I was staring at a painting in my studio, hung with six push pins. I hung the paper up today, painted it and collaged it. It’s a large piece of thick water color paper, 50” x 48”. I started it and finished in one day, which is impractical. It’s delicate paper, it’s large, where will I store it? If only I had another show lined up or someone to buy it? I need to start working smaller. I love working big, but I need to work small. I went on a walk today, up the trail, past blue bells and hedge parsley. Past the decaying tree stumps, getting smaller than they were last year. So many kinds of little green plants, clovers, grasses, dead leaves on the ground in ruby red and dark brown. The air was cold, my hands freezing. The sun was out, the sky so clear, I thought it would be warmer. It was my last day of having three-year-old children. My last day I could get away with calling them babies. I love Jack and Fiona so much, they have turned out to be good kids. It’s hard to believe when I reminisce of the past, of Jack and Fiona as infants, of life before they were born, my mind is filled now with beautiful memories. The sad memories of my most difficult times have diffused, leaving a stain, but not a strong stab to my heart. I have healed in the past four years. I have a collection of paintings that document feelings I’ve gone through. Lines and color, paper and canvas, lots of the work framed. My studio needs to be cleaned, to make space for my new collection, my new work, from the new me. Or the same me? The original, more confident, less broken me? I don’t know. I just know that this year I have changed.
Lights on, don’t know what time it is. “I peed my bed” says Jack. For a minute I suggest he sleeps in our bed for the rest of the night. We both think thats a bad idea. I get up, take off the peed sheets, blankets, and pillow, remake his bed and go back to sleep. Sore throat keeps me in bed longer than usual. I hear laughing and screaming, it sounds like it’s coming from outside. Pry myself from under the covers. What are they doing? Go upstairs, cold air rushing in, patio covered in white. Jack and Fiona naked, freezing. Alan yells, how bad what they’ve done is. The whole carton of new milk empty, splattered all over, whip cream container, six yogurt drinks all empty. Take Fiona and Jack in, put them in a warm bath. “I put milk on my body, mommy, we poured it on our whole bodies, our butts, my penis” Jack says. “On my butt and on my vagina” Fiona says. “Will Daddy still be mad?” Fiona asks. “What you did was very bad” I say. I dress them and we go upstairs and have breakfast. We might need to put a lock on the fridge. Alan says we don’t need to have candy in the house, they don’t need it to survive and they do this sorta shit when they’re spoiled. It all started with a game, Pie Face they got for Christmas. I may have put the idea in their head yesterday about a food fight. We were talking about pie face and I said I was going to get them each a can of whip cream and they could have a whip cream fight. They loved the idea. I think its my fault they got into the fridge this morning and had a food fight.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
“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.