this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.
– Amy Grace
it is a new name, because i need to guard my old one. it is the new world we bought before we could try it on. my biggest risk is keeping us safe, but claiming life, in one deep breath. building a wall of honesty that could slice me open, clean, if it fell. and the ladder we make with every movement of intuition, narrow and fragile, allowing us to see over to the other side. the instant you see the new thing which is starting. i live with risk and swallow it and climb up to meet it straight in the eye. i feel it wrap around my spine like a muscle belonging to someone else. it keeps my breath tight and alive with what i want for you, and what i would give for it. instant to instant, our memories are at at the back of our throats, burning, wanting to come up for air. and now, we are the moment after the dive, suspended, lightness, exactly right here.
the very real stories that become our smoke trails, the ones lying in wait in our blood, we cannot stop the force of those waves. we will never know the next page until we read it. or write it. i want them to make friends with what they do not know. to invite it in, to make room for it inside, right next to loss and memory. these things will rub against each other, close and with friction, they will need more room, they will force our shells to crack. and we will need it. i needed it, so that i might have these very beautiful bits of ordinary, that are really anything but that. we break apart to bloom.
It’s a great paradox. This thing. Being who we are. We can love. We can not love. It’s all a choice. I see in words. A millions words per second in some instances. All beautiful in their own right. All racing, all competing to be first. The first to make me feel. Make us feel. Whole. Complete. Existing with love.
When I think of my life & all the risks I’ve taken, there are two that stand out above all others… one, giving birth, and two, getting married. Neither of those sound very risky–in fact, for most people, these would be the safe bet–but for me, they represented the risk of losing myself completely, to someone else… completely. I’ve been a mother since I’ve been an adult, and I now realize that ironically, I don’t even know who I am outside of being a mother… and to become a “wife” seemed like giving into the norms of society, which not only sounded quite boring, but felt like I would be losing what little of me I even knew about myself. However, I did both; even though getting married I did with great caution, giving birth I dove into blindly, without hesitation, and with no real direction. I remember thinking, literally, “okay, it’s you & me now, baby.” I risked everything I knew, ignored all things practical, rebelled against everything I was taught, just to prove that this was one risk I could take, against all odds. Life soon proved to me that risks are not contests to be won, and I soon found out that this was not only a risk that I would have to live up to every day and for the rest of my life… I also realized, quite harshly, that this “risk” was a human, who needed me, and whose entire life was at stake because I was out to prove something. Only now, now sixteen years into taking the biggest risk of my life, do I realize that the only reason I’m able to comfortably speak of this, is because she took a risk with me. Without knowing it, this little person came into my world & gave me a chance, and was patient with me as I learned life & as we learned life together, and taught me the value of risks & their consequences. Not for one second can I take credit for facing the biggest risk of my life & still living to tell about it, without acknowledging that someone took an even greater risk with me… and I can only hope, will live to one day tell about it.
i tread along this path of comfort
this route of familiarity
then i see it
as i had so many times before
“NO CROSSING” the sign demands
but this wondrous space ahead
it calls to me
full of longing
i ache for it
magic in the distance
could it be?
i see the the lingering trail of others
do i take the chance?
go where i haven’t gone before
only a fool would enter, a familiar voice whispers
yes, only a fool
my heart races
my palms sweaty
but tomorrow may never come
and i remind myself…
you never know what will happen
you never know what you will find
so i venture in
my feathers ruffled
my wings are spread
and just like that…
i am free to soar!
As a child, Risks are used as cautionary tales. “Take that risk and your future will be screwed.” If you’re a good girl, the other kids are the risk-takers. The ones who wrote the cautionary tales. Not you. You always look both ways. You rarely think about risks because it isn’t necessary. It’s just a story that other people live.
And then you see the two pink lines that signal Motherhood, flip to the second chapter of the Risk tale. Time to respect Risk. “Do I eat this lunch meat? What about Listeria?” “Tell me the risks if I don’t breast-feed.” You’re consumed by risk. Not taking risks keeps your loved ones safe.
But there’s a third chapter in the Risk saga. Well-meaning people skim this chapter for kids. And out of necessity, Mothers skip it for a while. The third chapter explains the golden part of Risk. Taking one means you took a chance on a dream. After all, dreams don’t fall into your lap. You have to jump to snag them. Don’t take the risk and you’re safe. But you’re also very stuck. Tonight’s bedtime story, I’m skipping ahead in the tale.
Once upon a time there were two little birds on a tiny branch. Their Momma said to them, “Jump and don’t worry about the ground. If you need me, I’ll be there.”
Somewhere along the way I have realized that risk is an illusion. A big fat lie. The cousin of fear and neighbor of doubt; forces in place to keep you from living your wild and beautiful truth.
