Yesterday would have been my mother’s 57th birthday.
It’s been a bit of a tough week for me. This is the time of the year where, in 2011, my mom’s diagnosis wasn’t going so well.
In a few months, (in fact, exactly three months from yesterday) it will mark the three year anniversary of Ro’s passing.
So instead of sitting here and being sad (which believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time doing in regards to this topic), I wanted to write a happy post about the things, my mother, Rosemary Allen, taught me.
1. How to be myself
Now this might seem like an obvious lesson. Everyone can talk about how their parents raised them to “be themselves,” but my mother would never let me be anything less than who I am, EVERY. DAMN. DAY.
Even if it meant letting me be the strange, obscure child I was.
I used to run around my house naked when I was little, and my mom, who was a total hippie, let me do whatever I wanted. My brother used to complain to her how weird it was, but she just responded, “Just let her do what she wants.”
I was a tom boy growing up, wanting so badly to be one of the boys. I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs and never gave a shit what I looked like. I wanted to be friends with all the boys and had a secret fantasy that one day I would magically turn into a Ninja Turtle (Specifically Michaelangelo).
I’m so happy that my mother allowed me to be absolutely weird growing up. I’m so glad she didn’t push me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I’m so happy that she let me embrace my quirks, ie, my big glasses, my raspy voice, my crazy obsession with my stuffed animals, where I would pile them up on my bed and sleep on one, tiny area so they wouldn’t fall off.
My weirdness has made me the person I am today. My weirdness is who I am.
My mom let me explore every side of my creativity: singing, dancing, gymnastics, cheerleading, show choir, piano, flute (for a hot second), theater, and even said okay when I told her I wanted to start playing soccer. (I was terrible).
What if Ro pushed me to conform? Would I be the same person?
I’m happy to report that I am absolutely myself, 100% of the time.
And that’s, in large part, due to Ro.
2. How to take a stand
My mom would never stand for injustice, big or small.
I remember a specific instance where a friend and I were at Northeastern Ohio’s local amusement park, Geauga Lake, (RIP) and these teenagers cut us in line for a ride.
Ro was NOT having it.
If this happened today, she probably would have been brought to court by some overbearing parents, but Ro had no problem telling those kids that they were wrong for cutting in line.
Now does this matter in the long scheme of things?
Yes it does.
Because in that moment when I was 9 or 10, I was still learning about politeness and having integrity, no matter how big or how small.
I once watched my mom get into a fight with a grown man who was making fun of a handicap bagger at WalMart when I was in high school. At the time, my teenage self was absolutely embarrassed that she was getting into it with a complete stranger, but looking back, I wish I would have given that guy a piece of my mind.
We, as living and breathing humans, have a choice in these situations whether or not to speak up.
And Ro ALWAYS stood up.
3. How to NOT let people walk all over me
This one ties into the last point, but it more concerns me and my self worth.
There was a time in middle school that I don’t like to talk about. Let’s just say my life was like Mean Girls in middle school, except Tim Meadows wasn’t my cool principle, Tina Fey wasn’t my encouraging math teacher, and I didn’t have an artsy friend duo to fall back on when everything went to shit.
And it was not funny.
Well, I can remember falling apart and my mother telling me to stick up for myself. Yes, middle school was weird and awkward, and people were going to be mean, but that didn’t mean I had to sit back and be silent while people threw things at me in the hallway or kicked me out of lunch tables.
However, she also taught me not to fight fire with fire. Sometimes the best way to confront a bully is to let them know that they hurt you, and walk away. It might not feel like a lot when all is said and done, but standing up for yourself doesn’t always have to end with making the other person feel as hurt as you did when they bullied you.
Standing up for yourself means knowing your worth, and letting the other person know that you do.
4. How to dance to my own beat
I can’t stress enough how strange I was growing up.
I think the best people in this world are the ones who allow themselves to be weird, and more importantly, embrace it.
5. How to pursue a dream (and how NOT to give up on that dream)
I used to carry around a little brown and tan, hand-held tape recorder between the ages of 4 and 10. My mom and dad would buy me cassette tapes and I would record both sides with various songs, stories, variety shows (where I would fake interview people) for HOURS on end.
I would run around telling everyone I was going to be a professional singer when I grew up.
That seemed all fun and games until my teachers continued to tell me from elementary school to high school that singing simply wasn’t a plausible career.
After not getting into the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, I decided that all those teachers were right, and focused on a more practical major.
