I’m so unbelievably sad this morning. I visited the hospice site of Sherry Reinhardt after finding out last night she is dying. Sherry is an East Bay institution. She was the facilitator of countless mother’s groups. What’s a mothers group, you ask? That’s that I wondered when I first saw the ad. I had just moved to the Bay Area. We had a three -month old baby and I knew absolutely no one. I didn’t know how to drive so I would spend my days strolling up and down Solano missing NYC. I was adrift. Sherry’s ad read “Mother’s Support Group” and I needed support, alright. I showed up on the first day – the sun streamed in through the windows of the cheery den, which was festooned with group shots of babies sans vertebrae schlumping into each other on her white sofa with those blank baby looks. Sitting in a circle were women who I would come to count as some of my best friends in years to come. Women who would eventually see me through serious illness, imminent divorce and performing triumphs, who would love my son like family and accept us for who we are even though we are so very different from them in some ways. Women who practically raised me and who taught me how to be a woman. I didn’t see into the future that day but if I did, I would have seen several divorces, cancer, cancer scares, severely ill children, learning disabilities, menopause, depression, undiagnosed illness, grief, parents dying and shit loads of silly jokes and crème bruliere. But back then, they were just pleasant women with cute babies, talking about baby stuff and domestic engineering issues that sounded like Sanskrit to these urban ears.
I think it took awhile for me to grow on some of them. ( not you, Wendy – you always tolerated me, Berkeley girl that you are) I think I’m a good mom, but I have NEVER been a traditional mom as witnessed by the fact that from the time he was two my son refused to call me anything but Carla no matter what kind of strategies I called upon. In the middle of the night bad dream? “CARLA!” Hurts his knee and cries? “CARLA” You can’t imagine how low your status is when a two year old sighs and looks at you patronizingly and says “Yes, I know you’re my mommy, Carla.” I also thought that mother’s groups were a self-indulgent bourgeois luxury that most families would never have time for. Silly thing for me to think, really. I worked in NY briefly with Augusto Boal (Theater of the Oppressed) and he told us about working with Swedish postal workers who felt oppressed because of the number of pieces of mail they needed to sort per hour. A postcard from a beautiful place would come along and they couldn't even flip it to see where it was from. Boal had been a political prisoner in Brazil in the 70s and he thought “This is not oppression – where is the cop putting cigarettes out on their chest – that’s oppression” Until he realized that the “cop in the head” was just as powerful as the one hitting you on the head and that we all need compassion for the oppression we endure. Clearly this can be taken to an extreme. Like my friend Kathy said last night about something relatively trivial “you’re not giving birth in a tree in Africa” in reference to the floods. Perspective is good.
But back to why I had to grow on them…I don’t think all babies are cute and I am not particularly interested in them as a social class. I think babies I love are cute and babies that as my brother would put it are “objectively beautiful” are cute but not all babies. I tended to make inappropriate and sometimes offensive jokes about the babies – called one of them the Eddie Haskell of babies and made a joke that to this day I wish I could take back about Kaia the beautiful porcelain doll baby and her proclivity to throwing up. Her Mom quietly and with dignity put me in my place and I’ve respected her ever since as a powerful person who doesn’t take shit. As the kids grew older the domestic failure gap widened between me and the other moms– they cut grapes in half and put them in the freezer for the kids’ snacks, I picked up chicken Mc Nuggets. They organized color coordinated, perfectly appointed parties for one another, I hired a male stripper for one of the baby showers. I showed up at Halloween parties in costumes like a giant penis and worse…Tina Turner. What the hell was I thinking? I wanted to be “one of the gang” just as much as I did things to challenge my position in same. They grew to love me anyway and I’m eternally grateful to Sherry because she insisted on a level of acceptance, self-care, active listening etc, within the group, then she pushed us out of the nest to try to figure out our relationships on our own. Kind of like raising kids only with that stop time photography – which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately but that’s another blog…or not.
Thank you Sherry for your kindness and unforced compassion, for your safe haven and for your ability to see a need in the community and fill it so beautifully. You have done more on this earth than most people ever do. My heart ( and eyes) are full.
I close with a monologue from one of my many unfinished plays. It was inspired by my experiences with the Mom’s group and it has a character modeled after Sherry. I feel a renewed sense of purpose to get it out there and add to her already powerful legacy. The character below is loosely based on yours truly.
So I had this dream the other night. I’m at a party and there are these kids there – the oldest one’s around 10 or something and I can’t take my eyes off of them. They’re running around, playing some war game. Very intense. Boys against girls. You know how intense games can be at that age. There’s this one pretty dark haired girl and she looks like someone I could be best friends with. She’s making faces and arguing with the boys and running. Running so hard. And as I’m watching her, the other kids come into focus or something and they become more familiar to me –and this is when I realize– okay this isn’t a dream –it’s a premonition – cause the girl, my best friend - it’s Miriam. They’re all our kids. The lens widens and we’re having this big party because it’s the 10th anniversary of the group. And over in the corner – there’s all of you and … I think you’ve been working out. You look great. The husbands are there too and they look – okay. Some of them ….aren’t around anymore. Matt is. I’m still with him, I guess. Laugh if you want. So I’m watching this party and somehow I know - in the dream, I know, that we’ve been through some major shit together. Deaths. Divorces. Sick children. The group has already had its first hot flash. We’ve had miscarriages, abortions, affairs, depressions. We’ve vacationed together and had horrible fights about politics and said we’d never speak to each other again. We’ve fed each other 10,000 times, brought buckets of chicken soup to one another and we’ve cried and cried and cried. If you put all our tears together there would be enough to make our own salt lake. We can’t be separated any more than I could extract just my tears from that lake. So there we are and we’re all dancing together to Earth, Wind and Fire. And we’re laughing and drinking wine and just celebrating who we are and what we’ve come through and we’re glad for all of it. All of it. And I’m so filled with joy cause I know this sweet secret that the other me from 10 years ago doesn’t know: We show up. That’s all we need to do. We just show up. I’ll do that because I want to be your friend. I want to drink coffee with you and help you move and catch your kids smoking their first cigarettes. And I’ll tell you another secret. You don’t know it but you need me too. You can go on with the group without me if you want, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be this group. So have a cookie, think it over…… It was a really nice dream.
That’s all for now. Blessings to you Sherry.