Category: family life

Women, Are We Our Own Worst Enemies?

Why would a woman tell another woman she shouldn’t have kids because it will ruin her life, ruin her art career, ruin her body, take away all her freedoms? It happened to me, good friends told me I shouldn’t have kids because it would ruin my art career. On Facebook this weekend a thread was started with a question, kids? Or no kids? Versus Art? I can’t remember the exact phrasing. It brought a slew of responses, most of them kid positive, all of them acknowledging women’s “place” in the art world, being less than satisfactory. Men still have the lion share of Museum and Gallery representation and sell their art at a much higher price. But would this have been different if men were the ones giving birth? I wonder. Many women on the thread also made comments about privileged women with children vs. non-privileged women with children, those who married well vs. those who didn’t fair too well on the significant other and single moms. Categorizing women artists with children in a hierarchy according to wealth and circumstance to determine who has the best chance of “Making it” as an artist, which means competing in a male dominated art world. But is that it? So simply defined? Having the ability, time, money, right circumstances to be an artist is only half of it. A person must have confidence, determination, a vision, and work ethic.

Is confidence more the defining factor? Have our women counterparts told us negative things about ourselves, pitted us against each other, making us less confident? Has that stifled our determination to be professional artists and compete in a man’s world?  Has our vision been clouded because of all the comments from other women? A man has NEVER told me if I have kids I can’t be a successful artist, it’s only been women. Has our work ethic when it comes to our own work been side stepped to make more time for cooking and cleaning and wiping butts? We are our own worst enemies. Until ALL women come together and support each other in the art world regardless if we have kids or not, money or not, husbands or not, we will NEVER be able to make headway.

Yesterday I went for a hike with my family. I brought my sketchbook and pens, I brought the same for my almost four-year-old daughter, my son likes climbing on trees, so I didn’t bring one for him. Fiona and I sketched shadows and leaves and cat tails. I jotted down notes on things I want to write about, things I want to paint about. We hiked the whole way around the lake on foot, the first time with no stroller, no back-pack carriers. It was a beautiful fall day, crisp, trees all turning oranges and reds and yellows. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, a family or no family. No one ever told a man not to have a family because it will ruin his life or career. Why are women told they can’t enjoy having a family life? I have a sink FULL of dirty dishes looking at me, the house is a mess, laundry piled up. I have two kids I need to get ready for pre-school, make lunches. I don’t care, things will get done. If I need to write or go to my studio while they are in school and do the dishes later that’s fine. No one, no circumstance can take away a woman’s need to be creative. It’s unfortunate that other women would try to dampen our dreams and desires of being artists because we chose to have children. Remember, Men do not do this to each other. Are we keeping ourselves down by not uniting?  

Serious Artist

“Don’t have kids” I was told. “You can’t be a serious artist and have kids”. My legs got weak. My friend said the teacher of the art class and she were talking about me, that I shouldn’t get pregnant, I shouldn’t have kids. That I was a good artist, if I had kids I wouldn’t have time? Be taken seriously? This was right at the beginning of me trying to get pregnant.  Years later, right before Jack and Fiona were born, I was turned on to a fabulous artist by one of my teachers. She lent me his catalogue. I took it and read it. He did wonderful paintings and studies. He did travel diaries which he worked on abroad for a year. I read he had kids and I became obsessed about who took care of the kids. It was the wife. She stayed home and took care of the kids while he went on a yearlong painting residency in a tropical rainforest. Is that why I was told women artists who are also mothers can’t become serious artists because it would be difficult to pick up and leave the children when they are young for a year to do a serious yearlong art residency? Or that we can’t just work in the studio all day long. We have responsibilities in home. Why can a woman have a full-time job and be a mother, but not be a serious artist? Why did my friend and my teacher tell me this? I looked through a book last night, a survey of contemporary painters. There are several women in the book, and it’s filled with top notch paintings. I read through the writings about the different artists. I noticed no one mentioned children, having children, how domesticity has influenced their work. There are a lot of fiber arts that deal with subjects of domesticity, but it’s mostly a direct connection with a material used in domestic products; fabrics, yarn, embroidery, wool, using these materials in new and interesting ways. My work uses traditional picture making materials, paint, paper, glue, charcoal, pastels, canvas, wood, the printing press, even my Nap Time Notebooks are in traditional sketchbooks. But my identity as an artist has been very influenced by my childhood, my relationship with my mom and her death, parenthood, wifehood, domesticity. It’s filled with memories through color and line. Raising children is emotional, my work is emotional. Was their critique of me having children saying I didn’t have it in me to do both? I wouldn’t work hard enough, or I didn’t want it bad enough? I remember my mom telling me I would never be able to be a serious artist because I would never be able to spend hours alone in my studio. After my declaration of becoming an artist she found out that she was wrong, that I did have it in me to spend countless hours working in my studio. Thank God for the women in my life who said, “Go for it”! Have kids and be an artist. Thank you, Ladies! It wasn’t easy, making time for my studio after Jack and Fiona were born. But I did it and I wrote a book about it too.

