My mother loves her children deeply. All five of us grew up with total confidence in her devotion, and even now she loves to hear from us, rejoices in our triumphs no matter how small and mourns with us in times of trouble. She raised us to be as inquisitive, creative, faithful and compassionate as she is herself. I doubt that any of us meet that lofty mark, but know that she would disagree with me. It has always been her way to see our best deeds as a reflection of our true nature. And even I will confess to some small glimmers of goodness in my own character, so she is sure I am a saint.
My estimation of myself and my siblings should in no way be interpreted as a judgment on my mother’s child rearing skills—she has always been a miracle worker with children, both her own and those of others— but rather a measure of her own tremendous virtues and our ingrown stubbornness. It does not help that she married a recalcitrant contrarian with a devilish streak of impertinent humor a mile wide and a fierce temper, and we inherited as much of his mulishness and mischief as we did of her sunny disposition and preternatural kindness.
Though she loves us dearly, I have always known that her children are not everything to my mother. She has an identity beyond us, and she made sure that we knew that we were not the be all or end all of her creation. I speak here not of her professional life, though my mother has always been happy to work hard when she felt she needed to, but of her vocation. We were never her only creations, because my mother is a writer, and the stories she finds inside her have always brought her meaning and joy.
You have most likely never read any of her work. She is not a NYT best seller. She wrote a story here, a poem there. Some she sent out and published in one magazine or another. It was not the center of her life, but it has always been a part of who she is. And so I grew up with my mother’s stories, seeing her write and revise and imagine, watching as she read publishing industry magazines to market her work, hone her craft, and participate in a community of creators.
She worked on and off as well, through my childhood, to help support us. She did work she felt was important and made the world better. But the work was always incidental to who she was— a writer and a mother. She did not write to make money, she wrote because it made her happy, because it was a part of her and without it she would not be herself.
We grew up and moved away from home. She still mothers us and cares for us and loves it whenever we call or visit. She had her work as a Spanish teacher at an inner city school. And she still has stories, and poems, and the novel she’s been working on for years. She is happy. And even though I doubt whether mother’s children can never match her constant optimism or her immediate, unlearned generosity, I think we all learned the lesson of her writing.
My eldest sister is a photographer who has never stopped capturing unexpected beauty through her camera. I have never doubted that she is an artist first and foremost, though her own photography has never been her sole source of income. It’s who she is, not how she earns her living. One brother is an author and playwright. Straight out of college, he ran an experimental community theatre by night while working days in a call center. When no publisher wanted to buy his first novel, he decided he wanted to share it with the world anyway, and published it himself. Telling stories is in his blood. Brother two is an engineer who writes poetry. He met the woman who is now his wife in middle school, they were both members of “power of the pen.” They grew close as actors in high school theatrical productions long before they dated. The youngest in finishing her degree in industrial design and continues to make art for her own enjoyment, not just her job.
And though I am more of a reader than a writer, I thought of my mother recently as I submitted one story to a literary competition and began work on another. Her writing is the reason why, no matter my day job, I continue to jot down story ideas in notebooks wherever I go. Quite possibly, her writing is behind every post I’ve ever written on this blog. This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mother, the writer. And I thank her for showing us that in a world that wants to flatten us, atomize us, make us all perfect drones and consumers, that it is always possible to create something, and that making something new because it’s part of who you are will always be satisfying, even if it’s only for yourself.