A Fond Remembrance of My Mother’s Imaginary Violin and Resilient Spirit

by Madonna

My mother may not have been a musician by trade, but she was a virtuoso in the realm of the imaginary violin. In moments of my youthful whining or complaints, she would gracefully extend her left arm, tilting her head as if cradling a phantom violin, one that only existed in our shared imagination.

With the finesse of a seasoned performer, she’d use her right hand to meticulously trace an invisible bow across nonexistent strings, serenading me with a silent melody, akin to a soloist in a grand philharmonic orchestra.


As I transitioned into adolescence, and my grievances evolved from trifles to perceived injustices, she’d subtly rub the tips of her thumb and index finger together, all while leveling a stare that was anything but sympathetic. It was, as she put it, the world’s tiniest violin, playing a somber tune in commiseration of my relatively inconsequential woes.


In those moments, my mother became a mime, rendering melancholic music as a dismissive display of feigned sympathy for my relatively minor predicaments. Her response? “Tough toenails,” almost invariably uttered at the conclusion of this melodramatic performance.


As I approach the second anniversary of her passing, I find myself reminiscing about my mother’s virtuosic displays with the imaginary violin. Her philosophy on adversity, misfortune, and life’s trials was refreshingly straightforward.

“Life,” she’d declare, “is inherently tough and demanding. It’s your responsibility to deal with it.”

She’d remind me, often, that many others faced far graver challenges.

Losing, she’d assert, was an integral part of existence; no one had ever guaranteed perpetual victory.

She’d caution me that my grievances weren’t of interest to anyone else, and they certainly wouldn’t evoke sympathy.

Instead, if I had a problem, she’d insist I should muster my wits and solve it myself.

Let me be clear: my mother loved me deeply, provided for me, and took a keen interest in my life. Our bond was one of profound love and closeness. Yet, she had no tolerance for my self-pity or victimhood.

Whenever I leaned into that role, she’d summon the imaginary violins.

It’s been quite some time since I witnessed someone miming the actions of a violinist to convey mock pity and sorrow. Perhaps it was a passing trend, a creative form of sarcasm that had its heyday and then faded into obscurity. Maybe, in today’s world, it’s considered a stale clich√©.

Perhaps there are fewer parents nowadays who employ the “smallest violin” routine, abruptly interrupting their children mid-complaint, and with a hint of sarcasm, playing a solemn tune of solace.

To be clear, I’ve never employed this tactic with my own children; it’s simply not in my nature.

Nevertheless, on occasion, I feel the urge to use it with others.

In our contemporary culture, complaints abound, often concerning matters so trivial that they’re almost embarrassing. At times, I think we could all benefit from a touch of my mother’s wisdom, her abrupt gesture of rubbing thumb and index finger together to mime the world’s tiniest violin, playing the saddest of songs.

I’m grateful today for my mother’s upbringing. In large part, I don’t burden others with my grievances. I endeavor to resolve issues independently, perhaps to a fault.

And sometimes, when I hear others lamenting the difficulties and demands of life, I can almost hear her voice in my head, offering her timeless counsel: “Tough toenails.”


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