Why you are pursuing this project?
I am attempting to capture some of the sweet memories of my childhood. These are things we would have remembered together and she would have joked about and told my kids about. By talking about memories, we keep them alive and pass them down to our kids and their kids. I lost my mom when she was 53 and I was 26 and I was not a mom yet.
These all seem like the best parts, what about the tough times?
As my dear friend Belynda said, you did not do D is for Drunk in this memory book. My mom was an alcoholic and my kids know that. I’m not trying to gloss over the hard parts, because there were many. But I think we all want to hold onto the bright spots, the things we cultivate for our kids and the things that my mom worked so hard to give me. She fought some pretty dark inner demons but in the midst of that she gave me so many good things. And those good things are what carried me through. They have given me a compass as a mom, and I really needed a strong compass since she has not been here for me to ask anything about being a parent. I am so thankful that she told me so many stories and that she explained why she made certain choices, why she chose to live a life so different than the one she grew up in. And the most amazing thing is that the things she taught me to do, they are living on in my kids. That is the best part.
You mention that her life growing up was very different from how she raised you, can you talk more about that?
Yes. She was born in 1949, in post war 50’s Sacramento. In tract housing, eating mostly frozen and canned food. She hated it all. She talked about how crazy it was that every third house was the same and you could mistake another home for your own. Her mom worked in the school cafeteria and ran her home much the same. They had the same thing on the same night of week, every week. Her dad left when she was quite young and her mom was not a happy woman. She was verbally and physically abusive with my mom and her older sister. I learned later that my grandmother grew up in a home with domestic abuse and probably too much drinking and abuse towards her and her brothers. So the pain runs deep. My mom drove as fast as she could in her baby blue mustang to San Francisco in the late 60’s. She said she walked into SF State in a girdle, stockings and heels and walked out barefoot and without a bra.
She truly embraced the freedom of the late 60’s and early 70’s – she learned to cook from scratch, bake bread, grow an organic garden, quit sugar and TV. She worked on a fishing boat in college. She lived in cohousing in the Height Ashbury. She followed the Russian mystic, Gurdjieff and converted to Russian Orthodoxy in her 20’s. She moved to Marin to be part of an artist colony and worked in a plant store (how much more 70’s can you get than selling ferns in Mill Valley) and when she had me, she nursed until I decided to wean myself at 4! She read about Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education and found a way for me to go to Marin Waldorf even though it was a private school and pretty far from our house.
Needless to say, her family thought she was completely crazy and never understood why she made these choices. I grew up going to Christmas at my grandparents and my grandma (her mom) would take care of me when my mom traveled for work, but I never felt very close to her family because it always felt like she and I were in our own world, on the outside of what she came from.
Has making this book helped you grieve or be more at peace?
Yes. I struggled with how to remember her for a long time. I wanted to write the story of her life, but I don’t really know her whole story and I can’t ask her to clarify anything. It also was so daunting when I would try to start writing. I love words but I’m not a writer as my main form of creative expression. I was taking an illustration class and a suggested warm up was a page from an ABC book and also to do a scene. I did A is for Amy and I realized this is such a great way to write a little but express a lot. And to capture my memories. That’s all I can do now, record what I remember and share it with my kids.
Would you recommend this process to other people who have lost a loved one?
Yes! I definitely would. And the first thing I would suggest is do it in a way that makes sense to you. It could be more of a scrap book or a collage if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person. But this kind of therapy, hands on, with a bit of structure (the alphabet) is really cathartic. And when you are done with all 26 letters, you have something you can hold that might help you feel a little bit closer to the one you have lost.
Is the book available to buy?
Yes, in a way. I am working on printing it in bulk so I can make it more affordable. I started a crowdsourcing campaign this month. You can view the campaign here.
About a week before everything changed, I was at an Al-Anon meeting and it had just wrapped up. I was chatting with someone when I heard a loud crash, ceramic breaking on a concrete floor. someone had moved my "to go mug" onto a chair and it had rolled off. It was double walled ceramic, pretty strong but not this time. It burst into a million tiny pieces. The woman who had moved it felt horrible and was so apologetic. I was kind of bummed but mostly I was at ease. Al-Anon is all about letting go - of control, of expectations, of attachments that don't serve us anymore. And I was at peace. I figured I'd get a new one at Target. But when I went to get one, they don't have it anymore. I thought maybe I'd order it online, but then the world shifted massively. Suddenly we were not going anywhere. I had no idea when it broke, what was ahead, just around the corner. And the thing is that the same woman who accidentally broke the mug had shared such a story of peace and surrender at the meeting. I was so grateful for that. The mug was the least of my worries.
