A Portrait of the Artist’s Mother

I’ve often thought, “How did I turn out so differently from my own mom?” I live in California, where I work as a freelance writer and circus performer. I have one and a half masters degrees (which sounds dignified without the qualifier “… in Creative Writing”), around 56 zillion hula hoops, and my hair is still streaked with hot pink – in my 30s.

My mother? Miles away. I was born “down river” of Detroit, where my mom got married at 20, had two kids by 25, and worked her way up the through the administrative assistant ranks of a school district. She planned our family budget with military precision, cutting coupons to help direct what we could afford to buy at Meijer grocery store. Car payments, house payments, college tuition for her kids – these were milestones on a path that led, with a lot of love and hard work, to a golden finish line: retirement.

How could two people be on more different paths? As my 20s wrapped into a neat bow, and my path still hadn’t settled into anything conventionally “neat” at all (I had actually quit a job as an advertising copywriter to spend more time performing with hula hoops), my mom began calling me — sometimes in the middle of the night — in a frenzy of care and worry, asking “What are your plans?”

Hey, you gave me a red cape and a sailor dress, both of which I’ve worn on stage *just in the past year.* Forget “plans,” mom — I got this!

Like a baby who can’t yet tell its mother what it needs, I initially – couldn’t formulate a response. Somehow, I couldn’t say, “It’s terrifying enough just to believe in myself as an artist. I need you to believe in me, too.” It’s taken years, conversations, tears – even going to a counselor together – for us to work our way toward understanding. And you know what? We’ve come pretty darn far.

Lately, I’ve even realized that despite our different approaches to life, at the core, we’re molded from the same stuff. We both have intense determination and see our work as a way to help people. We’re both moved to tears by dance. On Mother’s Day, I wanted to honor some of these things I’m only beginning to understand about my mom the human being. So I asked to interview her. I wasn’t expecting to cry, reading some of her responses. Without further ado, I present the woman who created my life . Ladies and gents, my incredibly patient and loving mom, Eileen.

My mom (second from right) with the women of her family, late 50s.

Can you describe your own family life (the family that raised you)? What kind of values were you raised with?

I was raised in a suburb of Detroit in the 1950’s. I was the middle child of three daughters. My father had fought in WWII and started his family soon after the war ended.  Consequently, my sisters and I are considered “baby boomers.”

My childhood was a time when most moms stayed home to raise their kids, and dads were the head of the house – financially and emotionally. I lived through the 1968 racial riots in Detroit. Racial equality and women’s rights were changing a lot during my adolescence. My mother tried to instill in my sisters and me that we could do whatever we wanted to do. We could be mothers if we wanted, and we could also have a career if we wanted. Things were definitely not equal for women, but they were certainly better than when my mother and grandmothers grew up.

What was your financial situation growing up – and then in your married life?

Even though I lived in the outskirts of an affluent community (Grosse Pointe), we were by no means rich.  My father was an architect, but he supported his parents his entire life. His father was blind, and his mother had never worked. Both of my parents lived through the Depression, so the importance of saving for a rainy day was drilled into me over and over again.

I married when I was only 20 years old. Your father was still in college so I dropped out of school and supported him (as a secretary) through his last two and a half years of school. Money was extremely tight, and as I look back on those years, I really don’t know how we made it, financially.

I worked part-time as a waitress while you and your brother were preschoolers. When you entered kindergarten, I decided to go back to work full-time. It was hard for me to find a good paying secretarial job, since I had been out of the workforce for seven years. Computers had come into the work place during the years I had been raising my family and I didn’t have any experience with them. I had to start out at a minimum wage job and work my way up.

My mom and dad on their wedding day – age 20.

I now know things were pretty tight when I was a kid – although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Money was extremely tight when you were growing up. I was constantly trying to get all the bills paid along with putting some away for braces, college, and my father kept telling me to put money away for retirement. I also wanted to have enough money to be able to offer you and your brother piano lessons, dance classes, acting lessons, gymnastics, or whatever you wanted to do (within limits).

I remember you saying to me one day when you were in college, “You guys still only have an 8-Track recorder. Why don’t you get a decent stereo?” The 8-Track player was actually broken but we could at least play the radio. The rest of our friends had purchased the latest cassette player and then moved on to CD players when they became available. We didn’t keep up with the latest electronic devices because money was tight, and we were investing in our kids rather than “things.” I knew you didn’t understand that at the time. Maybe you do now that you’re an adult.

