A fly just walked across the window pane. It’s 2:32pm and feels like 5 or 6 pm. Jack jumps naked from the couch to the chair, chair to couch while he watches Cars. Billy is sprawled out on the floor. I can hear Fiona whispering, I’m not sure what she’s doing. The sky is blue outside, trees have lost almost all their leaves. I feel like going to sleep right now. I finally received my author copies of Nap Time Paintings today, which included a hardback. It is beautiful, what do I do with all these beautiful books? My private opening was this past weekend, it was fun, I got to see best friends and meet new friends. All my dreams have come true, to have a solo show and to publish a book. I feel like sleeping or working in my studio today, instead of parenting! It’s just one of those days. Last night when I checked on Jack and Fiona, while they were taking their bath, I was confronted with the most disgusting scene. Jack and Fiona were laughing and having so much fun, I notice something in the tub, it’s brown, it’s three large pieces of poop! Jack pooped in the tub! He said he did it because Fiona had to poop at the same time and she pooped in the toilet! I couldn’t believe it. I had to throw away all the bath toys and scoop up the poop and wash the whole bathroom with comet. They are starting to spend more time playing together but it usually involves getting into trouble! All I must do for the rest of today, is make dinner and give them baths and make it until 7:30. I’ll worry about all the paintings I need to sell and what to do with my beautiful books another day!
Take one daily. That’s what the directions say. I follow them closely and read all the warnings. But the seasons creep up on me, out of the blue. I can’t blame it on mourning my mom because that’s all done now, I’ve already admitted to that. I can’t blame it on Jesus because Jesus and I had a conversation last night. It’s not the stuff, or lack of stuff some people have. It’s the frenzy, the inability to be joyful about Christmas when my president is starting a holy war, when he is riding sea biscuit to a world of war and blood money. Under the cover of religion, politics, it’s all gone mad out there. I am having a meltdown, I need to start taking two daily. The other thought is maybe I’v done the work around Christmas and religion and politics and I’m OUT. I really think I shouldn’t even stress. I’m not robbing my children of anything if I don’t go Christmas on steroids, or Christmas at all. Who says I must celebrate Christmas at all? My husband and his family and most of the world love Christmas and think it’s in the child’s best interest to go with the status quo on the subjects of Christmas, Children, and God. I’m just not in that group. I have a stomach pain and jitters just thinking about it all. I want to hide away until after Christmas.
“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.
Mendocino. I love it here, the sea air, birds, foggy skies, I want to live here. The tall cypress trees, ocean cliffs, sea lions, it’s the best. I can see a life for Alan, Jack, Fiona, and me here. A peaceful life, no more long commutes, no more traffic jams, no heart attack at fifty, leave the rat race once and for all. That’s my goal. Today we will go to Russian Gulch state park, which I did a little research and found out that this spot was partly named in honor of the Russian Fur trappers from early 1800’s who founded Fort Ross (up the road ways)
|“This settlement [Ross] has been organized through the initiative of the Company. Its purpose is to establish a [Russian] settlement there or in some other place not occupied by Europeans, and to introduce agriculture there by planting hemp, flax and all manner of garden produce; they also wish to introduce livestock breeding in the outlying areas, both horses and cattle, hoping that the favorable climate, which is almost identical to the rest of California, and the friendly reception on the part of the indigenous people, will assist in its success.” (Wikipedia)|
|— From an 1813 report to Emperor Alexander from the Russian American Company Council, concerning trade with California and the establishment of Fort Ross
I found this bit of history so interesting, especially considering our relationship with Russia, Europe, and settlers in general. I’ve been trying to convince Alan that we should sell everything and relocate to Mendocino. I can write and paint, he can work for the fire department. Kids can learn about the land.
Russian Gulch beach sits under the Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge, an open-spandrel deck arch bridge. Jack, Fiona, Alan and I hike up a trail running on a bluff under the bridge. The structure is beautiful and strong. Jack and I walk ahead, Jack jumps over branches and watches out for poison oak. I am impressed, I’ve taught him well. We get down to our beach spot. The air is ice cold, the sky blue but the foggy wind still rips though us on the beach. Jack eats a bunch of chips, Fiona eats her sandwich. They want to play in the water, I tell them it’s too cold. I finally let them. They run to a trickling stream that runs out to the ocean, both get wet, come back, sit on chairs, cover up with beach towels. Jack and Fiona shiver and have goose bumps. They don’t last long before they need to go sit in the car, Alan takes the first shift. I put on my Irish sweater and sit on the beach, finish my glass of wine. Listen to the click of the tires, hum the rubber makes on the concrete on the bridge above. Shadows cast on the sand, dank and cold at the base of the supports. I imagine the rugged men and women trading on this shore, weathered hands and faces. On the rocks, little purple wild flowers grow, tiny perfect succulents. I take in as much as I can before I need to go back to the car and trade places with Alan.