When I start feeling them creep in, I go outside and put my feet in the darkest mud I can find and remind myself, with hand on heart, what is Real.
My girl, she’s just a little bit timid. I see her hesitation about life and the new discoveries that she makes every day. She wants to run but her feet can’t quite comprehend what her head is telling her. Every stone that she throws into the water creates ripples that resonate throughout her life and I have to coax that stone out of her sweet little hand as she stands, watching and waiting. I want to tell her that every path has forks that lead off into the unknown, and whichever direction she decides on she must walk with a sure foot, a positive attitude, and a realisation that although it might not always feel safe, it’s just a part of living. I don’t want her to have regrets or wonder what might have been and I want her to know that will all be ok, because her Mama is there to pick her up when she falls, to kiss her grazed knees and to wipe away her tears. I want her to feel the safety net of love that will be there to break her fall. I want to tell her that sometimes it’s ok to run with your eyes closed, to dance in the rain, to sing when everyone is watching. You don’t need to hide from life my little worrier, not while your Mama has your precious little heart in her hands.
This is the first maternity image I ever took. My dear friend, pregnant with her first child. The year is 1999. Out of the five or six rolls we shot, this was the only image that was any good.
At the time I was fresh out of graduate school and teaching kindergarten. I was living in a small studio apartment in Seattle, on food stamps and struggling to get by on my teacher’s salary.
She loved her photo, and suggested that I advertise my photography services as a way to pull in a little extra money. To me this seemed like a crazy idea. I knew NOTHING about photography, or running a business… nothing. But she some how convinced me it was the right thing to do. So, I took my one photo, borrowed $100 and turned this picture into a postcard I put in every coffee shop and maternity store I could find. To my amazement, people started to call. I was terrified each time I went to a shoot. But eventually I started to feel like I actually knew what I was doing. Within a year, I was busy enough to go down to part-time teaching. And within two years I was able to quit my job and pour myself into photography full time.
The risk I took in making that card, and putting myself out there changed the direction of my life. I feel that in photography, I found my calling. It’s what I love and what I was meant to do.
I’m not shy of risks. My father calls it tenacity.
I’ve always taken risks if I believed in them. Like when my husband and I decided to get married when I was 19. No one wanted to bet on those odds, but I know a good thing when I see it. And Jason is the best thing. I moved to LA when I was 19 to be closer to him. He was the only person I knew there, and I moved in with 4 total strangers. (That risk didn’t end well…) Now a days, we took a huge risk on buying an old house from 1922. We were going to fix it up a bit and move in within a month or two… That was in October. We still have at least 3 months of work left.
My point is, take the risk. You totally could fail. I’ve submitted photos to tons of contests and galleries and I have failed more times than I can count. Doesn’t matter. If anything, the pain of rejection has made me grow much more than if I had won. It has made me treasure the process of creation rather than sharing it. Both are good, but creation should always be the true joy giver, right? Fulfillment should come directly from your craft, otherwise you get lost in the sea of pleasing everyone else.
I’m including this picture because I see my spirit in her here. The excitement outweighing the fear. The fight for joy. The peace that comes in knowing yourself instead of listening to others tell you who you should be. This is 100% her. She is tenacious.
Sammy asked me what I wish for? I told him I wish to take an amazing trip. Travel, Sam…maybe see a palm tree.
What do you wish Sam?
I wish I could fly.
My son Sam takes risks. He believes this flying thing with his two arms could happen. We sometimes drive to a forest preserve and he asks to take off his jeans to run fast with no shoes. Just for a little bit Sam, I tell him with all the worries of risking what he could step on, who might see.
but he runs and truly believes he can fly.
“I stop writing the poem
to fold clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.” from “I stop writing the poem” by Tess Gallagher
Why a shot of laundry to illustrate risk? There is nothing risky in a dirty shirt, a crumpled shiny nightgown of idealism busting, princess adorned acetate. It’s the opposite of risk. Except, as a mother and an artist it is hard to not just do the laundry and forget about the art. To forget about making time to create. It’s selfish to create. It’s selfish to say, “I need this time to go do something that isn’t a care-taking task.” And to say to the world, “I am more than a good mother, good spouse, good employee. I am more than a do-er of laundry. I am an artist, and if that means the laundry piles up than so be it.” is risky. And scary. And terrifying.
