point you don't need to get praised for going to the bathroom and wiping yourself, and washing your hands afterward. But it's important to let kids know you notice the good things they do, not just the bad.

Posted by: Grow Up | May 9, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

To Grow Up:

You said: "Simple case in point: when I was 10, I was playing baseball with my friends in the yard of a vacant house, despite the fact that I had been told by my parents many times not to. So what happened? We broke a sliding glass door. Line drive, right through it. Our parents had to pay for it. (I was ten; my share was a LOT of money.) Should I have asked forgiveness for my parents for violating their rules and causing them a lot of financial pain? I certainly think so."

I think you're confusing two things here. One is that as a ten year old you made a VERY common mistake/behaved in a VERY developmentally appropriate way and broke a sliding glass door.

Should there have been consequences? Yes, and paying for part of the repairs sounds quite reasonable to me, as does offering an apology. (Although personally I would not want my child to have to pay more than what would take say two months to work off, because beyond that I think the lessons becomes overshadowed. And having family help you is not a bad lesson too.)

Should you as an adult be expected to apologize to your parents for the mistakes you made in being a child? No. Once again I need to state that making mistakes and disobeying parents is an INEVITABLE and ESSENTIAL part of childhood. You don't apologize for needing to be toilet trained... well moral development is the same kind of process.

And while making mistakes is also an essential aspect of parenting, there are parenting acts that should be apologized for later.

I think we're talking about the latter here.

Posted by: Shandra | May 12, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

"Mommy, I forgive you"??? I see you're just as arrogant as you were as a teenager. Sounds like "mommy" has self esteem problems that you have fully exploited over the years.

Posted by: SpareTheRod | May 13, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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