We are ten weeks into this "sheltering in place" now. It occurred to me today that I never replaced the mug, but there really is no need for a "to go" mug when you are home all the time, making your own coffee and tea. Perhaps the thing I miss the most is walking to Acre in downtown Petaluma to get a perfect almond milk latte. I miss that. But I am also realizing that I am happy being mostly at home. I have learned to be resilient over the years. Often not by choice but by necessity. I do my own nails, I cut my kids hair, I even cut and color my hair! (most salons don't "get" curly hair) So I won't be out there waiving a sign saying "I need a haircut".
Mostly I'm sad that my youngest won't get to have the experience of the last few months of Waldorf Kindergarten, something we waited for years. He won't get to go back to that part of childhood. He'll be six this month on May 30 which means the current shelter in place order will be in effect. A part of me is ok with having a small celebration. But I know that he's growing so fast and if he even get's to go to school next year, it will be to 1st grade - "real" school. My older kids are missing their friends but overall, they kind of like being home. We all like staying up late and not getting up too early.
The things that make me truly happy, I can still do, especially on this sweet piece of land we have in the middle of the city:
Hanging laundry on the line - I have been doing this in good weather for almost three years. I love it. It could have been an fantasy that I didn't enjoy in reality, but instead, it feels like I'm grounded and in touch with a deeper part of myself. And I am - connecting to generations of women before me who did this. I am a descendant of pioneer women and Italian immigrants. There was a lot of laundry that was hung and it feels so good to honor that part of myself.
Riding my bike - I have had a cargo bike for over 10 years. I'm on my third version and I LOVE my current bike so much. It's perfect for me and I plan to have it forever. Riding on streets that have less cars is an amazing feeling and I can do 99% of my local errands on my bike. I feel like I need to step it up even more and say, I'll do as much as I can on my bike all summer long. It really is such an amazing feeling to be on a bike and I'm happy, even getting groceries! It's life changing.
Raising Chickens - We have six baby chicks, growing so fast. We fixed up a sweet little coop for them this weekend and soon they will move in. Sitting with them, watching them explore the world during their "outdoor time" is pure joy.
Planting Vegetables - I actually got an early start this year, because we're home all the time! And now we are getting late May rain and everything is growing so fast.
Working from Home - It's not easy working from home with the kids home, but as long as I can remember, I always imagined working from home so I could be there for my kids. I love my job and get to be of service to the community, all while working close to the heart of the house - our light filled kitchen. I'm here and that feels good even when I feel like an octopus with all eight legs being pulled in different directions.
This has been such a ride so far and no one knows when it will end or change or "go back to normal" but it feels like this cocooning is something special and I hope we can emerge from it more connected to what matters.
It's Mother's Day. As I thought about my mom today a wonderful experience popped in my head. It's relevant right now for a few reasons. As a kid I didn't know what quarantine meant, until the day my mom announced that her friend, Ron, in the city who owned an exotic bird store, had been told that all his birds had to be quarantined due to a rare disease that didn't effect human but could spread rapidly in birds. And they had to leave SF. So my exocentric mamma offered our house as a place for ALL the birds to stay! Including Rocky, a giant Macaw Parrot who had been trained to perform but would not behave so he was "kicked out" of Marine World. Most of the birds stayed out back in what used to be my dad's shop space. It was loud and pretty stinky in there. I have no idea how my mom cared for all those birds. Rocky lived in the house with us in a giant steel cage and talked all day long. He loved to swear and he even stole a steak off the table before dinner one night.
Thinking of having all those birds on our property and the adventures of living with Rocky, reminded me what a rich life my mom had. She was up for adventure and loved animals. I completed the original A-Z memory book and there are definitely animals in there, but I keep circling back to all the stories I didn't tell and how so many of them revolve around animals. So I think my next project is emerging..."The Animals of Evergreen Avenue" or something along those lines.
We had a goose who flew in during a storm and then stayed. A goat in our front yard. A guinea pig who was "free range" during the day and would come home at night (like a cat!). I raised baby chicks in my room every spring and then added them to our flock. We had three ponds with fish in them that the raccoons would try and catch and my mom was on a never ending fight with them. And then there was China, the sweetest cat in the world. There are SO many stories, I need to write them down and then make images to capture the time and place that only lives in my head right now.
And the other reason this is all so meaningful is that last week, on May 1st, our family adopted six chicks. So I am following in my mom's footsteps as best I can, giving my kids a chance to love these little beings and have their own funny stories when they grow up. My mom would be proud.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the right time... I long for a bygone era and yet I dream of a future that holds the best of technology mixed with the “old ways” that are so much gentler on us and the earth.