Some Things to Know About Your Mother

Anne Donahue - Westwood, Massachusetts
As heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition, August 17, 2008
Anne Donahue

Ever since her mother died when Anne Donahue was a child, Anne has longed to know more about her. What music did she enjoy? What made her laugh? Now a mother herself, Donahue shares a few things she believes her daughter should know about her.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy
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I believe a girl should know her mother. I mean really know her. On the highway, does she drive in the right-hand lane or the left? When she was a little girl, what did she hang on her bedroom wall? What really makes her laugh? How does she handle a bad day? Does she like to dance?

I lost my mother to colon cancer when I was five. She was forty-two. I do not know these things about my mother. I could ask; I have a wonderful father and five older siblings who had the honor of knowing her much longer than I did. But I’m Irish. If you are Irish, you may know what I mean. I don’t tend to ask, and almost thirty years later, my mother’s early death is still a very painful subject for me. But I have my assumptions, gleaned from years of careful listening. She was something of a cynic, like me, with a sharp wit. She was quick to laugh. She had a soft spot for children. She loved to read and write. She was loved by many, and we will always miss her.

At thirty-four, I just gave birth to my first baby. Grace, I am your mother. You are stuck with me. By the time you want to know these things about me, you may not think I am so cool anymore. Or, God forbid, I am not here to tell you. But I will be here. If it means a colonoscopy every month for the rest of my life, I will be here. But in case you don’t ask, there are some small things about me you should know, if you should ever wonder.

So, I have a weakness for goofy-looking creatures. I know it’s sappy, but after loving E.T. since I was a kid, I finally adopted our pug. It was the closest I could get.

My bedroom posters? They included E.T., Duran Duran, and Robert Parrish of the ’84 Celtics.

I’ve always wondered what my mother found funny. For me, animals in human clothing always do the trick: a dog in a coat, a cat in a pillbox hat, or a chimp in a three-piece suit.

For the record, U2 is the best band on earth. This is not a matter for debate; it’s the truth.

I always drive in the right-hand lane. You should know that your mother is a terrible driver. I am best off in the backseat with my eyes closed.

Last, if you’re in a bad mood, try marching in place vigorously. I’m convinced marching always makes you feel better. It’s simply impossible to feel anxious while marching.

Dear Grace, as long as I am here, please ask me anything, anytime. I believe a girl should know her mother.


Anne Donahue is an online media director at a private investment firm. She lives in Westwood, Massachusetts, with her husband and now two daughters, Grace and Eve. They might want to know that their mother has a picture of a chimpanzee in a three-piece suit on her desk at work.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.