I became a mother when I was eighteen years old – just a baby myself.
The summer I graduated high school, I began dating my future husband and father of my two children. I soon left my hometown of Ithaca, New York to study photography at The Art Institute of Philadelphia. Because I was so infatuated with this man and believed that I was so deeply in love, I quit school and returned home in less than two months to move in with him. I quickly became pregnant with my son, Naseem, who is now a senior in high school. Four years later, I had a baby girl, Rosario. And 7 years after, I was a single mom raising two children. I had to grow up pretty quickly and, in some ways, I lost part of my own childhood.
Motherhood has been one of the most rewarding and heartbreaking experiences. I love my children more than anything on this earth and that scares the shit out of me. At times I have even pushed my own children away because I have trouble dealing with these immense emotions. If something were to happen to one of them, I feel like I would experience the most severe pain and that is frightening. I tend to be very guarded yet my children have opened up a space for unconditional love. That is both beautiful AND hard to deal with at times.
Eleven years ago when my daughter was one and my son was five I returned to school to pursue my education. This was the best choice I could have made as I have been on an amazing journey of love, knowledge, and growth ever since. I reunited with photography and learned to use it as a tool to address issues concerning race, gender, sexuality, class, and more. To be able to use my education to speak back to my personal experiences and history and to envision a future has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
Motherhood has influenced my work in so many ways. Soon I will have been a mother longer than I have not. I have always photographed, written, and made work about my children. Sometimes I am unsure if this is because they were simply there or because I have some fascination with adolescence: the in-between space of childhood and adulthood.
I became an adult quickly; I don’t remember too much about my own childhood and images have bridged this gap for me. I love that space and feeling created by an old image of myself as a child. I question if I remember the moment the picture was taken and if I am aware of that memory? Or does the picture create a false sense of a memory? Is that image a stand-in for that which I do not remember? I want my photography to speak to the stickiness of my life and the experiences I do recall. I want to complicate the notion of what it means to be a black girl, woman, and mother.
There is no perfect mother. One of the most important things that you can do as a mother is be the best person that you can be – on your own terms.
My biggest challenge as a mother has been to be okay with maintaining my own identity and freedom, and to follow my dreams. I am by no means the ideal mother, nor have I ever been or wanted to be. I have been absent, I have been selfish, but I have always been honest. I am not a supermom in the traditional sense, but I love my children and it has always been me and them- I am their rock. I am a ride or die mom, and I know that unless I am happy and content- everyone I care for suffers.
As a mother you have to follow your own dreams, in order to instill that notion in your children. That is your fucking job. Let your children be their own people but guide them. Hold them responsible, call them on their bullshit, don’t let them disrespect you… but be soft and open too.
As my children have become older, I am so proud of who they are as people. It’s like I am almost shocked by this pride I have for someone else. They are their own people, with their own journeys- I do not own them. So my sense of pride and honor in being their mother is surprising to me.
I have high expectations for my children. I want them to always be working to become the best versions of themselves. So often we are proud of something our children do, or something they complete, but I am excited about who they are and the life experiences they will have. My son is headed to Morehouse next year, that’s like the Black Ivy League right there. He’s going to major in Political Science and minor in African American Studies and I’m like, I did that right there! In many ways, this boy is a reflection of his mama, but really just all himself. He did that!
It inspires me to know that mothers have the power to literally change the world through the types of children that we chose to raise.
It’s exciting to witness my twelve-year-old daughter begin to figure out who she is as a person and solidify what that means for her in relation to the world. I hope that I have instilled a sense of self-love, honesty and dedication in my two children. I have done my best to show them how to set multiple goals and take the necessary steps to achieve them. I’ve shown my kids how to follow their dreams while remaining rooted in community, love for black people, and unity. And I’ve taught them to always, always be honest and operate out of a place of LOVE.
Nydia Blas is a visual artist living in Ithaca, New York with her two children. She uses photography, collage, video, and books to address matters of sexuality, intimacy, and her lived experience as a girl, woman, and mother. Blas delicately weaves stories concerning circumstance, value, and power and uses her work to create a physical and allegorical space presented through a Black feminine lens. The result is an environment that is dependent upon the belief that in order to maintain resiliency, a magical outlook is necessary.
Blas is a recipient of the 2018 Light Work Grant, and her new series Whatever You Like is currently on exhibition at Over The Influence gallery in Los Angeles. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Dazed and Confused Magazine, Strange Fire Collective, Lenscult, Yogurt Magazine, PDN, Fotografia Magazine, and Vogue. She also serves as the Executive Director of Southside Community Center, a historically black community center in downtown Ithaca.