Happy Mother's Day MaryAlice
by Erin Bagwell Making a film about strong female role models, I think a lot about the influences I have had growing up, and how lucky I am to be my mother’s daughter. My mom, MaryAlice, is not a regular mom. Sure, she is a mama-bear-nurturing-powerhouse. But she is also a strong individual who doesn’t care about what other people think- we are all living in her world.
Growing up my mom drove a red convertible, wore blue mascara (she still does), and usually was found wearing something tie-dyed or brightly colored. We lived on conservative army bases for most of my childhood. She was a burst of originality and color in these environments, although my brother and I didn’t see it at the time – we just thought that was normal. I grew up thinking that all moms drove red convertibles, danced to Janet Jackson songs, and were as equally loving as they were independent.
My mom let me paint furniture, paint the walls in our house, color my hair purple when I was eleven years old (and we had to hide it from the nuns at my catholic school). She let us be individually ourselves, even if it meant coloring outside the lines.
In high school I started calling my mother MaryAlice, or MA and so did some of my friends. I think a lot of people thought (and probably still think) this is weird or disrespectful. But my mom never cared, and I don’t know why but it just felt right. My mother is so much more than just a mom- she is a person, she is MaryAlice. And when you meet her, or if you’ve been cut off by her driving her little yellow bug around Buffalo you feel that. She is MaryAlice. As a principal of a catholic school she also uses her leadership to express her individuality. She teaches yoga every Friday morning (even though it pisses some parents off), she does a dance routines with the kids for the school play, and she hand painted all the bathrooms in her school. These are all MaryAlice-isms.
I think the other thing I admire deeply about MA is her PBC, her “Paper Bag Club”. This is a group of women who she goes dancing with, travels with, and cares for deeply. She has known her best friend, Karen, since kindergarten. They now live a block away from each other. Her sisters also play an enormous role in her life. When they are all together, their platinum blonde hair and blue mascara spends some serious positive white-witch vibes into the universe. Female friendships have always been deeply important to my mother, and are a huge part of her identity.
Last year while Sal and I were planning our wedding, we were struggling with finding our own identity in all the traditional rituals of having a wedding. I called my mom crying and told her I didn’t think the location we picked and put a deposit down on was quite right. Secretly, I wanted to have the wedding at our house- the place where I felt most at home in the world. After a series of back and forth phone calls I finally broke down and told her my wish to get married in the backyard. Our house isn’t on some crazy estate, we don’t have a sprawling lawn- we live in a regular house and I knew my mom wasn’t going to be super cool with us inviting everyone there. It would be a lot of work. But my mother isn’t afraid of hard work either.
She wanted to make this the wedding of our dreams, so she agreed to let us host the event at our house. Then she got to work. She searched far and wide at every thrift store in Buffalo to buy our wedding china, she climbed trees to hang twinkle lights, and she spray painted gold pots, planted flowers, and arranged them all around the yard. Because of all her and my dad’s hard work, it truly was the wedding of our dreams. After all the father-daughter/mother-son dances were over, the DJ’s played Janet Jackson and I danced with my mom.
Some people say you pick your parents before you are born, to learn the lessons you need to carry you into your next life. I am not sure if that’s true, but I’m thankful every day to be MaryAlice’s daughter. Happy Mother’s Day MA!
Erin Bagwell is the Founder of Feminist Wednesday & the Director of Dream, Girl. Follow her on twitter @erinebagwell