We stay at the vacation home all day on July Fourth, no Mendocino parade this year, no fireworks. I haven’t read the news since we left on Friday. I need this. To escape. To watch wild turkeys and their babies eat bugs in the field and cross the street. To listen to the birds. To get away from the freeway, all the electricity. To get away from consumption of worries, toys, T.V., news, gas, arguments, stress, the hustle and bustle. Get away from the unimportant things. Consume the fresh air instead. Nature, doing less. Consuming less. Three-year olds are messy. They love to watch T.V. Jack says “Mommy” over and over until I say, “Yes Jack”. Even when I give him direct eye contact. Sea birds sing all morning, sky foggy and cold. Packing needs to be done. Trash needs to be picked up. Time to get back on the road and back the freeway. I want to get away from cars and freeways and airports and runways forever.
Fiona sits on my lap, leaning the side of her head onto my chest as the audiologist looks in her ears, first the left, then the right, gently pushing a small piece of cotton with a string attached in each ear. Jack watches and pretends he is a doctor looking in my ears with a plastic toy. Fiona is perfectly still as the audiologist mixes the putty and squirts some in each of her ears. We sit and wait for the putty to harden. Fiona examines my hands. First, she holds my pinky fingers, then turns my hand over, running her fingers down the creases, spending extra time on a cut on my thumb, feeling the scab that has formed. Jack plays with the collection of toys in the doctor’s office that have now become familiar to him. I am in awe of the difference from the last time we came to get ear molds. Jack was all over the place, going behind the desk, under the desk, opening the door to the office, walking out, into storage closets. I had to keep going after him. I was expecting a version of this behavior today, but he stays quiet and respectful of his sisters visit to the audiologist to get new ear molds. Are we entering a new phase? As we play footsies under the table, I’m typing, Jack’s watching Blippi on the ipad. He has been waking up at the same time I do every morning. We both take a sip of coffee, (his is diluted with cream) I imagine us in the future having coffee together in some foreign country, maybe Cuba. Fiona is still sleeping, she needs a lot more sleep than Jack.
It’s a foggy morning, the greens and rust colors on the trees outside sit gently against the light grey winter sky. Last night we sat on the couch and listened to Christmas songs. We put a wreath on the front door that has red and gold decorations and LED lights. It felt good. This morning I have a couple hours of help, this feels good. I took Billy for her walk and took my shower, now I sit in my bedroom alone, quiet. I still have the lightness and inspiration from my walk. In the backyard, my eyes delighted by the colors, on the fig tree. The ground covered with large, beautiful, green gold leaves, some remain scattered on the light ash colored branches. I gasp, Billy looks at me, I explain to her the beauty I see. Does she understand? We walk up the trail and the streams are finally trickling water down the hillside. I practice taking my deep breaths, feeling like I have all the time in the world, feeling calm. Is it my medicine kicking in? Is it just a natural shift in mood? Is it my detachment from politics? Something has changed. It feels good.
I have at least an hour to go work in my studio now, then more time during nap time. That makes me happy.
“Momma, momma, lets go look at the fig tree” Jack says. I’m following him out to the backyard as he tells me this. “O.K. Jack I’ll be right back, wait for me”. I run into the house to tell my dinner guests, Alan, and Fiona I’m going with Jack to look at the fig tree. “O.K. Jack, here I am”. We walk out the gate and Jack says “sit here”, so we sit down on the first step that leads to the fig tree. He looks at me, “Shhh, hear that?” with a twinkle in his eye. It’s the crickets, “we can’t see them, but now we can imagine what they look like, remember we saw one on our picnic blanket when we went hiking?” I say. I’ve been using that terminology a lot lately, imagination. I appreciate this break with Jack, this moment when I can follow him, I am not telling him “no, it’s dangerous”. It’s been a particularly hard week, exhausting, a few days I wasn’t sure I could make it till the end. I was intensely fatigued, yesterday at naptime I even fell asleep with Jack and Fiona. I haven’t been in my studio since Monday, or written. The first naptime this week I watched a movie, the next day the babies fell asleep in the car and I just drove. It was surreal, I’m usually being bombarded with questions from the back seat, but I found myself just driving in quiet, it was suddenly easy to drive. I drove until they woke up and we went to a second park! That night I fell asleep in their room putting them to bed. “Come on, lets keep moving” Jack says. We get up and he leads me the opposite way of the fig tree, we walk over the little bridge, along the path at the very top of the yard. My feet walking on the steps after his little feet, both of us barefoot. I realize this doesn’t have to do with the fig tree, Jack just wanted to spend time with me alone, I am grateful. It feels good, I am relaxed, I am following. We climb down the rope I strung between two trees on the steep hillside. Jack loves this. Alan comes out and I ask where are guests are, he tells me they left, “did you expect them to wait around?” I run out front to say goodbye and luckily catch them before they leave.