Then I decided to go to Berklee.
I remember the conversation with my family about Berklee. How it was going to be expensive, but that I truly believed I was talented enough to go there.
I remember Ro driving me through the snow storm on Feb 4, 2008 to my Berklee audition in downtown Cleveland. How I stressed out the entire ride because the traffic was awful, and then Berklee pushing my audition back three hours, and having to sit in the holding area with a know-it-all singer and her unbearable father.
But Ro kept me calm. And I got in.
And she was there for my very first gig in downtown Boston where I played only cover tunes in the smallest dive bar with shitty sound. And she danced with all the members of my band and bought us all food and drinks.
And I’m sure she would have been at my album release show if she were around.
Sometimes I can feel her when I’m auditioning for things. I can feel her energy pulsing through me. Her telling me to keep going.
Because I know she wanted me to keep going.
Let’s make that present tense: I know she wants me to keep going.
6. That it’s okay to cry
I’ve often been told that displaying emotions is a sign of weakness, but not to my mother.
Ro would always allow me to feel how I was feeling, regardless if I was being over-dramatic (which I often was).
I know so many people who are absolutely stoic; don’t display one iota of feeling for anything or anyone.
That might work for some people, but when something happens that forces those people to emote, things could get ugly.
Allowing myself to feel sad, or depressed, or upset about something, does not make me a bad person. It also does not make me weak. It makes me human. It makes me transparent; someone you can feel with, someone you can connect with, someone you can sympathize, or even empathize with.
7. How to find my own beauty
My mother would constantly say the phrase, “If you’re built anything like me, you’re built like a BRICK SHIT HOUSE.”
What she meant by this is that the Falasco and Allen women are built THICK. We have big legs, big thighs, big hips and usually weigh much more than we look.
Ro never told me this to make me feel bad, she told me this because it’s part of who I am, and she wanted me to learn how to embrace it.
The boys in middle school used to call me “Thunder Thighs” and I never understood why my thighs always touched when I walked, even though I was always a dancer and cheerleader and gymnast.
Ro also told me that if I didn’t want to, I never had to wear a bra, shave my legs, wear makeup or dress up. I’m so glad I grew up with a mother that embraced her beauty, because it has allowed me to embrace mine. Had I not grown up with this influence, I don’t know that I would have been able to withstand the standards of beauty that are thrown in my face every day working in the entertainment industry.
8. How to not give a FUCK
If there was ever a person who gave ZERO fucks when she didn’t want to, it was my mother.
One night, shortly before she passed, I remember being up at 2 a.m. eating a bag of Lays potato chips with my mom.
I remember her saying something along the lines of, “Sometimes I just want to eat a bag of chips, ya know?”
And together, we ate the entire bag… at 2 a.m… with ZERO fucks being given.
Another time in high school, my best friend Ashley was sleeping over and my mom walked downstairs with nothing but a t-shirt and underwear on, coming to say goodnight to us.
I looked at her and was said, “Ro! Put some pants on.”
And she looked at me and said, “What!? We’re all girls here.”
Boom. Zero fucks given.
9. That sometimes life SUCKS, but that doesn’t mean life is bad
I don’t want to dwell too much on this story, because it will make me sad, but there was a time when my mom’s oncologist gave her two to four weeks to live. She sat me down on the couch in our living room and delivered the news. I remember just hugging her and crying for what seemed like hours.
Despite doctors giving her a timeline, I believe my mother lasted two or three extra weeks beyond those four weeks she was given. She had basically no blood, no platelets, and was in liver failure, but you would have NEVER guessed by the way she acted. My mother was walking around, spending time with family and friends, and laughing and being happy.
THAT was the demeanor of a dying woman. THAT was a woman who faced death with grace.
She would send out emails to friends to update them on her condition, and every one of those emails ended in a positive quote.
My mothers situation SUCKED. She had stage-four cancer. But that did not define her.
She loved the life she had, and saw positive things when most people would not have.
10. How to Love
I need to remind myself of this one.
Lately I feel like my heart has turned to stone. Like I can’t open up to anyone and that I’ve let myself become impervious to not only pain, but love.
Ro loved like no one else. She was so passionate about my brother and I, my dad, her family, her friends, my baby Blue dog… hell, my mother would make friends and pay it forward to people she just met.
LOVE is what matters in this world.
Everything else is just details.
Thank you Ro.
I’ll see you on the other side.
Shannon Rose Allen