You don't know me, but I feel as though I owe you a thank you note. My real life friends are probably chuckling right now, because thank you notes from me are something of an enigma. "Many are written, few are sent" you might say. But today, on this chilly Minneapolis Mother's Day, I am sitting down and I am writing this very public thank you note, to you.
I'll admit it: prior to January of this year, I didn't know who you were. I didn't know a thing about Listen To Your Mother. I'm not a big blogger. I don't have a bajillion followers, I don't get a hundred comments per post and I am what some would call "twitter-phobic". BlogHer has never, ever even sniffed in my general direction, despite a few spastic attempts by yours truly to get their attention.
I'm small potatoes.
But somehow, I did hear about you, and about LTYM, in January. I read about you, and your mission, and about LTYM. I read blog posts about it, watched the videos and then, I took a breath and submitted a piece I had written. In true Jenny style, I then second-guessed myself and submitted another one.
Guess which one they chose?
From that moment on, I became someone new. And it was about damn time.
You see, Ms. Imig, my life has been kind of hard for the past few years. Oh, don't get me wrong...it hasn't been as hard as it could have been. My kids and I are healthy. There haven't been any natural disasters. The only disaster we faced has been the oh-so-unnatural one called Divorce.
My husband walked out on us. Not once, but twice (long story). I've been raising my four children solo for the past 6 years. Without much help from the former love of my life...financial or otherwise. We've struggled, a lot. Lost our home. Dealt with emotional wounds, and then the scars those wounds left. We went from living a pretty good, comfortable life, a life of new shoes when we needed them and kick ass health insurance to a life of food shelves and free lunches at school.
The mom my kids have known for this period of time hasn't always been the ideal: They've seen me at my worst, at my most despondent. My most desperate. I've tried so hard to keep things normal and happy and warm for them, tried with all of my might to make sure I deflected the blows, shielded them from the harsh realities of this new world we found ourselves residing in.
This is where you come in. You, and your wonderful creation, Listen To Your Mother.
Being chosen to speak at LTYM gave me a little boost. A boost I didn't know I needed. For the past few years I've been sitting here, on the sweet porch of our rented home, or in my living room sitting on dilapidated Ikea furniture, or in bed late at night, typing out my thoughts and musings. I was content knowing that my wonderful, loyal, small group of readers were out there, nodding their heads and sometimes weeping along with me. It was all I needed. Or so I thought.
The first time I sat at that big table with the other writers in the Twin Cities Listen To Your Mother cast, I felt something big and bright and amazing. I listened to their stories, I told mine and I wanted MORE. I wanted to hear more from them and I wanted to tell more of my own stories. I wanted to get on a plane or in my car or on a train and go to each and every LTYM show and hear MORE.
I thought these feelings were big and awesome.
And then we took the stage.
This past Thursday, my posse of new best friends and I put on some lipstick, brushed our hair, cleared our throats and then got up on a stage and poured our hearts out for approximately 650 people. And those people? They loved it. They clapped. They cried. They roared with laughter. We got a standing ovation, me and my friends. We clasped hands and we took bows (or rather, we attempted to take a bow..damn that stage was tiny!).
There were three members of the audience that night who needed to be there more than anyone else. Three people who deserved to hear their mom talk, to see her gussied up and standing tall.
Those three people were my kids (the fourth, my eldest, had a hot date and couldn't be there. I will go all Daniel Day Lewis on his butt later.."There Will Be Guilt"). One of my best friends did the best friend thing and gathered them up, bought them treats and sat with them in the audience that night. I saw their faces, waved hello and waited for my turn at the mic.
My heart felt as though it had somehow climbed into my throat. I could feel the sweat threatening my upper lip, my hands, my lower back. When our producer Tracy announced my name, my feet went on auto-pilot and directed me onstage. For the first few lines of my essay, my voice sounded strained, almost choked (no doubt due to my giant fluttering heart that was still wedged up where it shouldn't have been).
And then...and then.
Then I looked up. I squinted a tiny bit and I saw the faces of my children. My babies. My neck relaxed, my hands released their death-grip on the podium. I let my words, the words I wrote as an ode to my sweet family...I let them flow. Flow out as they were meant to do.
As quickly as it happened, it was over. I will admit, I was sort of anticipating that magical moment you speak of, that time in the lobby after the show when audience members seek out members of the cast to touch them, to say "Me too!". And that did happen. A friend I hadn't seen in forever came up and we hugged. A young, very hip woman in her twenties touched my arm and thanked me for my story. A woman in her 70's, a tall and lovely woman, stopped me and put her hands on my shoulders and had tears on her cheeks as she told me that my words made her cry (but in a good way, she assured me).
My kids, and a throng of my beautiful friends, were waiting for me, too. There were flowers and hugs and a couple bottles of wine (my friends, they know me). We posed for pictures, laughed and soaked up the ambiance for a bit.
My daughter, Molly, sidled up to me. She is 17, and quiet. She's my only girl, and I love her so hard it hurts some days. She whispered to me, "Henry was crying when you told your story. He was crying pretty hard." I looked over at Henry, my strapping 15 year old. He is 6'2" and he still calls me "Mama" and he says "Thank you" to every single cashier and waiter he encounters. I gave him a hug and asked him how he liked the show.
"I loved it, Mom." he said. I asked him if he liked what I had read. He paused for a minute, and then he said:
"I've never heard one of your stories, Mom. I never read any of them. When you talked about us tonight, about Dad...it made me think about everything. It made me cry a little." His eyes were clear and bright, there were no tears as he spoke. He, like his mama, does his mourning in the dark. In private. He hugged me, and as our faces touched he whispered to me:
"Thank you, Mom."
And this is why I am offering up my thanks to you, Ms. Imig. It's long and wordy but it's heartfelt and it's genuine.
Thank you. Thank you for your passion, for your love of all things Mom and for giving Mothers a place to tell our stories. Because of YOU, I was able to give my kids a gift. The gift of seeing me as I want them to see me, as I want them to remember me: polished up a bit, hair de-frizzed...standing proudly in the spotlight for a moment, telling my story. Our story.
My kids listened to their mother. And it's all thanks to YOU.