I’ve always been one to take risks. Not without thought, though. I did my due diligence (ok, not all the time) and knew the consequences even if it was a quick thought process. It’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach – the good feeling. The one you get when you take off on a swing. The slight exhilaration slash fear (yes, swinging at my age and size is sometimes terrifying!). My most favorite risks, have been the ones where I don’t think. I just feel. And then I do. No over-analyzing. No pro/con. No consequences. No fear. Just feeling. It’s feeling like a kid again. It’s the innocence of not knowing that jumping off the top of the Jolly Roger (what Sam named our playground) could actually break your leg. Kids don’t need to know these things. Their parents do. Kids don’t even know the word “risk”. It’s only as an adult that one truly understands what “risk” is. And that freaking sucks. That might be the crappiest thing about becoming a parent. Turning someone like me, NOT a worrier, into someone who says “be careful” or “don’t run with those scissors” or “stop licking the electrical socket” fourteen times a day.
I have lots of scars from stitches that are my consequences from risky behavior. And you know what? I have learned to love that giant fish shaped one on my right knee. Riding off on your big sisters 10-speed bike with hand brakes when all you know is the foot kind is some risky behavior that will lead to giant fish shaped scars. That ugly scar, and the many others like it, are my battle wounds. I survived my childhood. Maybe a bit banged up. But alive. And with some damn good stories to tell. Stories that bring smiles to my face. So I’m trying to back off a bit with my boys. Try to say “have fun” more and “be careful” less. I’m not going to take my eyes off them, though. Thats a risk I just can’t take. They are boys after all. They are going to run and fall (they have genes for clumsiness on both sides the poor things), they are going to make some stupid decisions that will give them scars. Inside and out. And it’s ok. Thats what mothers are for. Bandaging. Hugging. Comforting. As risky as it seems to let my oldest climb a tree on his own, maybe it’s risky to stop him. Stop him from being the kid who is adventurous. Stop him from learning some things all on his own. Even if it’s the hard way. And I’ll be close by. On the swings. I forgot how much I love that feeling.
Letting my children take risks is so important to me, be it physical, social or intellectual, nothing gives a child a more comprehensive view on life then letting them do things for themselves. Maybe they excel and maybe they don’t. Maybe they fall or maybe they fly. How will they know what they are good at how will they know what their gift is if they are never allowed to explore it? Would I prefer to keep them in my little cocoon of love their entire childhood? Of course, but ultimately just as you are your own person with your own experiences and stories to tell, they will be too. I believe it is important to find a balance between the two worlds. I have learned to give non-judgmental advice, to maintain a distance that still keeps me in the loop but allows for self-exploration. Just because I know what they are doing doesn’t mean they have to know I know. Yes sometimes there is need to step in and intervene but not always.
It is a risk to be a parent, it is a risk to let them take their own risks, but isn’t it a much bigger risk to deny them those experiences due to your own fears? As parents we all say, one day…One day you will know I was right, one day when you have children you will understand. You heard it too, but did that really affect you? Truth is you can’t make them see what they have never seen for themselves. So I step back just a little and let them lead their way because one day they will be in our shoes with the same advice to follow.
It took me a few days to notice that the Emperors were on the rise. Emperor Penguins. Emperor Hostas. A gift from my late mother. Life is risk. Risk for plants. Risk for Penguins. Risk for humans. Humans have a small advantage, we get to make decisions. Plants just push their way above ground and hope for the best. This Hosta came from my mother. I still remember the day we went to buy it. We bought lots of other plants, and also, some planters. This hosta lives in an aluminum planter on my balcony. It reminds me of my mother. Every. Single. Day that it is up. The slugs can’t reach it. She would like that. It sits on a balcony, too far from the ground. In summer, the flower dies and dries out. In autumn, it decays, the leaves become withered and speckled and disappear. Some of the plants she bought for me died in an unusually cold winter. I was emotional about that. This plant survived. It is an emperor.
Motherhood, is risk. For us and for the penguins and for the plants. From the first moment the emperor penguins lay their eggs. On ice. In Antarctica. Survival in Antarctica requires teamwork. Be grateful if you are a team. The penguins and the Hosta survive. Because they must. Year after year. There is a lot to learn from an inanimate plant and the penguins. Courage. Fortitude. Perseverance. Accepting things they cannot change. Life is risk. Every decision can have several outcomes. Motherhood is terrifying. Small risks and large risks every single day. Thinking about risk is exhausting. So don’t. Unless you must. Take each day as it comes, each hour as it comes, each venture as it comes, each mundane repetitive task as it comes. You never know what is going to happen in five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months. You never know if you will be alive after any of those time periods. Make the most of every moment that you can remember to make the moment of. Don’t take the risk of not enjoying life. Reflect on the small beautiful things, in a crazy, destructive world. Stay positive. Take the risk to live. Take the risk to love. Take the risk to change. Take the risk to grow. All the while, taking the risk to just be yourself. No pretense. Like a penguin.