Time for New Paper Turkeys

The space in between. In between two paper turkeys that hang on the wall from over a year ago. Above the kitchen table, many meals shared. The crows cawing loud today. What are you cawing about crow? September heat rot summer figs. Dried dark purple corpses, tears down the middle, reminiscence of pink and yellow juicy insides. The leaves on the fig tree so large now, they canopy the sand box, crisp dried fig leaves crunch under my feet. I walk to my green chair I put in the corner at the beginning of summer.  I sit down, it’s cool here, the coolest place around. I wonder if I should put away the trucks for the winter? Will they deteriorate if I leave them out in the rain and wind? Should I put up new paper turkeys? These are baby paper turkeys, just dollops of paint, glue, brown and orange construction paper, and googly eyes. Jack and Fiona are three and a half now. Their Thanksgiving decorations this year will be more sophisticated. A few little baby paintings are still taped on the wall. Fiona is drawing “The Green Faced Man” now. Jack rode a scooter down the sidewalk this morning to school and stopped at all the driveways.  Time that passes between is a growing time, a learning time. It’s hard to let it go, of the past three years, the baby phase. It slipped through my hands like sand in the sand box. The narrative was set, predetermined. The baby is born dependent on the caregivers, the child learns to be interdependent and become caregivers themselves. I never think about the time they spend away, in their communities without me. I think of them as they are with me. Fiona started helping a younger child we were with yesterday in a very mature way. I can only imagine she is a caring person on the outside. Jack likes talking to everyone. He looks older than he is and speaks clearly. He looks at people’s eyes when having a conversation.  What’s happened in between the spaces here-  two babies have grown into confident, individual children. Maybe it’s time for new paper turkeys.   

Old Dogs

Out the kitchen window I see a fawn. Light brown, head turned back in my direction. She had crossed the black asphalt to reach a patch of flowers. I felt like a roommate who waits till everyone leaves the house before coming out. Grabbing a stick of cheddar cheese and a Braeburn apple. I felt like I was staying home sick from work. Jack and Fiona are at the Zoo with the babysitter, who is scheduled to work till 4. Only my dog is in the house. We took a walk yesterday after we dropped off Jack and Fiona to school. Normally we take a nice long city park hike around. We pass through a park and down the city streets. Yesterday, when we crossed the street and walked behind the little babies’ playground, my legs were killing me, especially my right. FUCK just blurted out of my mouth. I was so scared they would see me. At first, I walked low, trying to hide behind the shrub and fence, then thought, o-well if they did, my legs are killing me. Billy and I bypassed the parks, we did a short ten minute around the block. I just pet Billy while walking up the stairs earlier, before when I saw the deer outside and got my water, cheese, and apple, I felt the lump on her chest. All the lumps are getting bigger, she’s an old dog. I thought I didn’t feel guilty anymore about taking her for such a short walk yesterday, I felt like we are both getting old and she’s probably tired and achy just like me.

