The Doc Project

Motherhood: stories told through song and ink

Ah yes, mothers. Our greatest supports and greatest critics. This week, we have two stories about the bonds between a mother and child, with all their strengths and flaws.

Ah yes, mothers. Our greatest supports and greatest critics.

This week, we have two stories about the bonds between a mother and child, with all their strengths and flaws.

Mama, Me & Melody

On a well-worn wooden floor in downtown Toronto, 14 Japanese mothers sit in a semicircle laughing and trading stories — and around them, it is utter mayhem.

Their toddlers and preschool age children giggle and race after each other with reckless abandon. It's total chaos.

But then Mitsuyo Miyake strikes her tuning fork. Amplified by an old coffee tin, the tone sends the children scurrying to their mother's laps. The Japanese singing circle known as Warabeuta is about to begin.

For the last decade, the Warabeuta Singing Circle has been a space for mothers and their children to gather and sing traditional Japanese songs, similar to nursery rhymes.

"We are singing together, enjoying music, and all of thing is in Japanese," said Mitsuyo Miyake, who started the program while she was studying early childhood music education at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Before moving to Canada, she was a primary school teacher.

In everyday life, there's always so many distractions. It's a time where I can focus and spend quality time with my kids.- Tamara Ohori

"One day, my friend called me and she was looking for someone to organize its program for Japanese community," Miyake said. "So I planned Japanese music program using philosophy and method at Royal Conservatory, and I started this program."

For many of the moms who attend the singing circle, it's an opportunity to spend quality time with their children as well as with other parents.

"It's just a great time to get together with other moms and have some quality time with other Japanese kids and Japanese moms," said Tamara Ohori, a third-generation half Japanese-Canadian. "In everyday life, there's always so many distractions. It's a time where I can focus and spend quality time with my kids."

For others, Warabeuta is also a way to pass the Japanese language and culture on to their children — something that is challenging in Canada, where Japanese-Canadians account for only 0.3 per cent of the population.

"All the songs remind me of my childhood. So if they learn all those songs, we can enjoy together, and I can pass some of my memory to them and have fun together," said Yumiko Caffrey, another mom at the Warabeuta Singing Circle. "They pick up some words from singing and try to use it at home. I want them to communicate with my parents and family in Japan."

About the producer

Ben Shannon
Ben Shannon is an award­-winning graphic designer, illustrator, animator, and comic book writer/artist. An alumnus of Sheridan College, Ben has worked for numerous high-profile clients including: National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Globe and Mail, The Wall Street Journal, Sportsnet, Nike, Universal Music, Global and DC Comics. He is currently the Digital Art Director for CBC Radio and during his six years with the CBC he has contributed to The National, CBC News Network, Steven and Chris, The Lang and O'Leary Exchange, the fifth estate, Kids' CBC online, and numerous docs.

Blood and Ink 

On Beatrice Carletti's 18th birthday, she walked into a tattoo parlour and got her first tattoo: a three-inch black-and-white drawing of a moon resembling her mother's face etched onto her inner bicep.

"I drew it to look like mom because that's something that she always talked about, like, 'Oh you know, just look at the moon whenever you're feeling upset,' or 'Look how beautiful the moon is,'" Beatrice said. "She just was so enamoured, and it stuck with me I guess."

The only problem? Her mother, Elba, the inspiration for the piece, has a visceral and negative reaction to tattoos. So Beatrice kept the tattoo a secret from her for months — until her grandmother eventually spilled the beans.

When you see somebody with tattoos you're scared of that person," she said. "You think that person is bad.- Elba Bonilla

Tattoos have been a point of contention between mother and daughter for years. Beatrice has been fascinated with tattoo art since high school. Now 20 years old, her dream is to become a tattoo artist.

But for Elba, her daughter's dream is a nightmare. An immigrant from El Salvador, Elba lived through the country's bloody civil war of the 1980s and then through the ensuing gang wars that still rage to this day. Rival groups MS-13 and Barrio 18 etch their loyalties onto their skin. Their tattoos are meant to intimidate.

"When you see somebody with tattoos you're scared of that person," she said. "You think that person is bad."

Revealing a secret

Beatrice has since gotten more tattoos, and for the last two years, has been keeping them a secret from her mother through the use of long-sleeved shirts and strategic hairstyles.

"I'm torn between staying a family person or pursuing my dream," she said. "It's weird to be torn between two things."

So Beatrice decided it was time to stop hiding. Her plan: sit her mother down at home and show her each of her tattoos.

I do still want to respect how my family feels. But at the same time, I want to respect myself and I want to show that I deserve respect.- Beatrice Carletti

"I feel scared. That's all I can say. I feel terrified, I feel uneasy," Beatrice said before the reveal. "I'm not scared of the initial reaction I'm scared of the disappointment that comes after."

At her mother's house, the mood is tense. Elba seems to know she's been hiding something. "I have something to show you," Beatrice says to her mother.

Then one by one, Beatrice unveils each tattoo. On her right ankle: Lisa Simpson shrugging like she doesn't care. On the back of her right arm: "Esperanza," her mother's middle name, written in graffiti. On the back of her right side: a symbol from a rap album that was formative for her.

Then finally, behind her right ear: the words "mama me enseno," which in Spanish means "my mother taught me."

(Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

Elba's eyes water and she starts to relax. She leans into Beatrice's ear and gives her a kiss. "I feel better now … At least now I don't wonder how many tattoos you have," she says. "If you're happy, I'm happy."

For Beatrice, it's a relief to finally stop hiding and be who she wants to be.

"I do still want to respect how my family feels. But at the same time, I want to respect myself and I want to show that I deserve respect," she says. "I'm glad we did this. I definitely am happy that I can talk to my mom about these things now. Before I couldn't even bring it up...I feel like I don't really have to hide as much."

Elba hopes her daughter will keep being open with her from now own.

"I will agree with everything you do, Beatrice, and I will love you even though it's hard for me," she says. "But I'll try to understand. It's like it's not about me it's about you really. You're the new generation and you're going gonna hold your own future one day and you know this is about you and you can talk to me."

About the producer

Fabiola Carletti
 Fabiola Melendez Carletti is a Coordinating Producer with CBC Podcasts. For the past eight years at the CBC, she's been sharpening the editorial instincts, technical abilities and creative stamina needed to help make the CBC the go-to place for relevant and remarkable podcasts. Fabiola started as off a Donaldson scholar, and spent nearly two years with CBCNews.ca before joining the CBC Radio team. In 2013, she became one of the first digital producers assigned full time to a flagship show. She has since helped a variety of shows and special projects hone their online voice, digital strategy and sense of purpose on the internet. 

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