Young Julia, 2002, Oil on Canvas.
How to describe my mom? She has never been the sum of her resume, although that's impressive - an early Type-A, she graduated from Stanford, worked for Reagan (when he was governor) and Nixon (when he was President), a PBS producer (until I came along), and then a full-time mom, Hospice volunteer, and very active church member.
She is a consummate runner-of-households - my father calls her CEO of Wif, Inc. - but never, ever "just a housewife." One of the most artistically gifted and creative human beings I've ever met, what this woman can do with a box of ribbons and a pair of scissors would blow your mind.
Indeed, her talent as an artist - oils, pastels, pencil, charcoal - is so astounding that if she had the self-promotional bent I do, she would be a household name. See below (and at top) for proof.
Unlike so many people (including my lawyer dad, whose profession describes him better and more expeditiously than anything else), my mother has never defined herself through her job - even as a mother. Who she is cannot possibly be described by what she's done, because "force of nature" isn't frequently found on business cards, no matter how avant-garde.
Blisteringly intelligent, her conversations are legendary for their depth and breath of thought. And yeah, their length, too. She's open-minded, a perfectionist (in ways both good and bad), a bastion of unpretentiousness, a sometimes-devil's-advocate, spiritual but definitively not dogmatic, relentlessly altruistic. I've never seen anyone care for pups as well as she does for our shih-tzus Lilly & Langdon, whom she adopted from me when I moved to New York. She cooks them chicken dinners. They have puppy car seats and puppy life vests and 837 puppy toys, and, oh yes, their very own puppy nanny (for when Mom is away for more than four hours). Rough life.
My mom, who used to sport ribbons in her hair into her 20s and shunned pants in favor of A-line skirts as much as I do (we were both "blessed" with physical qualities that theoretically enable us to star in rap videos and/or as poster white girls for "Baby Got Back"), also doesn't wear makeup or get botox or hobble around in heels and a Juicy Couture sweatsuit pretending to be "hip and young." She doesn't really give a shit about what people think, which is both one of the coolest and scariest things about her. She is nobody's doormat.
An inveterate reader, a strong-willed, confident feminist, and the most financially prudent women I've ever met (she dominates Turbo-Tax), she thinks buying anything without heavily consulting Consumer Reports is asking to be robbed and summarily beaten with broken microwave parts. She once told me that she wished either me or my brother were gay, because she would have been "totally supportive." (Alrighty, then! I made a mental note in case the need should arise for me to alter my sexual orientation.)
It has been said that sometimes my mother can be so warm and bubbly she must be fake. She's not. She's a Gemini. She's a communicator. A communicator who will laugh and smile, warmly, lovingly, but If You Cross Her You WILL REGRET IT. [A small illustrative anecdote: In high school my #1 'issue' was not drugs or alcohol or sex. It was waking up on time in the morning. I am NOT a morning person, and I got very good at forging excuse notes (the number of "orthodontist appointments" I had at 8:30 am probably numbered in the hundreds). One morning, after sleeping yet again through the first bell, I had pushed Mom too far. She told me I would get suspended if I didn't shape up. I replied - accurately, I might add - that they "didn't suspend kids like me." (Hello, I was on the DEBATE team!) "Oh yeah?" Mom said. "Is that so?" And she marched down to the school, right into the dean's office and announced, "You need to suspend my daughter for being relentlessly and unapologetically late." And the dean said "We don't suspend kids like her." And my mother said, "You do now." Guess who had to check "yes" in the box of "Have you ever been suspended?" on ALL of her college applications? Lesson Learned. Do. Not. Mess. With. Mom.]
Actually, my mother is the sole reason I'm (ostensibly) a writer today. It was my mom who first encouraged me to join my high school paper as the opinions editor ("you have so many opinions! way, way too many opinions! many of which are wrong! why don't you write about them?!"), and it was my mom who not only supported me when I started writing columns at Georgetown, but spent hours and hours on the phone editing them with me. It was my mom who - despite her unabashed hatred of the FoxNews channel and absolute disinterest in any sort of publicity - nonetheless championed me by making an appearance - makeup-less on tv!! - to talk about what it was like to edit her daughter's "sex column."
More than all that - my mother is the reason I'm a strong woman today. Yeah, I said it. STRONG WOMAN, hear me roar and wear purple and go on women's retreats and quote Maya Angelou. Because more than anything, my mother is that, the ultimate "strong woman" - with a ridiculously loving almost 30-year-old-marriage, a close group of girl friends, two beautiful, well-run homes, two happy little puppies and two more or less well-adjusted kids with no discernable need for SSRIs.
She could make Kim Jong Il piss his pants with one of her lectures, but she still signs her emails "lovehugskisses, momsers." And that, my friends, is a damn impressive dichotomy.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.
Julia with her Dad, 2000, Oil on Canvas.
Abstract, 2001, Oil on Paper.
Nude, 2003, Charcoal/Pastel on Paper.