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One mother of a meme: Facebook post strikes chord

Mary Carpenter

Mary Carpenter

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Updated: June 13, 2013 6:48PM



After a tough day with her two teenage sons, Mary Carpenter plopped dinner on the table and left the house to see a movie by herself.

She thought “Admission,” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, would be a light, romantic comedy; turns out it has a lot to do with “mothers and sons and school,” said the 45-year-old middle school theater teacher from Philadelphia. Not what she expected.

She got home, still didn’t want to deal with kid issues and went to her third-floor study, thinking, “Someone better give me a great Mother’s Day.”

“Then I thought, what do I really want from my kids?” said Carpenter, a Northwestern University theater grad. She started typing “What I Want for Mother’s Day.” She closed the file and let it sit for two weeks. She posted it May 1. Many of her 326 friends liked it, shared it. Friends of friends shared it. By Friday afternoon, it had been shared more than 182,000 times on Facebook, across the U.S. and Canada, in Australia, Ireland. Not what she expected.

“It was me wanting to be really honest with my kids. Be who you are, don’t be an a-------. Some people probably think you shouldn’t say to your kids, but that cuts to the chase, and they know what that means. I knew they’d instantly get it,” Carpenter said.

Poignant and with a dash of humor — Carpenter has done improv and is active at a comedy club as a performer and education director — the note includes the following:

“I want you to know that you are flawed and you are extraordinary. There is no one else like you. I want you to know that I would lay down my life for you in Lily Potter fashion any day of the week. ... I want you to know love, even if it means getting hurt. … I want you to know that you can choose happiness even when the dark side offers you cookies. And I wouldn’t mind breakfast in bed.”

Her 15-year-old saw the letter on Facebook and “liked” it, and Carpenter said she gave a printed copy to her 13-year-old. Her husband, whom she met doing improv, is encouraging her start a blog and write more.

“This struck a chord, and I’m thrilled that people are finding a connection to it,” she said.

Several of Carpenter’s friends predicted her post would go viral, and it resonated with many.

“This is how you Parent. This is how you make a difference in the world. This is how you turn a padiwan into a Jedi Knight. Bravo!!” wrote Eoin O’shea, a father.

“Beautifully said. You put a smile on my face and a tear in my eye,” wrote Laurie Honish Deitch.

Nearly 200,000 shares is mind-boggling to Carpenter. “The response to this was so unexpected, and it inspires me to want to write more, to see if there are things people connect with, find entertaining or helpful.”

Carpenter has written a couple of one-woman shows, including a comedy about “new and improved stages of grief” after a dear friend of hers died recently and her oldest brother was killed 11 months ago in a car crash.

“In the spirit of ‘don’t be an a------,’ the first of the reimagined stages of grief is ‘wtf?’ ” Carpenter said.

“I also wrote a poem that was not funny. At all.”

She also writes a letter to each of her sons at Christmas and credits her father, who had a career in public relations, for her affinity to write things down. “He writes each of us kids a letter once a month, actual letters in the mail,” said Carpenter, the youngest of six children whose parents divorced when she was 12. “He still types on a manual typewriter, and I think he goes to a back-alley place to get typewriter ribbon. He’s not on social media, and I haven’t seen him since this thing has taken off.”

Her mother has Alzheimer’s and wouldn’t understand, she said.

“Writing this is an effort to be more transparent with my kids. My parents always said they loved me, but my family didn’t talk about a lot of stuff. To be able to say what you want and feel didn’t happen a lot in my family, and I think this is the next evolutionary step — to say, ‘by the way, this is what I’m thinking.’ Like I told my older son recently, ‘The reason I’m so hard on you about homework is not because I don’t believe in you, but because I do.’ I want to make sure he knows that. I’m trying to be as honest and transparent as I can.”

As for breakfast Sunday?

“I’m usually the first one up, so it’s probably me and a bowl of cereal,” she said. “But I told my husband some strawberries would be nice, maybe a chocolate croissant. Then maybe we’ll go see ‘The Great Gatsby’ and even have a cupcake.”



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