Column: How a cartoon changed the way I saw my mother

Editor’s Column

Tatum is the Sports Editor of Ethic News.


Ever since I was little, I loved cartoons. Whether it was “Spongebob” or “Phineas and Ferb,” I had always found myself being drawn towards animated worlds where everything is possible. Even today, as a teenager, I still find myself watching cartoons on a regular basis, even more than live action shows. At first, I never thought much of it. The action on the screen was exaggerated and interesting to look at, but now, looking back, I realize that my preference for animation came from a desire to escape reality for 11 minutes. That is how it was for a long time until I came across Steven Universe.

For those who are unaware, Steven Universe is a show on Cartoon Network that just recently finished its fifth season. The show, created by Rebecca Sugar, centers around a young boy with inherited magical powers from his mother. He goes on adventures with other beings like his mother as he struggles to learn how to use his powers. Pretty simple, kids’ stuff, right? Think again.

A major theme in the series is Steven’s relationship with his deceased mother, Rose. He never knew her, but he constantly hears stories from his friends and father about how wonderful she was as she died as a result of his birth. Even though he never met her, Steven feels this spiritual connection with Rose.

I have an experience that is similar to Steven’s. While, unfortunately, I do not have any magical powers or go on adventures with ancient beings, I lost my birth mother before I ever got to know her. My father and mother were happily married for a few years and were shocked to discover they were pregnant with triplets. After 8 ½ months of carrying us, my parents happily welcomed my brothers and me into the world.

The strain of carrying three children at once, however, took its toll on my mother, and she developed the heart condition that eventually led to her passing in 2005. I was two years old when she died, and, as an act of betrayal by my toddler memory, I was robbed of the chance to ever develop a relationship with her. Like Steven, all of my “memories” of her are of friends and family telling me how beautiful, kind and compassionate she was. Whenever we talk about her in my family, we refer to her as “Angel Mommy.”

I realize now that I started developing a God-complex of my mother. I would hear things like “you look just like her” and “she liked the same things as you,” and I would feel proud of my connection to such a divine person, that I was the one to carry on her legacy as her only daughter. But how would I be able to live up to the legend?

When I was first watching Steven Universe, I instantly recognized that the situation he was in was similar to my own. Many lines of dialogue either started with “your mother used to” or ended with “just like your mother.” This was often followed by some blushing or happy crying on Steven’s part. He idolized Rose and was willing to do anything to be like her. Steven even revealed in a later episode that he considered dying his hair to look like her, but he was also insecure in the fact that he never felt like he could live up to her

However, the more information he learned about his mother’s life, the more this image of perfection faded away. He found out that Rose lied, kept secrets, betrayed and even killed (kind of, but not really). She was reckless and immature. She was FLAWED. I wrote in a previous article that the best characters are the ones that are flawed because that is what makes them human. Steven never saw his mom like a normal person with these flaws. He never saw her as human, and the realization that she was not the perfect being he thought she was shaking him to the core.

This got me thinking. My mom was not a giant woman from space. She was a regular person, just like me, and the more I try to learn about her, the closer this connection would be. While I did not stumble upon any earth-shattering evidence that my birth mother was a traitor to her homeworld, I did find that she was flawed, in the best way.

One of my best friends said that the best way to get to know someone is to learn what their quirks are, so I put that to the test. I asked my stepmother, who is as much my mother as she was if there were any quirks that my mom had, and she gave me a whole list of little blips and peculiarities of her personality. I learned that she would wear super high heels even when her feet got sore. I found pictures of her in ordinary situations, lounging on a couch with a t-shirt and messy hair. I talked with my dad about her life, and he gave me a lot of insight into how she acted and felt. He told me of her past mistakes as well as triumphs.

One little thought that came from watching a cartoon helped and encouraged me to understand who my mother really was before she died. I already knew that she was a good person, but now I know that she was human. While I do still believe I am responsible for carrying on her legacy, I also believe that I don’t need to become her in order to do that. What I need to do is continually striving to be the best possible version of myself, flaws and all. Through my religious beliefs, I believe I will see her again, and, when I do, she will be proud of me for just trying my best. In the words of Steven’s mother, “You are going to be something extraordinary. You are going to be a human being.”

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