The Write Mother
By Judy L. Adourian
“I’m a woman,” I informed my mother.
“You’re sixteen,” she corrected.
“I’m a writer,” I insisted.
“Yes,” she agreed, “you are a writer.”
“Then why do I have to stay behind each year while you go to the women’s writing conference? Why can’t I go too?”
When most teenagers begged their mother to let them spend the summer at the beach with friends (and away from prying parental eyes), I pleaded with mine to take me away for a week with her to the International Women’s Writing Guild’s annual summer conference. When most mothers insisted that their daughter focus on less artistic and more practical career goals, my mother granted my request. So on a rainy August morning in 1987, we loaded the car, headed west on the Massachusetts turnpike, and journeyed to the campus of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.
As we turned into the entrance of our destination, Mom revealed that she had arranged separate rooms for us. “This is my vacation,” she informed me. “I need my space. I’ll give you the lay of the campus and we can sit together during meals in the cafeteria, but other than that, you’re on your own. Take workshops or don’t. I don’t care. Just remember that you wanted to come, so make the most of your stay.”
My initial shock of Mom’s sudden declarations left an unsteady feeling in my stomach. Even though I attended boarding school during the academic year and was used to being responsible for getting myself up and where I needed to be, I certainly didn’t expect my mother to try ditching me moments upon arriving at the conference site. I was also unprepared to see my mother act like a teenage girl returning to summer camp as she squealed and hugged friend after friend. Who were all these women? Who was my mother? What had I gotten myself into?
“This is my daughter Judy,” Mom announced with pride several times an hour. “She’s a writer too.”
“Oh how lucky you are to have such a wonderful relationship,” the other woman would gush, followed by “My daughter doesn’t like to write,” or “My daughter wouldn’t spend a week with me.”
A mere four hours later, I was completely caught off guard when my mother, who had been content to let me fend for myself, grabbed my arm and charged us up on to the opening ceremony stage. There I stood in front of five hundred women with Mom’s arm wrapped tightly around my shoulder on display as one of the Guild’s few mother/daughter teams in attendance. Was my mother insane? Since when had we become the epitome of the mother/daughter relationship? Sure we both liked to write. But she was an over-protective mother and I was an over-emotional teenager, we hardly deserved an auditorium full of applause.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” I whispered when we sat back down.
“That was so embarrassing.”
“It was humiliating and mortifying.”
“Someone’s been working on her vocabulary.”
“Oh never mind!”
The next morning I was more than happy to be on my own. No longer a show piece for Mom’s ego, I left my room in search of a playwriting workshop. Mom didn’t write plays, so I knew she wouldn’t go to that class. Unfortunately, I completely underestimated the complexity of the Skidmore campus layout and the vagueness of the campus map. As I stood in the center of the quad searching for a point of reference, a kindly voice asked “Hi Judy, need some help?”
Taken off-guard, I rudely replied, “Do I know you?”
“No, but I’m friends with your Mom. Which workshop are you going to?”
“Playwriting, but I can’t find the Learning Center building.”
“The Learning Center is actually in the Tisch building right over there. I’m headed that way too. Come on.”
As I entered my chosen classroom another stranger waved me to her. “Over here, Judy! Your Mom said you’d probably come to this class, so I saved you a seat.”
As the week progressed, I realized that showing me off to all her writing colleagues had less to do with her pride and more to do with my growth as both woman and writer. Like any good mother, Mom knew what made me tick. She understood that if I entered a room of strangers, my shyness would get the best of me. I’d listen intently, take copious notes, but remain quiet. Yet she also knew that if I sat among people I knew, I’d be much more out-going. I’d speak up, share my work, and give feedback to others. Tossing me into the cold water of public recognition during that first opening ceremony, Mom knew her fellow Guild friends would act as life guards, helping me keep my head above water as I learned to swim on my own. More importantly, she had the undeniable faith that I could swim.
Fourteen years later, I grabbed Mom’s arm and pulled her on to the opening ceremony stage. Although we had attended the Guild’s conference together during some of the intervening years, this time we were being recognized as the only mother/daughter workshop leaders in attendance. Where once I stood wanting to melt into nothing, I now proudly wrapped my arm around Mom and grinned from ear to ear. I looked out into the audience of women, many of whom had become significant writing mentors in my life, and silently acknowledged them with a nod. And as I squeezed Mom’s shoulder, I realized that I no longer stood as a child with her mother. I now stood as a writer with her greatest mentor, a mentor who provided countless other teachers. I stood as a published author with the “write” mother.
Judy Adourian is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Colby-Sawyer College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She is the founder and owner of Writeyes, a teaching, critiquing, and support network for writers. For fourteen years Judy also worked as an editor for NEWN magazine.
Judy is a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) and is their Rhode Island Regional Representative. She is also a published personal essayist.