I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers lately.
Two months ago, I received an email from StoryCorps notifying me that an interview I had conducted with my mom 13 years ago was now accessible in their online archives and part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I was intrigued by the idea of StoryCorps the first time I heard about it, and I wrote an article about the project in 2007. I first encountered the work of StoryCorps’s founder, Dave Isay, years earlier in a radio segment co-produced with Wilbert Rideau about the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola .
In 2003, StoryCorps opened a soundproof recording booth in the Grand Central terminal in New York City as a space for people to talk with one another. People sit down with a microphone to record their conversations while the rest of the world rushes by them. StoryCorps later rolled out these cool aluminum trailers to travel across the country and record even more conversations between Americans, and in 2007, one of those trailers rolled into Lafayette, Louisiana, and parked here for awhile.
My mother, Molly Conn Wiley, and I recorded a conversation there on Ash Wednesday. It was a hard interview to conduct, mainly because there were a few hard questions I had for Mom. Even though we had agreed upon what we planned to discuss, when the mics were on, it was still difficult to ask those questions. I know if it was difficult for me to ask, it was far more difficult for my mother to answer. But she did.
Here’s the lo-fi version of that entire conversation:
I let Mom know the interview was now online, but I didn’t listen to it for another month and a half. Life got in the way, but I also wasn’t particularly interested in hearing my own voice from 13 years ago or to revisit a conversation which harbored so many painful memories for my mother.
Then on March 13, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced that schools would be shutting down for a bit. So while I was still working, I found myself with more time in front of this computer, and that interview was staring right back at me.
In mid-April, I gave it a listen and survived. I started thinking more about our conversation that day, and a few sections seemed more poignant than the rest of the interview. I realized that my mother’s maternal experience—and her relationships with other women in that regard—was at the heart of our conversation. I asked Mom if it was all right to edit some of our conversation and boil it down to what I felt was the essence of our talk. She agreed, so I went to work, trimmed it up, wrote and recorded some music, and then produced this piece:
Motherhood is a gig I don’t envy. I’m quite content that it’s a job for which I will never be able to apply. You can try to equate being a father as the same thing, but it’s not. I’m not sure exactly why, but it isn’t. Try this: Think of a two-parent family with Mom and Dad. Now remove Dad from that picture for a week. Things carry on pretty much as usual. Now imagine that same scenario but remove Mom – for an entire week. That’s a completely different scene, isn’t it? Mom is the glue. Dad might help get things done, but Mom keeps it all together.
We’re all painfully aware of how strange life can be. It’s never as clear cut as we think it is or should be. And even when we learn most of what we seek to learn and get all the details in order, it’s never definitive. It’s just complicated. It’s messy. Boundaries aren’t solid. Lines aren’t always clear. We try to keep it all in order, keep everything aligned and in its proper place, but it just doesn’t work that way. Never has. Moms know that, and I suspect probably more than Dads do. It’s why a man will lose his mind when he can’t open the jelly jar, but why a woman can walk up to us, gingerly remove the jar from our hands, and open it with elegance and without effort.
Call your Mom today. Or if you’re not in a place to call your mother, reach out to one who did nurture you as best they could. Then say a little prayer and give thanks for them. All of them. We need more of that right now.