My mother Adrianne Lebensbaum’s lifelong habit of voracious reading gave weight to her astute comments about everything I’ve ever written. The Wagamama Bride’s progress — and what was holding up its completion — peppered our trans-Pacific long-distance conversations to the point where she jokingly said to me over the summer, “Liane, I sure hope it’s done before I die.”
She laughed. I laughed. But the truth was she had lung cancer and we didn’t know how long she had to live.
On November 13th, my mother Adrianne Lebensbaum, who was a young and life-loving 84 years old, and probably the one person on this planet who most eagerly awaited the completion and publication of the Wagamama Bride, very sadly passed away.
Her struggle is over. And in a way mine is too. Throughout the five years I’ve been working on the Wagamama Bride, I was hesitant to talk too revealingly about my mother in a memoir that would expose a woman who was– to all appearances– the most extraverted, live-wire imaginable, always on the go, always with a draw full of theatre tickets and plane tickets to amuse her for the next half a year. Yet at the same time my mother was so private that she passed away when nobody was in the room.
There is a prohibition in Judaism — called lashon hora — against speaking ill of anyone, especially your own parents. Of course these are the people who present us with the greatest goldmine of not very flattering memories. And writing juicy negative tell-all stuff about a parent just happens to sell more books.
Luckily, I won’t because I don’t have to. There’s so much good to write about my mother that it would fill a book in itself. I feel less shy now about telling my mother how awesome she was. She had the capacity to love unconditionally this older daughter who fled 7,000 miles away from New York to reinvent herself in Japan. From the start of my marriage in April 1991, my mother made a courageous decision not to interfere in the teensiest way. If she missed me much she kept it to herself. Not once did my outspoken and very direct mother tell me that the only sane thing would be for me and the grandchildren she adored to come back to the US to live near her. She didn’t do it because she respected the traditional idea that you marry “into” the husband’s family. So even though her heart ached for us to be together, as mine did too, Mom found her own way of bringing us close. She brought us all to the US every year. And came six times to Japan.
This excerpt from the Wagamama Bride shows my mother in her glory, as a staunch realist, a champion and challenger of my decision to create my life in Japan.
“What’s cooking?” Mom asks with the morning news blasting on the kitchen TV set.
“Mom, can you turn the TV set down. It’s almost bedtime in Tokyo and I have something important to talk to you about.”
“Go ahead,” she says as I hear the kettle whistling shrilly.
“I’m having a hard day Mom. It’s one of those days I just feel Aki and I are at such odds.”
“Well, dear. You should have realised that your different background would always be a source of conflict,” Mom says.
“Why didn’t you warn me?” I demand.
“Because you’re an adult. You wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.” She turns the kettle off.
“I’m looking for comfort! How about something besides ‘I told you so?” I say as I reach for a swig of my own nightcap of peppermint tea.
“Well dear,” Mom says, “I like Aki. I like his parents. They’re menches–good people, with their hearts in the right place. It’s just that they think different than us.”
“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. Thinking differently doesn’t mean they’re evil monsters,” I say, putting down the receiver gently, strengthened by my mother’s words and feeling the wave of warmth penetrate me from afar with my best interest in her heart.
I will miss those phone conversations. The lifeline to my mother’s heart has been severed by her passing, but now that she’s gone “up” I hear her all the time, maybe more so than before. I hear my mother when I’m washing the dishes, when I’m walking the dog, when I’m frittering away time on Facebook rather than focusing myself on editing my memoir. Mom is waiting for the book we spent so many years and conversations planning together and I can’t wait to see her reaction when I can wave Wagamama Bride up at the sky.