What will your children say about you when you die? What would you want them to know? These are a couple of the questions swirling around my brain since I recently finished reading If You Knew Suzy, A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook, a memoir by Katherine Rosman, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal. (Aside from being a kick ass culture reporter I should add in the interest of full disclosure that Ms. Rosman (Katie) is both a friend and by way of the mystical forces of Jewish Geography she is tangential family.) If You Knew Suzy is not your typical memoir, and I don’t just mean that there is no abuse, addiction and giant AHA moment ala Oprah (there isn’t). What’s unique about If You Knew Suzy is that it has none of those melodramatic cliché elements that seem to permeate every memoir yet is completely compelling and moving. It reads with the kind of clarity and insight you’d expect from a Wall Street Journal reporter and the kind of humor and exasperation you’d expect from a smart, savvy, sassy daughter.
After Katie’s mother Suzy died from a long and grizzly battle with lung cancer Katie decided to deal with her grief by doing what she knew how to do best – go out and research her mother’s story. Her mom was a very private person and Katie set out as a reporter, not just a grieving daughter, to find out what her mom was all about underneath the oft repeated family folklore and her perfectly fit, coiffed and couture ready appearance. I’m not going to get into the details here about the beautiful and poignant moments Katie uncovers; the people her mother touched, nurtured and in some cases saved and the incredibly funny moments that only a daughter can fully revel in. The book is full of these wonderful and sometimes painful stories, but even more than that it is about a daughter discovering her mother as a person.
It’s a funny thing reading a memoir about a mom written by a friend who was her daughter. Our moms are from the same generation of 1970s moms and Katie and I are exactly the same age. It would be easy to read from the daughter’s point of view, yet I am also a mother and so many of the issues of identity and worth still come into play today just as starkly as they did in the 70s.
After reading If You Knew Suzy I was left with the nagging questions I posed at the beginning of this post. What do I want my daughters to think about the life I’ve led, the choices I’ve made and how much of myself do I want to reveal to my children? As a Stay-At-Home Mom, and now a Stay-At-Home Writer (or Stay-At-Starbucks writer?) I can see my daughters try to make sense out of what I do and I welcome their questions. Yet I think there needs to be a sense of mystery about your parents. That day when you realize that your parents are also people is a disappointing, scary and sad day. I actually shredded all of my old journals – the box of 20 or so of them chronicling my entire pre-adolescence through college life that survived move after move. I decided that I didn’t want my children to some day find them and “discover” their mom as a kid. No, that was my life and mine it will remain. On the other hand, I hope my daughters never stop asking questions and looking for answers. And if those questions are aimed at me I guess I should be flattered that they’re hoping there are answers worth finding.
In an ideal world if they ever decided to look more closely into my life and the kind of woman I was I hope they do it with the joy, tenacity and wit that Katie Rosman pulls off in If You Knew Suzy. And I have to hope for myself that I create a life that is worth finding out about. It doesn’t have to be fabulous or flashy but at the very least a life that had some passion and meaning. After all, Joan Crawford had one of the most fabulous lives ever – and look how her daughter’s book turned out.
By the way, don’t just take my word about why you should read If You Knew Suzy: here’s what the true critics have to say: