When I was little, my mama was my treasure. Maybe this was true for me more than it was for other children, because we lived apart and I missed her. My mama was my princess, my hero, my sparkling sorceress, she was the queen of beauty, she was my dream, she really was my everything. At 11 years old my dream came true and I moved in with her, and continued to worship her well into my adolescence. Of course over the years I’ve had to learn that my mama was human; I’ve learned that she made mistakes, and that she couldn’t always rescue me; I’ve learned that she wasn’t always right and that there were more important things than her approval.
But looking back today at the things I do and the way my life is turning out, I realize that I have learned so much from my extraordinary mama. She made me fall in love with art and music. When I was little, she played Vivaldi to me and made me identify the four seasons; she showed me Salvador Dali’s paintings and dared me to write school essays that flip the topic on its head. She encouraged me always to be “free.” With an in-your-face mama like mine, you soak it in: that being different is a good thing and being brave matters. Maybe she didn’t mean to, or maybe she did, but when she told me stories of seeing me in a magic mirror from afar, she also taught me to believe in magic. She taught me to be happy, to seek the joy and beauty in whatever life throws at you. My students say to me sometimes that I am like no other teacher they’ve ever had. They don’t know it, but I do: it was my mama who taught me to be extraordinary.
One of the most important things she also taught me is to try again. And again. And again. And then, to keep trying.
You see, my mama is killer at chess. I never quite inherited her passion and patience for it. But one bit of chess wisdom managed to stick: even when you’ve lost most of your pieces, even when the king is cornered and all seems bleak, you keep fighting, you keep playing, you keep dancing, you keep smiling. A check is not the same as a check mate. And even after a check mate, there is always another round. She applied to college seven times before she was accepted into the most prestigious performing art school in the nation. At various times in her life she dealt with poverty, anti-Semitism, KGB threats and more; and yet she found a way around every block she’s ever faced.
With a mama like that, you soak it in: you only lose when you decide you lose.
Today I live her lessons as a teacher, as a writer, as a human being, as a mama, myself. Life is beautiful and crazy. I am bold and brave (and crazy, at times). I am teaching and learning, sometimes flying, often falling, always getting back up again. I am writing and plotting, submitting, dreaming on, moving on. I am trying. I am smiling. I am dancing. Because I know, when one song is over, another one will come on. There is always another round.
Happy Mother’s Day! What has your mama taught you?