It probably wasn’t until you and your brother were out of college and I had a pretty big promotion at work, that our financial situation changed dramatically. Your dad and I were finally able to do a little traveling and get some serious money put away for retirement.

*Omg. Who gave me piano lessons?!?

When I was little, or maybe even before I was born, did you have any thoughts of what your daughter would grow up to be?

I guess I assumed all girls crave to eventually find a “man of their dreams,” get married, buy a house, start a family, and live happily ever after. That was what I wanted – and basically did. Most of my friends followed the same path.

You decided to take a different path. I was very proud of you [when you got a job as an advertising copywriter] and was very glad that you could financially support yourself. During this time, I would hear you complain about your job. Initially, I couldn’t understand. You made great money, were able to work with very creative people (like yourself), the company put money toward your retirement, and you finally had a career.

It probably wasn’t until I watched the TV series Mad Men that I truly understood what your life was like during that time. The poor copywriters in that show are at the beck and call of their boss(es). They could have to work until midnight or through a weekend at the last minute if their boss wants them to. I know now that this was what your life was like. I do understand that money isn’t everything. You can have all the money in the world and not be happy. The bottom line is I want you to be happy!

You know you have an unconventional child when: She is dressed like the “Flashdance” lady and sharing a lineup with a unicorn and a guy in red, patent leather boots. My parents at a show, Portland, Oregon.

You signed me up for dance classes when I was four years old. Can you tell me how that came about?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to take ballet lessons in the worst way. My father refused to pay for lessons but was kind enough to buy me a tutu and a Nutcracker Suite record. I would dance around the living room and watch my reflection in our TV set.

When you were born, I was determined to let you take dance lessons if you wanted to. You didn’t ask for lessons, but when I asked if you would like to, you said you did. You took dance lessons from the time you were four until you were about 17. You may have been taking the dance class, but as I watched you, I would pretend it was me dancing to the music.

Mini Revolva, on my grandma’s lap, after a dance recital. My mom sewed that costume.

Seventh grade jazz photo.

Did you see signs, during my childhood, that I would turn into an “unconventional adult”?
I guess the first thing that made me realize you were trying to find your self and wanted to do your own thing was when you dyed your hair purple, just before you started college. You didn’t seem to care that you looked really strange. As I look back, I think you were trying to fit into a conventional life, but it just wasn’t making you happy.

In my adult life, there has been a sense of urgency about what were “my plans.” Was there a turning point where you realized being a hula hooper, traveler and writer WAS my plan? How did that make you feel?

There were times in your life when you worked as a freelance writer and performed on the side. I didn’t have a problem with that. I knew you had a steady income coming in and could support yourself. It was probably when you announced that you were going to try to support yourself full-time as Revolva that I became worried about you. All the typical “mom” questions popped into my head: Can she really make enough money to support herself? How will she pay for benefits? What will she do in her senior years?

As you know, it took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that you weren’t going to lead a traditional life, but that was okay. You are an adult and you get to choose your own path. The bottom line is – I want you to be happy!

There were no clear signs anything was amiss during my childhood. Except that I seem to have been dressed as “Little Miss Muffet” on this day. (Wait a minute, mom, I think you started something here!)

If you had to give advice for other parents whose children are following an unconventional life path, what would you say?

I guess I would tell parents to keep an open mind about their child’s life choices. It is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open! There were many times you and I had discussions about your life choices, and we even saw a therapist together to work out some differences.

If you had to give advice to kids who are following an unconventional life path, what would you say to help them better understand their conventional parents?

Try to understand that it may take a little time for your parent(s) to change their paradigm of your life. If your unconventional life path is something you really want to do, then stand firm and don’t let your parents talk you out of it. Life is shorter than you think, and you should find something that you truly love to do. However, you need to understand that your parents should not financially support you the rest of your life so you need to make enough money somehow to take care of your needs.

Family circle. Detroit, 2008.

Is there something in particular you wish that I had been better able to understand about you, over the years?

Maybe if you had understood how I was raised, you might have understood better why I reacted certain ways. Even though I may not have always understood your choices, I have always tried to support them (even if you didn’t think I was). I guess I wish that you had understood that it just might take me a little time to grasp that you preferred an unconventional life.

In the past, when your friends or co-workers asked what I did for a living, was there ever a period where you didn’t know what to say?

