Posted by: N.S. Palmer | May 13, 2017

My Two Moms


In celebration of Mother’s Day, this is the story of My Two Moms.

After all, if Ana Sagorsky could have two Dads, I can have two Moms. That’s equality.

My first Mom graduated near the top of her medical school class, where she met my Dad. He told me that back then, a female medical school applicant had to be at least twice as good as any male applicant for her to be admitted, and that Mom was every bit as good as that. He thought he had better marry her quick, so he did.

Her abilities weren’t limited to academics. She played piano and cello, wrote amazing poetry, and dabbled in philosophy. From my early childhood memories, it seems to me that she painted, but I’m not sure how much. She spoke several languages, including French, German, and some Yiddish. French was her favorite language.

Before she went to medical school — it must have been in her early 20s — she worked in Hollywood for a while. She also dated a movie star whose name you’d instantly recognize. When she had pneumonia one year, he visited her in the hospital, bringing roses and a bottle of champagne. She never got tired of telling that story. If she’d married him, I’d be much taller and better-looking. She knew a lot of television writers, and we occasionally spent time with them in the summers when I was a kid.

After medical school, she became a psychiatrist, and by all accounts was remarkably successful. Her reputation got a boost a few years later when, in the course of a speech at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association, a famous psychotherapist spent 20 minutes denouncing her ideas. As her Hollywood friends said, if people are talking about you and they spell your name right, almost all publicity is good publicity.

But everything has its price, and that includes genius. Mom was so smart that it was harmful for her. Geniuses see patterns that most people can’t see, but their problem is distinguishing real ones from imaginary ones. Just like mathematician John Nash, the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” she saw a lot of patterns that weren’t really there. As a feminist, she was also ambivalent about being a woman and rather hostile toward men. The latter wasn’t entirely without cause, since some of her older teachers in medical school thought women didn’t belong there.

I didn’t realize any of that when I was growing up, of course, and her psychological problems gave me a few of my own. However, in the same way as most benefits have a price, most prices have a benefit. I’m saner than most people precisely because I had to get there the hard way, figuring it all out for myself.

Not that I lacked help. And that’s where we get to my second Mom.

On paper, my second Mom hasn’t got a resume to match the first. However, she’s just as smart in ways that enabled her to avoid spending half her life in The Twilight Zone. She started out as a medical laboratory scientist, then went back to school and became an art historian.

If I make a joke about how medieval manuscripts were written or something equally arcane, she’s usually the only one in the family who understands the punch line. On the other hand, if she makes a joke about ornithology or botany, I’m usually the one who needs an explanation. She’s written several cookbooks.

Most important, she’s a good person, she’s rock-solidly sane, she likes being who she is, and unlike her predecessor, she wanted to be a mother.

After my birth parents divorced and I eventually ended up living with my Dad, I at first treated my second Mom terribly. I was negative, hateful, and — still residing in my first Mom’s Twilight Zone — a little crazy. I’m sure that my second Mom told Dad to back off and let her handle the situation, because otherwise he would have wanted to punch me. Instead, she bit her lip, took my verbal abuse, and kept treating me decently until I realized what an ass I’d been.

If my first Mom showed me a great mind, my second Mom showed me a great woman. One of my blessings in life is to have seen both.

For all that you have given me, My Two Moms, Happy Mother’s Day.


  1. This is beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Rebecca, thanks for your kind words.

  3. “I’m saner than most people precisely because I had to get there the hard way, figuring it all out for myself.”
    That resonates with me. I’ve had to find my own sanity the hard way, too, and I feel like I own it in a way a person who’s never struggled can’t fathom.

    • I’ve said it before: I’ve known you for years, and if you hadn’t told me, I would never have guessed you had such problems. You handle them well. When I worked for you, you were one of the sanest bosses I’ve ever had.

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