November 30th at eight o’clock AM. 60 degrees Fahrenheit and soaking wet. Storms ripped through the Tennessee Valley last night. We hurried out to pull our Christmas decorations back down again. I’d spent three hours putting them up last weekend; all for nothing. But, you can’t control the weather.
This morning I scrolled through the Instagram feed of a childhood friend. We’re very different people but we have one thing in common now: both our mothers are dead because of cancer. It’s an odd connection and one that maybe only I really feel.
I flipped back to August, when my mother passed. I hoped maybe I’d find something there. I was hoping maybe he’d noticed, felt something, said anything. He always had this story about how important my mother was to him. I wondered if that still rang true. I wondered if he felt anything.
But, there were no photos of her. No mentions. No RIP, no “heaven gained an angel”, no platitudes. Instead his feed was filled with happy things. Memories he’s making, a life he’s building. He’s trying very hard to be somebody.
My mother wanted to be somebody. And sometimes, she was a difficult person. She could be both inspiring and intimidating. She had high aspirations and expectations. She was a musician first…a wife second, and somewhere down the list she was a mother as well. I knew this always. My mother once told me, “I never really wanted kids. But, back then that’s what you did. You got married and had kids.” As one of those kids she didn’t really want, I suppose I should have taken this more personally. But, I didn’t. I understood. My mother wanted to -be- somebody. And being a mother wasn’t it.
When she became a musician full-time I was so proud and happy for her. Because of her music career she honestly became a better mother. She was happy. She was artistically fulfilled. She’d found a community of other artists and she was finally being somebody. She was easier to love then and she loved more openly. She couldn’t be a mother first. She had to BE somebody else first. But, loving an artist is like that sometimes: you take what you can get and hope to god it’s enough. And maybe it wasn’t really “good” enough, but it was enough. It really was.
I’ve wrestled with the enough-ness of it, though. I’ve plotted out my recovery and healing in hours and hours of counseling. I’ve sobbed, I’ve screamed, I’ve lamented. “Why couldn’t motherhood be enough for her??” I’d ask out loud. I needed a warm, guiding hand through my childhood and early adulthood and sadly, never found it. Mom just wasn’t capable of being that kind of mother. She was an incredible cook and every meal was homemade. She spent hours on handmade costumes. And she always encouraged us to pursue our own artistic interests. But, she wasn’t able to be vulnerable or intimate. That wasn’t somebody she could be.
I don’t remember my mother saying, “I love you” very often. Never, really. I can’t remember a single time my mother just looked at me and on her own said, “I love you”. In the recent years I’d taken to always saying it first, especially every time we ended a phone call. I wanted to hear it, so I initiated it.
“Alright, well, I’ll talk to you later. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
That was as good as I would get from her. But, it was enough. And I’d learned that she had her own ways of showing love. They weren’t always the ways I needed or wanted, but they were her ways. They were what she knew and who she was. And they had to be enough.
My mom just wanted so badly to be somebody. It’s said that you will put your energy into whatever is most important to you. For her it was music; not motherhood.
And yes, that hurt. It hurt for many, many years. But, as a mother myself, I understand this need to be something and someone outside of “just” a mother.
I too am creative. I too am passionate about the arts and expression. I too want to succeed in the arts in some capacity at some future time. And I too dedicate myself to these pursuits. This isn’t because I don’t love being a mother. For me, being a mother comes first. But, I know I’m more than “just” a mom. It’s only one facet of my identity. And in my own way, yes, I too want to be somebody.
My mom may not have been able to be a mother first and maybe her need to “be somebody” was, at times, hurtful. But, it was also encouraging. She never believed she was too old to succeed. She never believed there wasn’t an audience for her particular art. She believed in herself fearlessly and tirelessly. And even though I struggled to understand her and know her, I can be and I am inspired by her.
My mom lived and died to be somebody. And at the end of her life, I believe she was. I believe she’d be proud of the legacy she left. And I hope she knows that even if she’d never found success in music, she’d still have been the greatest somebody to me.
To me, she was always someone.