When I try to explain that my daughter is a “Hoop Dancer,” people get a little smile on their face and look puzzled. Thank God for the Internet. When people ask what you do, I am able to pull up one of your outstanding videos and show them. My friends are always blown away. Every performance seems to be bigger and better than the last. You’ve actually been performing for so long that most of my friends now know what you do, and if you are in the area, they all want to come and see you perform.

My advice for other parents of artists, who might not quite know how to describe their kids’ path, would be to smile and sound excited about your child’s “unconventional” career when describing it to friends and family. Sound supportive of your child’s choices. If it is hard to describe what your child is doing, use pictures or the Internet to show examples of what he/she is doing.

“Oh, those are lovely shots of your daughter’s wedding. MY daughter has wedding photos, too!” (Photo Michelle Bates)

What is your proudest moment, being the mom of “Revolva”?

I think when I watch you perform as Revolva, it reminds me of when I watched you at your dance classes. A secret part of me wishes that I also could have led an unconventional life and “danced to the music.”

I am always proud of you! It takes a lot to stand up to your parents and follow your dream. It takes a lot to accomplish all that you have done over the years. You are such a creative writer, outstanding performer, and all-around great daughter.

Would you ever be in a hula hoop act WITH me? If so, what kind of act would we do? What would your stage name be?

Yes, I would join you in a hula hoop act. Maybe I could flip you on your back while you hoop on your feet (like what you do with your friend Bags), and then you could do all the work. Here are some possible stage names for me: E-volva, I-Lean, Yo Momma, Huper Mom (I could have a “H” on a cape – like Superman), The Incredible Mrs. Inflexible (I could come out and try “unsuccessfully” to touch my toes or twirl a hoop).

In my ideal show, you would open for Madonna and then perform again later in her show. I would join you and Madonna in the closing number. We would perform at a theatre in the Detroit area so all our friends and family could see us.

My mom and I on a hot night out, at Teatro Zinzanni, in San Francisco.  As soon as “Revolva and Huper Mom” have our duo act together, I’m sure we’ll be performing it here.

Since you created me, on Mother’s Day, how does it feel to know that any inspiration I’ve been able to lend to other people’s lives – leads back to you, for putting an “unconventional person” into the world?

I guess I never thought that I had anything to do with your creative talents. However, after answering all your questions, now realize that I did try to get you to experience as many different things as you could, to see where your interests lie, and encouraged you to follow your dreams. At the time, I was assuming that your dreams would be conventional dreams – but that was my incorrect paradigm of your life. It just took me a little while to realize that you can be successful leading an unconventional life.

I couldn’t be more proud of you. Thanks for hanging in there with me until we could better understand each other. Any really good relationship, whether it is husband and wife or mother and child, takes a lot of hard work. I love you so very much!

I love you, too, mom. And we’re totally doing a show together next time I’m in Michigan. Does anyone have Madonna’s phone number?


5 responses to “A Portrait of the Artist’s Mother

  1. In my official status as one of your mom’s best friends, I can tell you with certainty that she love’s you dearly, and she’s very proud of you. In fact, she invited Dwight and I to watch you perform twice when you were in the area because she knew we would be impressed by your talents, and we were. Look for us in the audience when both of you perform with Madonna – we’ll definitely be there!

  2. Awesome article and I loved her ‘wish I could have lived an unconventional life’ comment.

  3. As your mom’s most senior old doll pal, I am thrilled and inspired by this interview and the effort you both took to generate such an in-depth piece. Any mother worth her salt (as the old folks say) would be proud and happy to have a child who clearly cares so deeply. Oh, thanks for making our wedding party the inaugural Revolva-Huper*-Queen-mum performance. A year later, people are still talking about and its high entertainment value.
    [*ed note: shouldn’t it be “hooper”? Just asking.]

  4. Thanks for the comments, y’all. Jill, you’re welcome for our test run performance at your wedding! And in terms of stage names, my mom used the spelling “Huper Mom” during our email interview process. I did consider changing it to “Hooper Mom” (and maybe that will happen eventually), but I also considered the fact that it was her own creative spelling — tipped more toward the sUper side, than the hOOper side. Also, people often misspell my name as RevUlva. I have to constantly reinforce “… with an O, not a U!” So I thought maybe my mom was just taking on the rogue “u” that people always add into my name. At this point, we’ll probably just see how Madonna wants us to spell it, on the marquee outside the Fox Theater. 😉

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