A Monday in June

“Peppa and George are fast asleep”, I hear from the kitchen T.V. 7:29 AM Monday morning mid-June. Fiona is on break this week, no school. Jack has a stuffy nose today, I keep him home from school too. Last week I receive an e-mail from Yoga Works, it’s an invitation to a “10 Day Yoga Challenge”. I’m excited, I set up my free online membership, I can do videos on-line Tuesday and Thursday morning at home. I imagine myself in the studio Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then I realize that Fiona doesn’t have school until the following week. I wonder if I could get away with bringing Fiona to class with me. It would be so inappropriate, everyone goes to the studio to get away from domestic responsibilities. Fiona is good at Yoga though, I think. Maybe she’s the one kid and I’m the one mom who could get away with it? No, not a good plan. Now, I sit in my living room Monday morning, Jack and Fiona watch Peppa Pig, then a Phonics video. I feed them juice boxes, crackers, fruit roll ups, blue berries, raisin bagels left untouched.  I decide in my mind, in my heart of hearts to do the online classes here with Jack and Fiona, or at least Fiona, Jack can play in the sandbox.  I’ll make it an activity we do as a family. Just need to have the will power. It’s a gorgeous morning, rays of sun shines through the blinds. Something Alan said as we were driving yesterday pops in my mind, “It’s been a crappy summer so far hasn’t it?” he says. I ask, what do you mean?  He explains the weather has been cold and windy. I feel like it’s always windy here in the summer, I say “No, I think it’s been a good summer so far.” But my glass is always half full. I hover on a plane of half full glasses ready to catch me when I fall, when I start drowning in the other half. I always have something pulling me back.

Part of today, I feel or think, is a free roaming, anything possible, (except if it requires leaving the house) kind of day. It’s just me and the babies until at least afternoon. I can make my own reality, as a mom. Yesterday, after our morning and lunch out, when we got home, Fiona wanted to take a nap and Jack wanted to play in the sand box. Alan took Jack and Fiona in the Jacuzzi, Fiona took a shower with Daddy. When she got out I put on her jammies, gave her the new book we got at TJ Max. I laugh because I’ve trained my kids to love going to TJ Max looking for cool discounted toys. It’s been a fun activity for us through the years! Consumerism, pleasure center. I let Alan know one person needs to read a book to Fiona and tuck her in, one person needs to bring Jack his clothes to the sand box and hang out. I go to the sandbox. It’s a beautiful afternoon. The sky is blue with a slight breeze that rustles the fig leaves. It’s quiet for a while. I can hear the birds singing, then the breeze comes. When the leaves of the fig trees trap air, I can hear what the airs looks like between the leaves. It vibrates through my body.  When it stops, contrast in the silence it leaves in its wake. “Jack did you hear that?” He acts like he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. When the symphony starts again I ask him, “can you hear that?” he evades the question, he starts playing with an excavator, pushing an old battery.  I relish in this moment; the birds sing, the quiet play I am invited to with Jack. I feel I am in his private world.

Now Fiona watches the Wiggles in the kitchen and Jack watches Blippi on the i-pad. Clouds cover half the sky and a cold air comes in the house. I make a second cup of hot coffee I drink it now. The table is covered with everything, empty juice boxes, books, playdough, pens, games, I have two kids with only shirts on. I have two “screens” on, the words and music merge to create one constant background noise. The sun peers onto the deck, I want to go outside. Now Calliou is on, I have Jack and Fiona both in the kitchen. This will be the last show, I promise. When I was sick the other day I watched T.V. all day. I woke up Saturday morning, well I didn’t sleep very well. I had a severe allergy attack Friday night and bad cramps, then Saturday I woke up wiped. I missed my friend’s birthday brunch. Alan wasn’t too happy I was out of commission, I’m guessing. I’m inferring really, just by mood. He took Jack and Fiona to the bouncy house and a pancake and bacon breakfast. I did a twenty minute on the bike, showered, put on comfy clothes, ate a piece of pot chocolate (for the cramps), vacuum the living room, set up the couch with clean sheets and pillows, turn on the circulation fan, close all the blinds and windows and doors, turn on a sci fi movie and rest. I sat on that couch and watched the movie, then Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States.” Yesterday morning I took Billy on a walk up the trail, I feel well rested, It’s  so good to be up here. Billie’s leg is better. I have a euphoric moment, I think I found the Golden Ticket, resting! And not feeling guilty about it. To listen to my body and take care of it, not let outside influences affect my needs, not affect the way I care and love myself. These are goals.

