The title of the memoir about my relationship with Byrne Miller is called “The Other Mother” so my publisher is offering a free download of the first chapter on Mother’s Day http://www.jogglingboardpress.com
You would think, based on these photos, that both of my “mothers” were dancers. But my mother’s dreams of dance stopped after high school, when she met my father and started having children. Byrne had a different concept of parenting. Instead of carpooling her two daughters from activity to activity, as my mother did, Byrne reversed the steps. Alison and Jane tagged along wherever Byrne lived and danced around the world. When they did not follow in her dancing footsteps, Byrne collected “dancer daughters” and formed her own company, which is how I met her in Beaufort long ago.
I was in my 20s and Byrne was in her 80s at the time. I love my mother, but I needed the kind of encouragement Byrne’s example provided. I became one of her “collected children” and she became my “Other Mother.”
I am certainly not the first woman to have lucked into such a relationship. I’m not talking about favorite aunts, coaches or mentors. “Other Mothers” are not related or responsible for you in any way. They don’t have a vested interest in your identity. They don’t judge themselves by your successes or failures. That’s why they’re free to offer alternative lifestyles, philosophies, religions or, in my case, the confidence to take risks.
You don’t have to be a modern dance pioneer to become an “Other Mother.” Byrne simply had a way of attracting followers to her exuberant positivity. She spoke in colorful anecdotes and analogies I call “womenisms” in the book, things I couldn’t have heard from anyone but an “other mother.” Who really wants to listen to their actual mother talk about sex, for example? But Byrne could entertain her collected daughters for hours with stories of men she knew and loved and what she learned from each of them. “Every woman should have at least one affair. It builds confidence,” she told us. And “No woman should try to be everything to a man. It’s beyond valiant. It’s stupid.”
Looking back, I think the best mother’s day present I ever gave my mother was having an “other mother.” Byrne’s presence in my life freed my mother. She knew I had someone to pick up where she left off. She could focus on her own life and goals after years of, in a sense, living through me and my sister. She also knew that being a mother didn’t have to stop when we left home and moved far away. She still has lessons and wisdom to share – and I’m sure that there are young women in Mexico (where she lives) who would be lucky to have her as an “other mother.”