Listening for Common Ground

by elaine on May 21, 2015

On Saturday, May 9th I stood on a stage in front of more than 100 people with nothing but a podium, a microphone, and some words I had written separating me from a room full of strangers. Blinded and a bit disoriented by the harsh stage lights, my words came slow at first. Hands ice-cold and clammy, voice caught in the back of my throat, I silently repeated the mantra taught by my college public-speaking professor: It doesn’t matter that you’re nervous. Just pretend that you’re not. Three or four sentences in, I found my pace, hit my stride, got lost in the telling of my very own story. The more I talked, the more it became clear that I was actually being heard. A room full of people listening to my telling: A story of my fears and inadequacies, culminating in a loss of control and ending with a hard fought resignation. Heads nodding, breath bated, sighs of relief and tears of understanding. I guess in my story some of them recognized their own.  Common ground was discovered lying right there beneath that story.

 

In seven years, 1 month and 23 days of motherhood I have already gained a lifetime of stories. Yes, these three boys of mine have armed me with an arsenal of tales. Tales of hilarious predicaments – bedtime, bathtime and dinnertime shenanigans galore. Stories of those near-perfect moments of pure love and joy; the newborn asleep on my chest, breath heavy and even; the chubby toddler hand curled up inside my own; the gaping, toothless smile of my six year old climbing into the backseat of our car. Everyday is a story of it’s own. Some beautiful. Some heartbreaking. In some, I shine – the mother every child wants – loving, gentle and self-assured. In others I stumble, falter, and fail – too frail in my own abilities to help grow them in theirs. Story upon story, each one builds upon the next until you get a whole life out of the beautiful mess of those jumbled stories.

 

These stories make us who we are. It’s a part of the human experience to share these stories with one another. This is how we make sense of the world. This is how we find our place in the world. We tell our stories.Truth be told, though, my preference is to tell my stories over a cup of coffee. With a close friend. Or a like-minded sister. It’s safer this way. I risk much less. Little stands to be lost in the type of environment where you are known and loved and people assume the best of you and your motives. But last Saturday, I stood beside ten other story-tellers and together we threw caution to the wind. One by one we took our place behind a microphone that amplified our stories and risked a little bit of ourselves in the hopes that something might be gained. And we had every reason to believe that it would.
In the months prior to last Saturday night, the eleven of us had dared to do exactly what we were asking of the audience that night – we had dared to listen for common ground.

 

The thing about common ground is that it almost always exists, but it can be oh so difficult to spot. We’re prone to pile our differences up over and on top of it. When I walked into the first rehearsal for Listen To Your Mother at the end of March, there was not too much common ground in sight – and believe me, I was looking. A room full of strangers, each one of us varied. Accents and personalities galore. From reticent to unruly ;), our motley crew ran the gamut of dispositions. Yet despite our differences, we sat in a tight circle and one by one made our way to the front of a much smaller audience to read the words that revealed a portion of each of our lives. And somewhere in that process of telling and listening we unearthed an entire mountain of common ground.

 

And I, the type-A, perfectionist, control freak mama of 3 boys found common ground

 

with a woman who had been a mother since she was 12 years of age.

 

with a man who shares his mother’s temper.

 

with a mama who raised a criminal.

 

with a daughter of a fruitcake.

 

I could go on, but I guess you get the picture.

 

We shared and we listened, we laughed and we cried, we formed a bond that we extended with open hands to a much larger audience just last Saturday night. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that when you take the time to really listen to someone’s story you judge less and love more. And that, my friends, is no small thing.

 

Tell your story.  Someone is listening.

 

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Set Free – Donna Gail Ellis

by jenniferwilliams on May 18, 2015

One of the things I love most about doing the show is sitting in the wings on show night while each reader stands at the podium and pours her heart out to the audience. As she reads, you can feel her words grow power. You can almost see the weight drop off of her as she lets her burdens go. That’s how I felt watching Donna. Today Donna shares what the experience of being in Listen to Your Mother meant to her.

Donna Gail Ellis recaps the experience of sharing her essay How to Raise a Criminal with Listen to Your Mother.

The walk to the podium that night was the longest and hardest I think I’ve ever made with the exception of a day in court a few years back. With a couple of stumbles but quick recovery, I put my secret “out there”, wherever there is, for eventually anyone who follows me and watches YouTube to see.

I knew I had Elaine and Jennifer’s full support and that they would stand with me, but this was something I knew I had to do on my own, but not alone. I had nine women and one man on stage with me. Ten family members, four good friends, and my man were in the audience for emotional support. As Andy was finishing, Summer reached across Andy’s chair and grabbed my hand. That was all I needed to know that it was going to be fine. Thanks Summer! So off I went with a photo of my mother in one pocket and a photo of my son in the other.

As scary and frightening as it was, with everyone’s support, I did it. Briskly leaving the stage and returning to my seat, I felt an enormous burden lift off my shoulders. I finally did not care what others thought about me and my son.

