a is for activist

Age six, first grade. We lived in Denver and I took the bus an hour and a half across the city to my elementary school. Most of the kids I spent time with were not white. I was not aware of this, being only six-years-old and not knowing yet. One day I asked my mom to braid my hair like my friend Shannon’s. She obliged, making a bunch of tiny braids held with barrettes at the ends.

That morning at school a girl came up to me and said, “Why don’t you paint your face brown, too?”

I didn’t know that girl, and I didn’t understand what she said or why she was upset. She wasn’t any older than me, but she was aware of her color in a way that I was not. I was white and never had to be told it.

I told my mom what happened and asked her why the girl had reacted that way. I don’t remember what my mom said, I wish I did. But I do know that I came out of that moment knowing that I was white and that girl was black, and my friend Shannon was black, and it wasn’t appropriate for me to copy her hairstyle.

A couple years later we moved to a suburb called Broomfield. Something felt strange about the town, an unsettling vibe. When I expressed to my mom that something felt “off” in this new town she said, “That’s because everyone is white.” There really was something unnerving about being surrounded by almost 100% white people, even being white myself. I was the only Jewish kid in my class and I remember one day a girl came up to me and said:

“Isn’t it weird not celebrating your birthday?”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Because you’re not allowed to celebrate any holidays.” she said.
“Do you think I’m Jehovah’s Witness?” I said. “I’m Jewish.”
“Oh. Same thing. They both start with a J.”

The following year, fourth grade, a bully in my class called me a “dirty little Jewish girl.” One day that bully let me use her markers and gave them to me afterwards. I thought it was a kindness, but she told me, “I had to give them to you because once you touched them I didn’t want them anymore.”

What I’m thinking about as I write this, the reason I’m writing it, is trying to figure out how to teach my white male child about his own privilege, about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, how our government/society values certain people above others and how that is wrong. About police brutality. About Black Lives Matter. About speaking up. Using his own brain. Standing up for what is right, for other people, in situations that are not easy.

I’m trying to remember being a kid myself, and how I learned about these things. When did I fail? When did I not speak up? When was I aware and kind and brave? I’m trying to be my best self and set a good example and be aware of my words and listen and give him the tools to make things better. To be a better person. To be kind. To help. To be an activist/advocate/ally. To love. To be angry when bad things happen. To use that anger to make positive change. To vote. To live his life in a way that creates the world as it should be.

 

 

my body, 4.5 months

Four and a half months postpartum, my body feels strong but in a completely different way than I’ve ever felt strong Before. Arms and legs. Baby lifting above my head, squatting to feed the cats while holding that squirmy fifteen pounds against my chest. Pushing the stroller uphill. My breasts heavy with milk. A kind of heavy I couldn’t have understood Before. Before is my old country. Where I lived with a flat stomach and no stretch marks and only my own life in my own body.

My belly squishy and soft and proof that a baby grew in there. The linea negra a bit lighter now but still very much present. My hips back together but still a bit wider than Before, perhaps forever. My feet longer. My face more tired. My face more beautiful.

My hair is falling out, all the extra pregnancy hair collecting in the shower drain and on the bathroom sink and the pillows and sticking to my shoulders and everywhere else too. I get cramps in my lower abdomen, my period coming back already? I don’t know. Phantom contractions? Everything in my lower region feels just slightly different.

Heart full. A new heart, on top of the old one. More tears. More farts. More love. Deeper intimacy. More cracks. More light.

unnamed

 

singing to you, the song my mom sang to me. in a sports bra and your dad’s sweat pants, in our bedroom, late at night. 

this is our life. us and you. “hello best friend” your dad says when he gets home from work and takes you in his arms.

my arms are full, so is my mind, so is my heart and all the secret tucked away places of my body that carried you and moved my organs all around and held more blood and more bones and where those extra cells of yours will live inside me forever.

 

love every minute

love-every-minute

Ugh.

It’s not that I don’t love being a mom, I do. I love it indescribably. But people keep asking, “Don’t you just love every minute?” I never know what to say to those people.

There are minutes that are very, very hard. There are minutes that drive me crazy, or exhaust me, or bring me to tears. No one can be expected to “love every minute” of anything, no matter how wonderful.

Or, maybe I do love every minute, but I can love them and be sad/mad/tired/frustrated/unsure at the same time.

Yeah. Maybe that’s it.

Regardless, let’s stop expecting moms to be happy all the time. We are just human beings. Like the rest of you.

my mom

Giles is crying again. That scream-crying of yesterday, a sound we haven’t heard too much yet, in these four months of his life outside the womb.

So I walk him around the house and stroller him and nurse him and talk to him and sing and try and try to figure out what is wrong. Finally I sit down at the computer and I put on this video and we listen to my mom’s voice.

Giles falls asleep. I hold him, trying not to move.

My mom talks about the breast cancer playing cards she made. She talks about how there has to be something positive to come from the fact that one in eight women has breast cancer.

And then we watch this video.

What do you have and what do you need? 

