I can’t remember which of my posts prompted the response.
I suppose it doesn’t matter.
The woman said that she agreed, to an extent, with whatever it was I wrote. But that once you have children, your life isn’t your own anymore. Once you have children, you mostly have to put their needs before your own.
First, I thought: Well, yeah. When you have kids, you have to think about how you’re going to care for them. That has to be a super high priority, right?
But then I remembered something.
After my mother died, I found a notebook she’d tucked into her desk drawer. Inside it, she’d written the first few pages of a romance novel.
It wasn’t very good. In fact, it was pretty awful. It involved a pool-cleaner and a woman watching him longly through a window. It’s been more than twenty years but I distinctly remember cringing.
But that’s not the point.
There were also a couple of poems in that notebook. Bad poems.
But again that’s not the point.
Or, maybe, it kind of is.
My mother died of breast cancer when she was 48. She’s on my mind a lot lately, because I’m 47. I’m just the age she was when she had a mammogram that verified what she could see with her own eyes. She had a lump. It was cancerous. The chemo made her feel as sick as she was, and she never got any better.
I never knew, when she was alive, that she ever even thought about writing.
I have strong memories of her devouring those little Harlequin romance novels. In fact, she spent so much time sitting under a red umbrella at the beach reading them that the image has shown up in my work more than once.
But I didn’t know she had even the hint of a desire to write.
Her notebook was mostly empty. It was shoved back into the back of a desk drawer. Maybe because she was embarrassed by her efforts. Maybe she was just messing around and didn’t really want to write.
More likely, her notebook just got pushed behind everything else. Because she was too busy taking care of her children’s needs and then her grandchildren’s needs to pick it up again.
Maybe she never really wanted to be a writer. It’s possible she was just bored and scribbled a few things. Or she thought she should write, so made a New Year’s resolution that was abandoned by February.
The point is this: I have no idea what she really wanted.
She was a fantastic mom and grandma. I wish she’d let herself get lost in a passion, too.
My youngest daughter is in the eighth grade. A couple of weeks ago her sister and I helped her to organize her sketchbooks in preparation for an audition for an arts-based high school in Pittsburgh.
One of the coolest things was being able to see how her work progressed over the last couple of years. There were pages where I could see her teaching herself to draw depth by sketching hands inside pockets. There’s a single picture she drew four or five times over the course of a year, each attempt improving as she learned something new and implemented it. She drew thousands of eyelashes, trying to get them just right.
Her sister is a graduate student. She’s an art historian, studying critical theory.
I strikes me, as I’m writing this, how badly I want my children to be brave enough to try to do things that they might fail at.
I wish that I’d come out to the kitchen for breakfast when I was a little girl to find my mom scribbling away in her notebook. I would trade the memories of hot syrup on my pancakes on random Tuesday mornings for memories of being waved toward the Cheerios because she was having a poetry breakthrough.
I wish that she had left me with a sitter so she could take a writing class. I wish that I’d gone with her to the post office to send off another round of queries. I wish that the sound of her typewriter kept me up at night.
I wish that I’d found a dozen notebooks, so that I could have seen her writing go from bad to better.
My mother sacrificed everything in the name of being a good mother.
She always put her children’s needs above her own. Always. But I think she sacrificed too much.
Here’s a very sad and kind of scary truth.
I don’t know who I would be right now, if she hadn’t died. I was 24 — exactly half her age — and that hit me so hard. Like lighting.
It changed something fundamental inside me.
I had two very small children and if I died when I was 48, my life was already half over.
My mother died with her stories unwritten and I didn’t want that for myself. But even more? I didn’t want that for her.
For me, writing is all tangled up in my mother. And that’s okay. I just wish that the connection was different. I wish that it was her life and not her death that gave me permission to pursue something I had no real idea I’d ever succeed at.
I love my children. I think one of their basic needs is to see their mom engaging in something she’s passionate about. I think it’s imperative to their well-being.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.