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