When i was a little girl, my Mama would tell my big sister and me stories about her childhood to help us go to sleep. They ranged from funny to slightly macabre. That time when she was gifted 2 new barrettes for her hair and her maid said to her “If you lose those, don’t bother to come home”. She promptly lost her shiny hair clips and stood in the bushes in their front yard for hours until her father came home around dinner time. Once at a family picnic, my Mother who was youngest of all the cousins, was trapped in an attic with hundreds of dead birds after a game of hide-and-seek gone awry. She pounded on the lone window and watched the picnic below unfold in mime until her mother realized she was gone. My Mother had a ticket to Woodstock and became violently ill the hour before her ride came, and was absolutely fine an hour after he left. I would listen, enraptured, and dream of her as a child, living through these moments. I always pictured her with her most beautiful grownup face on a little girl’s body. I thought i would never have such interesting and fantastic things to tell my children.
I could not be more grateful to my Mama for sharing these things with us. She does so now, in poem form and these books are like bibles to me. They are the chronicles of my most important female figure, the story of her life. I’m not sure she knew that these stories would imbue both her daughters with a love of words, but they did. More importantly, they showed us that our Mother was more than just a cooker of healthy dinners, a double-knotter of shoe laces, an editor of sloppy school work, and a keeper of house; she was a living breathing human being just like us. Not the annoying parental super hero figure, but a person with all the messy heartbreak and confusion that goes along with that incarnation. Upon the future time of her leaving us (which i hope is not any day soon), i revel in the fact i will have truly known my Mother.
In my work as a songwriter, I feel i am allowed to express myself in a way that is necessary to my health and wholly unusual in this climate of the self congratulatory 40 character long facade. I am writing broken cosmic letters in rhyme and melody that spew out my sadness/joy like dandelion florets. It doesn’t matter where they land. It doesn’t matter if they find purchase in some dark soil and germinate. It only matters that they are let go and fly away. My Father writes wonderful songs and he gave me the tools and the know-how, but my Mother gave me permission to tell my stories.
I am now a Mother to a cyclone of a boy. He is beautiful, runs faster than water falls, he is oak-strong and often kind. It has struck me how important it is to refer to myself as “I”. To say “It hurts me when you hit”, “I don’t like it when you scream”, “I love you” instead of in the third person, like “Mama” is some sort of character outside of our equation. Take away the humanity and “Mama” is just an invincible care-taking robot. “I” am a woman, a mother, a mistake-maker, a tired person who bruises when you throw choo-choos at her face. “I” have stories to tell you, young man. They may shock you and confuse you and awaken you to the fact that your Mother had a very complicated life before you came through her and made it even more so. Little boy, i want you to know who i am. I want you to see a woman with a strong sense of self and vocation. I want you to see all women as intricate novels, wrought out of lessons hard-won, triumphs and disappointments. I want you to see me and know me. I will never hide from this or shirk the responsibility of giving you my stories. In turn, i hope you listen.
photo by Danny Schmidt