Seeing me and my mom together both heals and breaks my heart. This video takes place at a really lovely time in our relationship. December 2012. A time I am so very grateful for and need to be reminded of.

I wish she could see the life I’m making now. Maybe she does, in her own ghost way. But I have to do it without her, with only the memory of her to guide me. Memories of my childhood. The photo albums, notes and emails from her, conversations that are only recorded in my mind and have faded and changed as I take them out again and again to examine and mine for her presence. There is so much longing.

 

 

today my mom would be 58

Today my mom would be 58.

Today my baby is 4 months old.

Today I am drinking coffee, cuddling Giles, having feelings. It’s not okay that she’s dead. It’s not okay that she isn’t here to be a grandmother to Giles (Meme, as she wanted to be called), and to help me paint and arrange my first house, to see Phoebe’s land and paint there, to make her art, dance in the kitchen, roast chiles, take walks, ride her bike, talk loud and fast, to “bricolage” her way through years and years. It’s not okay that she’s not getting older.

Giles just wailed for about an hour. Full on scream-crying and nothing I could do calmed him down. I looked him in the eyes as tears poured down his little face. I feel like wailing. I feel like scream-crying out of my broken heart.

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From my mom’s blog, vimorpainter.wordpress.com (which you should check out if you miss her, because her words are there, her voice, some little piece of herself, and you can visit it anytime):

Sketch Yourself in Words, 2007
My name is Viola Rose Moriarty. It’s not the name I was born with—except the Viola part, that’s my grandmother’s name that died long before I came into this world. The rest of my name I chose myself after a brief, failed young marriage in college. I didn’t want my husband’s name, but I had no name to go back to since my father had been absent from my life since I was six years old and my mother had remarried with a new name. I didn’t know who to be so I chose my favorite literary character, Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road. And in a small Denver courtroom, for the reasonable price of thirty-two dollars I started to become the person I am now.
I am bilingual, an artist, a retired educator, a parent, a lover, a friend, a palm reader, a lifelong learner and a wife. I have loved my adult life, seizing the majority of days with pure abandon, humor, moxie and chutzpah.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I began to work it into the mix: the surgeries, the appointments, the emotions—all with help from my therapist, family, friends and most of all, from my husband.
People usually see the upbeat and adventurous and creative side of me. It’s only Jon who knows the skid marks and scars underneath, the billion ways I’m afraid. That I’m an enigma.
So, I did pretty well through the first wave of cancer, drafting my comic book The Adventures of My Left Breast and making paper dolls with new hospital gown designs. I took photos of everything and I saw myself doing pretty well in those pictures.
Then I went to chemotherapy. First day: Treatment okay. I sketched through it. Second day: Jittery but okay. Days three, four and five I have descended into a staticky evil fog filled hell that I can never adequately describe. Like trying to pay attention through a vibrational band of intense, angry static. Everything hurts. Reading and listening are so hard—so, so hard. I’ve never felt anything like this and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with it. It’s day six now and I’m a little better, but still unable to go to drawing tonight. I’m still unable to focus enough to get my art supplies set up and begin a painting.
I’ve got to grab onto something that will break through here—a different way to work these days. Come on, help me out Max Ernst, David Park, Alice Neel, Mr. Rauchenburg—–anybody? I pray to the dead and to the live painters to help me….help me work.
I have raised my girls and they are spectacular—they’ll be home to help me with my haircutting soon. I want them to see me able to do this; I want to be a good role model. I want them to see me work when working feels impossible.
I don’t want my daughters to ever suspect the terror of being separated from one’s own self.
I don’t want my husband to see me defeated in this way, bumbling about like a babosa instead of the sexy, arrogant, often insane woman he loves (and slightly fears).
But this is where cancer—no, not cancer, but the treatment of cancer—-has me by the breasts and by the balls, so to speak. It’s taken over the airways and it’s screaming at fever pitch. Static and black chaos are filling the room around me, slurping into and over the rims of my eyeballs and nose and around my fingernails.
There’s no escape……and I have never, ever learned how to surrender. 

Viola Moriarty, April 2007, After Chemo #1,
(From an assignment in the Moving through Breast Cancer class with Anastasia Nute)

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sometimes

sometimes

other times

Being a mom is so complex. I am so in love, and deep parts of myself that have been waiting are coming to the surface and blooming. Being a mom is something I’ve always wanted.

But there are moments, sometimes whole days, when I feel completely overwhelmed and like my whole existence is dedicated to this tiny human and there’s none left over for me.

Sometimes I cry a lot.

Sometimes Giles smiles and my whole being melts.

Sometimes I want to ask for help and I don’t know how. Or I want so badly to figure it out for myself, do it my own way, that I just don’t want anyone’s help.

I try to take a few minutes each day to do something that makes me feel like myself. And I try to let other people help me. It’s good for Giles and me to have breaks from each other, for him to be with other people and for me to be by myself. I’ve always needed alone time and being a mom doesn’t make that go away.

I’m still navigating this. How to be a mom and be a wife and be me and be an artist and do all the things. We’ll figure it out. As a family. I think I’m doing pretty okay so far.