I believe at some point soon, I will talk openly about my son’s progress as excitedly as you do about your son’s first steps or his latest ‘A’ on his spelling test or that he got picked for homecoming king (such as, he passed his EPA exam with flying colors!). I shamed myself for too long for something that was not my fault, nor was it his dad’s fault.

The title of my story was How To Raise A Criminal. My son is a prison inmate. He has made wrong choices for quite a while, however, he is owning them as I type. Josh is excited to read and hear this story once he is released from prison. During Sunday visitation after the show, I discussed with him what I’d hope to accomplish by sharing our story. Before I had a chance to mention my desire to write a book, his response was “Mom, you need to write a book about all of this!”

I came across the Listen to Your Mother Show the first year it was in Austin. My son had already been to prison. I was toying with the idea of writing a fictional story based on my experiences. I was not quite ready for exposing this to more than my small circle of friends and family. Instead, I watched from the sidelines and wrote for myself.

Then in early February 2012, I received the phone call that set me reeling and it took several months and good friends to help me recover. After a few setbacks in my career and due to financial reasons, I reluctantly moved back to my hometown area. Much to my surprise I saw the ad for Listen to Your Mother producing its first show in Beaumont last year; however, I didn’t find out about it in time to send in my selection. So I waited… and watched and waited… When the 2015 audition announcement was made, my mind was made up. I auditioned and was selected.

Little did I know that I would also be the catalyst of bringing a new friend of mine to the show, Betty, who has a story so extraordinary that if your faith is lost, it will be restored. Listen to her story on YouTube later this summer. Betty and I now have plans of building together a program to work with young women and help them.

One of my co-castmates wrote to me about someone she knew who had experienced pain like me for many years due to her son being imprisoned. The phrase she used stood out and resonated with me. “In silence.” Prison mom’s struggle in silence. We suffer in silence. That evening on the stage, I hope that I gave all mothers of prison inmates a voice. We do not have to be silent.

Thank you, Jennifer and Elaine, for stepping up to the plate and bringing Listen to Your Mother to Beaumont. And Thank you, Ann Imig, for bringing a voice to motherhood.

Donna Gail Ellis

Donna Gail Ellis, a single mother, has worked in the field of criminal justice for over 30 years. she began blogging to interact with other Red Sox bloggers, but instead, her “Don’t Mess With Tex” site became an avenue to write again. She has three sayings: believe, never settle, and finding yourself isn’t as hard as it may seem. Just look in the mirror, then in your heart.

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People Listened!

May 12, 2015

I have a hard time believing it is over.  I keep saying that these shows are kind of like a wedding – so much preparation for one night of amazing-ness. But of course, it’s all worth it. I felt electric all night.  First, while making sure my lipstick was just right, back in the dressing room, then, toasting with my cast mates and my wonderful LTYM partner, Jennifer.     However, most of that feeling came while watching our cast from the wings, as they told their individual stories.     I was up there too but that went really fast and since I was first, I was done before everyone else.  Of course that doesn’t mean I wasn’t full of excitement the entire time.  I got chills over and over even though I had already heard these stories three previous times. That did not matter.  There our cast members were, finally telling it to others, to an […]

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Meet the Cast – Andy, Betty and Lauren

April 22, 2015

This will round out the cast feature posts for this year’s amazing readers.  These three individuals are some of the “coolest” people I’ve met and two of them have really great accents and one of them can probably pull off a few accents of her own if she wants to. First up, we have Andy Coughlan. Andy is is a native of Brighton, England and has lived in Southeast Texas for more than 30 years.  He teaches journalism and English  at Lamar University where he is advisor to the University Press, the student newspaper. He is editor of the award-winning ISSUE, a monthly arts magazine, and has won multiple awards for his arts reviews and features. Coughlan has also been the editorial cartoonist for the Beaumont Enterprise for more than 20 years. He attended art college at Brighton University, before earning a master’s in English at Lamar University where he wrote his thesis on Chekhov. […]

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Local Sponsor Spotlight, Whole Mothering Center

April 16, 2015

Elaine and I are so excited to partner with the Whole Mothering Center as a local sponsor this year. In addition to birth and postpartum doula services, Whole Mothering Center offers placenta services, Chandra prenatal yoga, postpartum bone closing, and many classes and events throughout Southeast Texas. Additionally, they manage several very successful parenting groups on Facebook to help connect moms with one another including, WMC Playgroup and the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition. I asked what inspired them to start the Whole Mothering Center. Co-founder, Heather M. Thomas, responded: “We started WMC because as new mothers with small children, there was a noticable lack of community and resources for things we were interested in and needed. We had a La Leche League group, which was great, but the narrow focus excluded a lot of moms. We wanted something more inclusive, that covered more than just one aspect of mothering. We had the playgroup (then […]

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