Last sip of second cup of coffee. Still in Pajamas, Jack and Fiona are watching Blippi again on the i-pad. I start to feel guilty. I’m a bad mom. But I’m such a good mom. The past day I begin to teach Jack and Fiona to say, “No, don’t touch me, I don’t like that.” I teach them that they own their bodies. That their bodies are in their private space. I ask them every time I give them one of my automatic heard rubs or hugs or any automatic touch adults do to children to show affection, I ask them “is that ok?” I find out Jack only likes his back rubbed at night when he’s going to sleep, but my head hug is sometimes welcomed, especially if he can wipe his snotty nose on my shirt. So far Fiona says she does not like any of the automatic touches I give her on her arm. I am uncomfortable with most random touching too. I don’t like when people touch me or get too close to my face. I want Jack and Fiona to know they have the right not to be hugged or kissed or grabbed or held when they do not want it. The powerlessness small children must feel when a parent grabs them and holds them when they don’t want it must be freighting. Sometimes it’s necessary, to be strong held by an adult, of course, but maybe if they have the words to say, “I don’t like that”, even when it has to be that way, they will feel more powerful and confident, not helpless.

It’s soon time to start playdough, painting, playing outside, baths, lunch, and naps. Jack needs a nap today with his cold, to get better quicker. I hope I have time in my studio today. I hope I follow through with my Yoga plan. That’s all. Those are my only hopes for this Monday in June. It’s my reality. I can grow my day as I see fit under the circumstances. I take a nice breath, I feel relaxed and the bit of anxiety I felt about letting Jack and Fiona watch three hours of T.V. and eat junk this morning has dissipated. I  will join Jack and Fiona on their road of growth today, watch the sun shine through the clouds and fog, find small adventures to have in the garden together, enjoy our day together.

Sounds of Sunday

Daisies; So many green stems, yellow and white flowers, crows and hawks talking to each other. Children’s voices in the distance. Jack wants to watch a show. Alan wants us all to be together in one location. I want to go with the ebb and flow of the children and my creativity. Sit outside, listen to the birds, chimes, and the slow rustle of the leaves in the wind. The gentle sky soft and blue. Sounds of Sunday. I bring outside to the deck for Alan, Jack, and Fiona, ice cold waters, gummies, and cheddar ducks. I go back in the house to get toilet paper from the garage, go pee, get my sun hat and shades, make a few marks in my studio. I hear Jack call my name. I go out, peek my head out the door, “What are you doing? Are you doing art?” I am questioned.  I lie to my husband, “No, I’m not doing art, I just need to do a few things, I’ll be out in a minute.” What a strange thing to lie about! “Jack was wondering where you were”. I think lots of things in my head, like, I can’t even step away for a minute, I don’t need to be tracked because I won’t even be gone for very long. I got everyone so many wonderful things, I needed to do the same for myself. Now those water bottles and glass of fresh cold water are still sitting outside, everyone is inside now. I just try to grab a few private moments to myself here and there when I can now. Without the naps and only one day off a week I need to use a different strategy to get my work done. It needs to be incorporated into my daily routine, like exercise or breakfast. I’m trying to teach the children how to entertain themselves for thirty minutes at a time. Most of that is letting them watch T.V. so I can do my things. Thank god for T.V.!

When I went into my studio today, I was excited. I worked fast. The first time I had seventeen minutes. I put on one show for Jack and Fiona. Alan was still working in the office. I worked in my notebooks with ripper canvas collage and journal entries, I painted over some canvases in white. The second time I went to my studio, after I had delivered waters and restocked the toilet paper, I added silver and charcoal. I want to go down again now to check and see what I did. To add or start some new ones. Everything is quiet in the house right now. Alan is reading his I-Phone on the couch, the babies are watching a show quietly in their room. The afternoon wind just blew the door shut. It’s 1:30 PM. I am going to sneak down to my studio one more time. I sit and contemplate how to do it, without needing an excuse or reason. Without being questioned. Without sneaking. I just need a few minutes here and there to myself. In my studio.

Getting Buzzed. Listening to Tears for Fears. Drinking Zin.

