I can still hear my Russian Grandma Fanya saying: ”Zai ge-zundt!” Be healthy. Having survived the Czar and later bringing seven children through the great flu epidemic, above all, she valued good health.
In the golden fifties, my mom, mother of six, was proud that we all grew up with ten fingers and toes. Zai ge-zundt! I was a stranger to her inner world. She gave us her life, and her own gift for art was plowed under to enrich our talents. For me it was always art and writing.
But, alas, when I had my two kids, the last thing on my mind was writing and art. We were homesteaders in the seventies, living in a half-built house in the mountains. I’d spend an entire day just doing laundry—standing in the rain at the bus-stop with my two kids, backpack full of dirty clothes, bound for the village laundry. I was an example of nothing except how to survive in a pioneering life style. But, as my chidren grew, my art began to surface. I would pull my old nude drawings out of my battered portfolios and tack them to the wall. I would sketch trees in the park or people in cafes, or flip through the pages of a giant art book. My kids were paying attention.
When Benjamin was seven and Samantha four, I joined a women’s writing group. My kids heard the clacking of the typewriter sometimes far into the night. They didn’t have a clue what I was writing, but knew it was something important. It was. From that writing circle came the poetry and chronicles that became my memoir of the seventies in the Santa Cruz mountains.
One Mother’s Day I got the best gift ever. It wasn’t a scarf or a vase of flowers. It wasn’t perfume or a kitchen gadget. They pooled their money and bought me a sketch pad with my favorite pencils and a ream of typing paper. I was their artist-writer mom. I had broken the mold. But then, I didn’t have seven children. I guess I broke that mold too. Not surprisingly, my kids are artists too. In fact, in their teenage years we’d all go together to life drawing sessions, working side by side.
When my mother was going through empty nest syndrome she asked me to lunch one day and confessed, “People tell me I should go study art now. But I’m tired. I just feel like resting.” That is one of the saddest memories I have. Mom died in her sixites and I wonder now whether she might have lived longer, if her artist self had thrived a little.
My daughter loves to brag about her old “hippie” mom. This year She read my memoir to her boyfriend out loud, and told me that she cried reading it. I believe that when your children get to see you as a whole person keeping your gifts precious and alive—whether it’s pottery, gardening, singing, fishing, cooking, dancing, or wood-working—they get to be proud of you, even as you pave their way and encourage them.
Zai ge-zundt! AND may your gifts and talents thrive.
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