How I mother
Written on 2/12:
I am sitting in the library of the Professional Performing Arts School where my daughter is one of 100 students auditioning for approximately 33 seats in the sixth grade class starting in the fall of 2015. Baby girl has her heart set on this school. I’m thinking about motherhood and how overwhelmed I’ve felt by this process and what it’s triggering for me.
I woke up at 3:30 in the morning (for the third night in a row) and couldn’t get back to sleep. I tried my usual methods. I read. I went on line (a no, no, I know). I breathed and tried to meditate. I got up and walked around. I made tea. Nothing worked. Nothing. I just could not stop my brain. I finally drifted off at around 7 only to shoot out of bed at 9:55. I was in such a haze it didn’t hit me until 10:15 that the audition was at 11:30 and we hadn’t even gotten dressed and we still had a 40 minute commute on the train. Baby girl hadn’t even figured out her clothes. (Thank goodness we did laundry this week.)
Let’s just say, we moved so fast, my asthma was triggered. A $35 cab later, we were at the audition by 11:10. How we did that, I’m still not sure, pero Amen, Ashe, Praise the Lord and all that jazz.
Baby girl was calm and cool as a cucumber. Every time I asked her how she was feeling, she responded, “Fine, mom.” Finally she said, “Mom, I’m used to this kind of pressure.” I thought of how long she’s been dancing–since she was three. The shows she’s performed in in front of hundreds of people. How she’s performed several times at the Nuyorican, even taking over the emcee duties once. Really, it was her mama who was a wreck. She looked at me and whispered, “Please don’t cry.” I told I was going to be right back and went for a walk and some much needed coffee. I walked around the block a few times trying to understand why I was so emotional, then, when I walked back into the building, I knew.
There were girls milling around the lunchroom, apparently prepping for a show. The girls were all dressed in the same long, black costume, fitted around the waist with billowing skirts. A few were helping each other with their hair, high, tight pony tails that pulled at their cheeks, the hair then wrapped into a bun and secured with a dozen bobby pins. The air around them looked and smelled misty with chemicals from hair spray and gel. In another corner, blush and eye shadow palettes in every possible color, concealer and mascara, and brushes of all sizes were laid out on a low table. The girls stood at stations in front of small mirrors, propped again books, applying their make-up or helping a peer apply theirs. My memory ricocheted to my childhood when I was that dancer, prepping for shows.
Mom was not that dance mom. Mom did not come with me when I auditioned for the dance group that represented the US at the NATO Children of the World Festival in Turkey in 1989. I don’t blame her. I don’t think she was being neglectful, at least not in this area. She simply did not put much stock in the arts. She was not raised that way. Her hard life in Honduras where she endured the kind of poverty you only see in Save the Children commercials did not afford her this luxury.
When I told mom that I was excited to audition for the dance program at Fiorello LaGuardia, she rolled her eyes and told me to go do my homework.
When I came home crushed because I hadn’t done well and knew I didn’t get in, she rolled her eyes again and told me to go wash up for dinner.
I loved dancing. I watched Fame religiously and dreamt of being Coco and Nicole. When I auditioned for the dance program at I.S. 383 in Bushwick and got in, I was over the moon. I hated that the teacher made no mystery of who her favorites were—the classically trained dancers who’d obviously been taking dance classes since they were in the womb, classes mom couldn’t afford & knew nothing about—but this just made me work harder. I stayed afterschool to practice. I stood up late into the night practicing the routines. I was relentless. It took me two years to get into her good graces but I finally did and it was worth it.
When I graduated, my dance teacher said, You either dance or go to school. You can’t do both. That’s just how it is.
When I went to boarding school, the competition was even more rigorous. These students had taken the most prestigious dance classes money could buy. This was, after all, wealthy Wellesley, Massachusetts. I was out of my league, but, still, I tried and I tried and I tried. For the first performance, I was been given a solo that I just could not get down. The moves were especially complicated and required a dexterity I struggled to master. I stayed in the dance studio late to practice the steps, the pirouettes and jumps and pliés. One day, I saw another girl practicing the solo. I should have known. I kept working, watching her out of the corner of my eye. She was so light on her feet. She got the steps down quickly and with ease. It shouldn’t have surprised me when the teacher approached me a few days later to tell me she’d given me another solo that I could choreograph. It was a sympathy piece. I knew that. I stopped dancing not long after that.
That’s what was triggered when I saw those girls dancing. As I watch my daughter grow and thrive and take over the dance floor at parties, and shine bright on the stage, I think about what she has that I didn’t have—support and someone who knows about the dance world (if only somewhat), and will research what she doesn’t know, however possible. She has people who believe in her, who will cancel classes (like I did for her first audition) for her, to hold her hand and tell her how proud I am of her and how bad ass she is and how she was meant for this. She has a mama who will take two buses to take her to and from dance class four times a week. She has a mama who is trying to figure out how to get her into dance classes at Alvin Ailey. She has a mama who will do whatever is required to make her dreams happen.
So, what’s my point? People expect you to parent in a vacuum. I read a comment on an essay an FB friend wrote about parenting an only child, that made me curl my lip so hard, I wanted to respond but I knew my response would be expletive ridden and nasty, because, shit, what mom needs to be criticized for their parenting, especially by people who don’t know her from Eve. This isn’t a reckless mom. This mom isn’t skirting her responsibilities. She hasn’t abandoned her child. She’s a momma writer writing about the complexities and difficulties of parenting. She’s writing about the one thing that’s stronger than mother’s love—momma’s guilt. And a few pendejos responded telling her what she’s doing it all wrong and how she needs to realize this parenting thing isn’t about her, that she needs to not be so emotionally involved (how you can’t not be emotionally involved in parenting is beyond me), that she’s being played by a six year old and needs to change that quick before her kid becomes a teenager and ruins her.
Why do people insist on pretending that they are not influenced by their traumas and pains? Why do people pretend that they can parent and live and be adults without the ghosts of their past influencing their behavior? I don’t buy that and I don’t care who says otherwise. We are all affected in so many ways by the things that have happened (and continue to happen) to us.
My patrón is my antagonistic relationship with my mother. I am terrified of failing as a mom because my relationship with my mother was and still is so bad. The woman hasn’t spoken to me in over a year and the last time I ran into her in my aunt’s house, she glared at me and said, “Me voy,” then she pulled her shoulder in when she walked by to avoid touching me. That kind of shit stays with you. I’m terrified of repeating that cycle, of not being the mom that my daughter needs me to be for her. I won’t deny that or pretend that’s untrue because someone can’t handle it or will tell me that I just need to get over it. It’s great if you’re unfazed by your life. I’m not one of you people, and you know what, I’m glad I’m not. I’d rather be honest with myself and who I am and what’s shaped me so I can work on the healing I have to do. So I can be an aware, conscious mom to my girl, because that’s what she needs and deserves. She doesn’t need a mom who is in denial. She needs a mom who is working on being her best self so she can be her best self for her. That’s an admirable thing to me, and really, that’s all that matters.