How it was, what its like

“Time to go for a walk babies, do you want to take Billy for a walk?” I say. We just finished eating pasta for dinner, “This is how we wash our face, wash our face, wash our face, this is how we wash our face early in the evening.” I sing as I attempt to clean Jack and Fiona’s spaghetti sauce faces. I do a good enough job, grab both babies out of their high chairs, carry them down the stairs, Jack slipping out of my arm, I make it to the bottom without dropping one, set them both down. I open the door to the garage, “Look Daddy’s home.” I say. Alan is putting out the trash. Jack and Fiona scurry around the garage, touching things they shouldn’t touch, playing with a half put together toy dump truck we got for their birthday. (Alan put the wrong screw in one of the wheels so now he needs a long screwdriver to get it out, the kind of thing that eventually goes to the dump without ever being used) I go upstairs and put on  Billies leash, she’s shedding like crazy, big clumps of hair falling out, there’s no way to control it. I bring her downstairs and Alan has Jack and Fiona in the B.O.B. for me. “You guys need to learn how to do this” I say as I brush some of the clumps of hair off Billy. I imagine Jack and Fiona brushing Billy, loving her, taking care of her. She’ll probably be dead though before any of that actually happens. First we walk down the hill, “Billy’s sniffing, she loves to sniff, come on Billy, whoa!” she stops and pulls me backwards, “Billy, come on, you’re not going to pull me backwards on hills today, LET’S Go Girl!” I say. “Look at the trees guys, oh my god it’s going to be a bad night for pollen, can you feel the pollen in the air?” I say. Past the Bret Harte playground, I ask myself, is it really that bad? (I can’t get my first visits out of my mind, the dog poop, the dirty diaper in the corner, I won’t know until Jack and Fiona are older and we spend more time here, I think to myself.)  I really like the big Oak Tree. Up the next hill I’m laughing out loud. Smiling, wondering if I’m crazy? Crazy happy? Why do I have so much energy tonight? I imagine People think I’m crazy when they hear me talking and laughing while walking Billy and pushing the stroller. Before the babies came Alan used to always tell me, “Stop talking to yourself.” Now technically I’m not talking to myself any more, I’m talking to Jack and Fiona. I’ve always talked to my dogs. It’s natural. “Do you see the trees? The half-moon in the sky? The single dove on the telephone pole? Look at this pinecone.  The sun, no wait the sun is already down. Babies the sun is already down, but we’re lucky, we’ll make it home before dark. Oh my gosh, what if today was the last day we saw the sun? ” I think about it, the last day, that day will come. My new motto is “Keep on Movin’ Keep on Groovin’. Keep the wheels turning, that kinda thing. Yesterday it happened again, I got the babies down for their nap. I had to give them a bath, I didn’t use wipes at the park today. (the park I drove too, because at the time I think it’s a nicer park than my neighborhood park.) They have dirt on their legs, food on their faces, just messy! I watch the other moms at the park wiping the hands and faces of their babies several times. Sometimes thoughts appear in my mind, self-conciousness, “Do they think I’m a slob? I’m really dirty?” Even Alan has made comments after meals that I haven’t cleaned Jack and Fiona’s faces good enough and they are going to break out. Interesting huh? I wonder why people are so into cleanliness. Anyhow the babies were taking their nap, I had all my workout clothes on the floor, I was going to go through them and turn some into painting rags. I tell myself, “Just do it really fast” and I did. But I came upstairs to get some water, I decided I NEED to go to my studio and paint for a minute. Kaboom! I see the kitchen is a complete disaster, after the park I brought everything up and set it on the center Island. (The babies are asleep right now) I find myself walking around in circles picking stuff up, putting things in the sink, in the fridge, in new piles of like items. “STOP!” I say to myself. “Grab the baby monitor and water and Go to your studio!” I can finish cleaning later. I get into my studio. I’m feeling super inspired, is it the babies? Their passion for life? I don’t know but I’m feeling freedom. I paint fast and into new territories. I’m excited by the drawing I’m doing, the unconscious feeling I have when I paint with my few remaining usable paintbrushes, (I ruin all my paintbrushes, they turn hard as rocks) I grab a palette. The colors show up in my mind, I mix them. I use restraint not to overwork every single piece. I already have a huge pile of overworked pieces. (I may turn these into collage down the road) Its 5:30PM, I can’t believe the babies have slept so long. I finish up in my studio and go inside the house. (my studio is in the garage, built into the hillside. It stays the same temperature all year long) All is quiet, but I realize I had the wrong baby monitor. Oh well, they needed that rest and I needed to work in my studio no matter what. I walk in the house expecting to hear crying babies, but the house is still quiet. Sweet little babies, in their nursery, in their cribs. On white cotton sheets, a quiet peace surrounding Jack and Fiona as they sleep like babies, a sweetness I’ve never know before. Maybe comparable to a sweet late spring day, where the chimes chime in the breezy afternoon. The doors in the house, windows open, letting the light and smells of the day filter through my body. There are always sweet, lovely things to hang on to in life. Even on the most stressful, busy  days.