Motherhood and the importance of art, self-knowledge and friends

Nicole Santora moved to the island five years ago, during the pre-pandemic era. A mother of a five-year-old and nine-year-old, Santora explained that motherhood is a balance of fun and silly times, learning and hard work.

“Your health as a mother is directly tied to the health of your children, therefore it isn’t selfish to acknowledge when you need a break,” Santora, explained. She is not currently a stay-at-home mom but continued to add that society needs to acknowledge everything stay-at-home moms do, from making and going to doctor appointments to grocery shopping and meal prep, paying bills, and how difficult juggling all those tasks is.

After years of living in Seattle, she and her husband began looking for a place to raise their family. The couple visited Vashon on Bainbridge first. Neither felt quite right. “We fell in love with it here right away,” she said, acknowledging how common the feeling is. She has been working as the Development Director at the San Juan Community Theatre for the past four years.

“It is a really fun job, whatever I do in the future will include the theater,” she said. Santora is also a playwright and author. Her children are developing a love for theater and the arts as well. Her oldest, she said, loves making costumes and writing plays.

“She likes to tinker with her plays, and have me read it out loud, play all the characters,” she said, noting how hearing the words out loud gives writers a better perspective on their work. “She loves it, and I love it too.”

Besides reading, the trio loves just being silly together playing, and staging fancy picnics outside. “I have been doing improv with my kids. Like, while driving them to school, pretending to be a school bus driver and seeing where the narrative goes. Or when the kids are doing that pretend fighting kids sometimes do, turning it into a scene and use it as a way to figure out a solution to the conflict, yet make it fun,” Santora said.

Of all the challenges youth face today, Santora said social media is probably one of the hardest saying “Even as an adult, it feels like a disease, the constant need to check in get validation.”

On the one hand, there is the sudden ability to share videos around the world, which can be beautiful, on the other hand, the repercussions of that, the pressure to ‘build an audience, let alone safety issues.

Speaking of safety is one major difference she sees between Seattle, or city life, and the islands, or a more rural community. ”Taking them back to the city – it’s a huge difference in regards to safety, and even what they might see out the window. It’s a bigger place with bigger problems,” she explained citing the desperation, crime, drug addiction. “As a parent, I’m more at ease here. They [the children] have a better quality of life, have access to the natural beauty, beaches. Everyone knows everyone. There is a strong sense of community here I didn’t have that in Seattle, though I wanted to. It can be suffocating sometimes, but most of the time it feels good.”

As Santora’s children have grown and she has moved into a phase where their physical needs are less immediate, she said she has realized that learning how to help them has helped her, increased her self-knowledge, reminding her who she is, of things she likes and does not like.

“I’ve learned a lot about diversity for example. People have different ways of operating, learning and communicating,” Santora continued by telling the story of her eldest response to watching the play “Little Mermaid” in Seattle. Afterward, her daughter dissected how it was put together so she could recreate something similar at home. Watching her learn and grow taught her about herself as much as it taught her about her daughter. “I’ve always thought motherhood is about constant sacrifice, and there is some, but [my children] constantly surprise me. It isn’t a one-way road, it’s mutually beneficial.”

When asked what she would like to instill in them, she responded that her mother was an artist, and taught her that Santorn’s art had value. Regardless of how she made money, her mother encouraged her to continue to express herself through art was important, critical even. “I think I have already passed that along, there is no right or wrong in creating something, just allow yourself to express yourself.”

For young moms, Santora highlights the importance of friends and support groups. “Find some people, a tribe, folks that you feel you can trust. The first few years are tough, let people help you,” she said adding that she continues to learn from other moms. “I don’t know what this invisible war is that we think we are winning doing everything ourselves. Let people help you, and ask for help when you need it.”