This week everyday felt intense, everyone needed my attention all at once. When I didn’t have enough to give, the baby who felt they weren’t getting enough attention from me would “act out”. I didn’t have a chance, or the energy to study for my CSET. I started questioning if I could even do it, take the test, have the energy, have the energy for a “real job”. It’s hard raising twins. That doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful and filled with the gift of self-knowledge and discovery. Jack and Fiona fill my life with love that is so big, so pure, so solid, but it’s grueling work, it’s not just physical or mundane, it’s extremely intellectual, brain fatigue, especially now, now that they can talk and ask questions, their quest for knowledge in insatiable. Their quest to push the limits physically keeps me on my toes, keeps me in fight or flight mode with my heart racing, worried they will crack their heads open. Woven into the intense moments are the quiet, sweet, moments like walking in the yard with Jack or reading a book with them snuggled up beside me, or hearing their breathing change as they go from awake to sleeping at bedtimes. The thought of Jack and Fiona going to school, being apart from them for any extended period of time scares me. I will miss them so much. The thought of them growing up and not being little kids anymore makes me so sad, even with this being the hardest, most challenging job I’ve ever had.
It’s a hot summer day, we’ve been playing outside in the water, my night-shirt wet from sitting on the ground. Fiona has gone into the house, is standing on a chair pushing the button that turns on our speakers, but the music’s not on. She’s singing really loud and moving her shoulders and arms. I walk in the house, take off my top, and turn on some music, I flip through a few stations and when I get to teen beats both babies ears stand to attention. Fiona doesn’t have her hearing aids on, I turn the music up loud. The doors are open, they are filming a Netflix movie down at the park, I wonder if they can hear us. We all start dancing, Jack and Fiona run out onto the deck and back in again, I’m tempted, but I would be seen for sure, not that I really care. After the first song is over Jack says “More”. We listen to three more songs dancing away, arms, legs, bodies flowing with the beat, the Teen beat. The music’s not bad for this sort of thing. I’m enjoying this, my naked body four decades old dancing with babies, boobs bouncing, I catch a glimpse of my reflection on the glass door. My body looks pretty good, I watch myself dance, I started watching myself dance in Elementary school. I would pretend I was sick, stay home from school. After my mom and brother were gone I’d dress up and dance. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I loved doing it. In my twenties I went out dancing every chance I got, especially to REGGAE. I loved dancing, since getting married I haven’t gone to see music and dance very much. There’s been family parties where everyone started dancing, my body wouldn’t dance, it’s as if the dance was buried, like the words sometimes, or the creativity. A self-consciousness takes over. But as I’m dancing naked, my oldish body, bouncing boobs, in front of my two-and-a-half-year-old twins, as they dance naked with me I feel a freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time. I almost danced naked out on my deck, I can hear the neighbors now, “Mommy they’re naked” I heard this the other day as some neighbors walked by and Jack leaned up against the railing naked, pushed his body up against the railing as if he was showing them his willy or going to pee on them. I was laughing so hard, I guess I wanted to do the same thing today, then I thought what if we all just walked down to where they’re filming, naked, with shoes on only and hats. We’ll just sit and watch with the other neighbors like nothing is unusual. Tempting. I realized last night at dinner, having so much fun with my sister in law, great conversations, then seeing an artist friend I haven’t seen in forever, who I look up to, love her work, she tells me she was a teacher for seven years and it was the best, she loved it. If you can help one person, if you can make a difference in one person’s life, that is the theme. What I realized was we may not be able to change anything, the people with the guns and the anger and the hate will always win over peaceful people. I used to get mad when I saw people posting on Facebook to pray for Paris or pray for Orlando or Sandy Hook, or the Refugees from Syria, or the kids being shot in gang crossfire, praying won’t do anything I said. But now I get it, all we can do is pray. We can try to change laws and make the world a better place, but it seems like there’s fifty percent of any given population that wants guns, or are racist against this group or that, that aren’t peaceful people. I can’t change them. I can only be myself, I can only help myself, and maybe a few more along the way. I want to go to Pride today and dance naked in the streets of San Francisco.