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From the Muse

A Mother’s Love

Sometimes all you need to do is simply get out of the way.

With Mother’s Day nearly upon us, I find myself missing my mom and thinking about how her support for my endeavors cleared the way for my creative journey.

My mom was never the tiger type or helicopter variety. She didn’t hover or try to control me. Here’s what she did do: observe my delights from the sidelines and accommodate them when she could. That’s about it.

When she (and my dad) noticed I couldn’t take my hands off my toy piano, they found a way, on a very limited budget, to get a real one into the house. (I talked about this in my “From the Muse” blog last month.) It wasn’t shiny or fancy. But it made music.

When I wouldn’t stop playing that one either, she found a teacher who kept me flush in sheet music. Ballet was in there somewhere, as well as baton twirling and a drama group at the local library. I jumped around a bit but I returned to the music over and over again. Pop songs were my favorite. They were my muse.

Then one day I wrote my own song. There would be many more.

We both assumed songwriting was a hobby — not a legitimate profession worth pursuing. After all, the songs on the radio were all written by the artists who sang them. Or so I thought. Secretly, I had this little dream in my head that maybe I could be one of those artists too.

That said, I went off to college and studied something else. Something safer. Something dependable. I was the daughter of an accountant and a part-time bookkeeper. Who was I to have fancy dreams? But when I graduated, I was right back at it. I got a waitressing job to support my habit. My folks never made me feel like they wasted their money. They knew a college education teaches us so much more than our area of study. I found independence, self-esteem, a larger world view than my little home town had offered.

After years of rejection I started making an actual living as a songwriter. I often wonder, if my mom had dissuaded me, would I be something/someone else today? Would I be happy? Would I be me?

One of my most vivid memories of my mother is seeing her washing dishes at the kitchen sink, staring out the window as I came up the stairs from the den where the piano resided. She’d say, “I like that number, mommi” — using the same term of endearment I would use decades later for my daughter. Then she’d ask, “Did you write it?”

Not quite a cheerleader, but a constant positive presence on the sidelines. And speaking of daughters, I like to think I’m paying my mom’s faith forward. From a young age, my girl wanted to make art. While I have no gift for the visual (and I know not where that muse comes from), I brought oils and sparkles into the house. Sketch pads and pastels and charcoal pencils. And then I left her alone. To see her so happy in her zone was all I needed to know. That was her muse.

Smiling young woman in front of a wall full of original art.Layla graduates college this month with a degree in Studio Art. Those sparkles and crayons paid off.

To take a leap of faith where your child’s dreams are concerned is not always easy. I don’t blame any parent for wanting to protect a son or daughter from the uncertainty of a competitive career. What if they don’t succeed and are devastated by a dream unfulfilled? On the other hand, there’s risk in trying to redirect their proclivities. It’s like trying to make a righty out of a lefty or fit a square peg in a round hole. It never feels natural. And it’s a sad regret for a young person to suspect they missed their calling — to wonder what would have been if they followed the path that set their heart on fire.

As challenging as it may be, perhaps the best thing we can do for our child’s creative journey is what my mother did: simply get out of the way. Believing in a child unconditionally — even when you’re terrified — is perhaps the most powerful type of love.

 

Photograph courtesy of the author.

 

You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings:

Don’t Disturb This Groove

Good Morning, Good Morning

Lyrics 101

Long May You Run

Blocking Writer’s Block

Songwriting Without a Safety Net

Creativity at Christmastime

Schedule Yourself

How Do You Know When It’s Over?

Divine Discontent

Your Instrument Is Your Inspiration



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelly Peiken has been a behind-the-scenes force in the music business for more than two decades. She is best known for penning female-empowerment anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s Number One hit “What a Girl Wants” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” Her book “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter,” a memoir that chronicles her journey from a young girl falling under the spell of magical songs to writing hits of her own, earned her a second GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Shelly is a fierce advocate of creators’ rights with her grassroots organization, SONA (Songwriters of North America). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and two cats.

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