Elizabeth Summerhays reflects on her own Mama as we prepare to open MAMA

Latoya Rhodes, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and Elizabeth Summerhays in MAMA

Elizabeth Summerhays makes her Plan-B debut in MAMA running February 12-22, 2015.

Attempting to capture my own mother’s influence in my life is like trying to articulate the influence my limbs have had on me – it’s hard to isolate or pinpoint the ways she has shaped who I am. My mother had eight children; I am number seven. In addition to raising her children, to help my dad make ends meet my mom also taught piano, ran a day care, and formed a singing group for neighborhood kids. In stark contrast to my dad and her children, my mother is a quiet, shy, unassuming, enigmatic woman, and a bit of a loner. When I look back at how my mother raised me independent of my siblings, I realize why I became such a free spirit. I used to think that her hands-off approach as I grew up was because she was tired by the time my younger sister and I came along. However, as an adult I can see that there was a method to her parenting that suited my own unique personality and shaped the way I approach this world. When I ask her why she let me wear the same weird outfit to school four days in a row, or why she didn’t say anything to me when my teacher called her in because I would read books in class instead of doing the assignment, she tells me it was because she “didn’t want to stifle my creativity.” Though I scold my mom for this and joke about how I would have liked a little more structure in my formative years, I am grateful to her for giving me the space and freedom to explore what I wanted in life, and to create a life that I choose rather that what others say I “should” do.

As with most mothers I know, my mom’s entire life was devoted to her family. I can honestly say (and this used to drive me crazy) that I can count on one hand the times I have seen her do something just for herself. My mother would be the first to admit her flaws and is imperfect like any human, but somehow through her life she has managed to perfect her selflessness. In the summer of 2012, six months after my father died, my mother was in a serious car accident. It landed her in the ICU for a few weeks, and as we reflected on the accident in her hospital room, my newly widowed mother expressed relief that she hadn’t died because she didn’t want us kids to lose another parent so soon. She was relieved that her life was spared not for her sake, but for ours. Thankfully she has fully recovered, and is back to living her life for her kids and her ginormous list of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But her expression that day showed me yet another example of her complete selflessness. This example, along with her nurturing of my own creativity, is the most accurate summation of my mother’s role and influence in my life I can give.

I hope as we open MAMA this week that along with the enjoyment of Carleton’s heartfelt story, those who come to this play will pause to reflect on their own mothers. I know for me I don’t do it nearly enough and after everything, I still take my mother for granted.  I so admire Carleton’s tribute to his mother and for his example in giving back to her with MAMA; being involved in it has inspired me to find my own way to do the same.

Carleton Bluford’s MAMA receives its world premiere February 12-22 at Plan-B, featuring Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell, Latoya Rhodes and Elizabeth Summerhays, directed by Jerry Rapier. Click here for tickets, press and more information.

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