'Listen To Your Mother' reading series features local women talking about real-life experiences with motherhood

Giving a microphone to moms

Alex was just 15 years old when he told his parents that he was gay. But it wasn't too long before Mark and Vicky D'Agostino were listening to a similar confidence from Alex's twin, Adam.

Initially, their mom wasn't sure how to react, as her daydreams about future daughters-in-law dissolved into a vision of future sons-in-law. At the time, more than a decade ago, she worried that Alex and Adam would be tormented by their high school classmates or would put themselves at risk of getting AIDS.

But it didn't take the Baltimore mom very long to identify the considerable upside of her sons' announcement.

"Boys sure do love their mamas," D'Agostino said Saturday, as she told her story of motherhood during a staged reading that was raising money for charity. "Now I would always be the main woman in their lives. I thought, 'Engagement on.'"

D'Agostino was one of 13 local women who told their own real-life funny, sad and inspirational stories during Baltimore's second annual "Listen To Your Mother" storytelling session held Saturday in honor of Mother's Day.

The performance at Mercy High School in front of more than 300 people was part of a national reading series founded in 2010 by Ann Imig, a Wisconsin writer and humorist who wanted to give ordinary women a chance to talk in public about their own experiences with motherhood.

"Over the last two weeks, our city has been in crisis and more divided than ever," said Taya Dunn Johnson, who organized Baltimore's reading with her friend and co-worker, Arlene Jackson. "If we take the time to listen, talk and share with one another, we may start to find those things beneath the surface which connect us."

Each reading raises money for a local charity. In 2014, Baltimore's "Listen To Your Mother" donated $1,164 to The House of Ruth, a crisis center for the victims of domestic violence and their children. This year, 25 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales will be contributed to My Sister's Circle, which mentors at-risk girls in middle and high school.

Though "Listen To Your Mother" arises from the same impulse that fuels Baltimore's popular Stoop Storytelling series, the events aren't identical. For instance, Stoop performers are encouraged to tell their stories without notes, while participants in "Listen To Your Mother" craft polished essays that they read aloud.

"I want our readers to authentically tell their stories in their own voices," Johnson said.

She became involved in organizing Baltimore's chapter after she was chosen as a cast member for the 2013 show in Washington. Johnson told that audience of her struggles to raise her autistic son, now 6 years old, after her husband suffered a fatal heart attack the previous year at age 38.

"Telling my story in that show was one of the things that helped me to heal," Johnson said, "so I knew I had to bring it to Baltimore."

The stories in Saturday's show ranged across the spectrum of issues facing mothers. Lisa Brown spoke of her struggles with postpartum anxiety, while Taylor King discussed coping with a teenage pregnancy.

King, now 23, was certain she couldn't raise her son by herself. She resented the way that the infant, Taylen, changed her life overnight and thrust adult responsibilities onto her with which she was unprepared to cope. She seriously considered putting him up for adoption.

She went so far as to select the couple she wanted to adopt her son. She even allowed Taylen to spend a trial weekend with them.

"That's when everything changed," King said. "When he came back, I realized how much I had missed him and I knew I couldn't go through with the adoption. I knew another family could feed him, clothe him and care for him, but they weren't me. I knew I could be his mother, his teacher and his protector."

Heather Belcher recounted her struggles with filled diapers while being a "practice mother" to her two nieces and a nephew. Katie McLaughlin described the sense of peace she feels each night when she stands in her toddler's darkened bedroom listening to her son breathe.

"On days when I feel I'm royally screwing this whole mom thing up, listening to those sweet inhalations and exhalations is my reassurance that I must have done something right," McLaughlin said. "And I know I'll get a chance to try again tomorrow."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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