4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
When I met my husband he had an 18” neck and a 36” waist, he had that kind of build.
I had been unloading art supplies from my 84′ VW rabbit convertible to my third floor studio space in a glorified attic over an old train station in downtown Baltimore. It was the summer of 98’. I was wearing cut-off denim overall shorts that were shellacked with paint, old running sneakers and a ratty tank top, all this soaked with sweat, the road dirt kicked up during my drive from New Jersey and the dust and debris from a dilapidated art studio abused by countless artists through the decades. I looked del-i-cious (if you’re into sweaty, sloppy, and short.)
When I saw my husband that day for the first time he had his finely muscled arms flexed around a big box of art supplies, and although in retrospect I know he must have been sweaty, too, that’s not how I remember it. He looked glorious: tan, strong, military-style buzzcut, off-white t-shirt and pressed khaki shorts. My new roomie and I were walking up the hill and he was crossing the sidewalk in front of us. We paused, gobsmacked. He was like an ad from a magazine. He may have even said, “Hello, ladies.”
I disliked him immediately.
When people ask how we met, I always begin by saying that we didn’t like each other at all the first summer we met.
My husband cuts me off with the “real” story, his version. It begins like this:
It was the first day of our MFA program, the day after moving into our studios, and we were presenting projected slides of our artwork. We’d stand in front of the small auditorium at a podium and awkwardly describe who we were and what we were doing in the MFA program as we projected huge images of our artwork behind ourselves.
I always try to interject here that this was the moment when I realized that this confident, muscled guy was smart and incredibly talented. His slides of sketchbooks layered with art historical references ranging from Jasper Johns to Botticelli had me hooked. This guy was beyond good.
But he always interrupts here and brings the story back to me and my slides, about how I stood there in front of everyone with these huge portraits, naked self-portraits to be exact, and how I’d pointed out the way I had painted my socks and hiking boots (on my otherwise nude body), or the blender on the counter next to where I sat (nude), or my dog (laying on the floor below my nude body.) And he says he just knew. He knew that anyone who could nonchalantly point these things out, just stand there utterly exposed and yet either too oblivious or confident to care, had something. He knew that we were going to be together.
I have always wanted to be that woman he describes in this story.
After we were married and we’d tried and tried and tried for five years to get pregnant, he’d planned a summer trip to Nova Scotia for the two of us. It was on this trip that we decided both that we’d had enough, and also that we were enough. We were done trying for babies, feeling the loss, injecting the medicine, drawing the blood. We would name our first house Jasper instead of our first child, and we would be enough for one another.
It was foggy that whole week in Nova Scotia, staying in this cliffside house where we could hear the roaring of the ocean on three sides, but could never see so much as a single wave. For seven days.
He made a painting of me that trip.
I always thought the painting was just about the fog in a general sort of way, but a few years back I heard my husband describe it at a gallery talk to students. He said it was about us, that the fog was a metaphor for our not knowing. That it was about love in the face of that, that it was about me.
It is four children and a lifetime later, now. My friends can’t believe this, but my husband still shops for me: sassy shoes, funky sweaters, badass boots, practical Victoria’s Secret cotton bras, sweetly sexy cotton shifts to sleep in, dotted running shirts and winter running tights.
I want to be that woman.
I want to be the strong, sassy, sexy, brilliant, fearless woman who he sees in his mind’s eye when he tells that story about when we first met, who he envisions when he picks out red polka dot pin-up high-heeled summer sandals.
There are moments when I get so frustrated in our day-to-day life; when he says that we need to straighten up the mud room, that maybe we could plan the meals out at the beginning of the week instead of getting to Thursday and only having frozen sausage and hotdogs to work with, that we need to communicate better about our chaotic schedules. And even though he says we (and maybe he actually only means we… probably he really only means we), I think he means me. And I think I’m not being that amazing woman he envisioned when he fell in love with me. I am furious for being caught out in that lie.
But down the line, after the flurry of my fury, of the bumping of pots and pans and cabinet doors, he always holds me, spoons me right to sleep. And in the morning, every morning, this beautiful, brilliant, handsome, hard-working man (who, although his neck has shrunk and his waist has perhaps grown an inch or two, is so much more sexy and handsome than he ever was way back when), this man, my husband, convinces me again that I actually am the something wonderful he thinks I am.
Here’s to another Valentine’s Day trying to grow one step closer to the people -wives, daughters, mothers, friends- we envision for ourselves, and a word of gratitude for the ones who think we’ve already done it. Thank you, baby.