Meryl has been a visual and performance artist, designer, entrepreneur, and women’s rights activist all her life. She spoke up as a 9-year-old for the ratification of the ERA in 1972. Her heart and soul has been steeped in the work of feminism from the time she could pick up a pencil and make her first protest sign.
After graduating with honors from the School of Visual Arts in 1984, she began her illustrious career in fashion as a sportswear designer. She has been an instructor at Parsons, FIT, and Kent State University’s Fashion School.
As an artist, Meryl worked with Eve Ensler and Sally Fisher on the first V-Day in Madison Square Garden in 2001. She has had one woman gallery shows in NYC, created well received feminist performance pieces, and has acted as co-curator in the group shows she participated in. Meryl is now working on several multi-disciplinary projects that meld her art, fashion, and activism, including a large scale multi media event, her heroine’s journey–Laughing Pussies Tarot Deck, as well as a line of creative message tees with proceeds going to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center.
School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?
Meryl 55, Paul 48, Logan 11
How do you describe what you do in the world?
I am a leader, artist, activist/activator and member of the Resistance, designer, feminist, sensualist, and empath.
I feel like I give freedom, and create a safe space for people to be authentic and transparent in my presence and then out in the world. I am also a risk taker, and I open-up spaces.
What kind of career woman were you before you became a mother and what did you focus on professionally?
I was a fashion designer, consulting with fashion brands as well as helping new brands with launches. At the same time, I created, curated, and showed art.
What was the journey like to you becoming a ‘surprise’ mother in your 40’s?
It was wonderful, scary, exciting, unexpected, and hard. I went from nursing to peri-menopause in a few short years. I’m a researcher who dives deep into whatever I am interested in or need to know. I read everything about pregnancy, giving birth, motherhood, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, that I could get my hands on. I may have gone over-board, and made myself a bit nuts.
I think the lack of sleep is harder if you are an older mom. On the plus side, I am so much more patient and smarter than I was in my 20’s and 30’s so, having a kid later was a good thing for me.
What are the benefits of having one child and a man to share this experience with?
I grew up with a single mom, and I know many single moms. It’s not easy. Having a partner for me, is raising our child as a team. I get to share this experience/the ride with my best friend. Sometimes we are in it together, other times we tag team. But, we always have each other’s back. It’s also sweet for me to model a great relationship for our son. Neither Paul nor I had that as kids.
How do you see ‘doing it right’ as a mother of a young son?
I don’t think there is such a thing. Many of the decisions I made when Logan was very young came out of fear of doing it wrong. I’ve gotten smarter. I finally had to accept that he’s a separate human being, lol. No matter what we do, he’s going to have his own set of problems and experiences. I’ve learned that I’ve got to grow with him.
What is it about being a mother that brings you a new understanding of love?
From my experience, loving my kid is the best feeling in the world. Telling him how much I love him makes my heart sing. There is no longing or clinging to his love the way I did with many men I had relationships with. I am happy to say that my marriage is the same. The love I have for the guys in my home is what makes it a home, and I know, it’s such a cliché.
In what ways does motherhood give your world more clarity?
I’m so much happier and more empathetic since I’ve become a mother. It is not what I expected, but I grow as a human every day because of the experiences I have with my son. I have gotten better at admitting when I am wrong or acting from my ego. Logan calls me on it, and if I stand my ground I am teaching him to be self-centered and selfish. I have stimulating conversations with him that open my eyes to other ways of viewing the world. I laugh a lot more.
To what extent do you see children inflicting pain, especially on mothers as the epicenter of receiving this pain?
My son has not done this with intention, he’s only eleven, but I remember doing it to my mom when I was angry at her. It was much easier to direct my rage at her than at my dad.
That, being said, I spend more time with him than my husband does, and I get the brunt of his upset directed at me when he has no other way of expressing it. That–ain’t easy!
How do you navigate space for yourself as you home-school?
The hardest thing about our lifestyle is also the thing that makes it work. Since Paul works nights, I have free time during the day to do what I need/want to do. But, I miss having my man around at night, and we also have-to find ways that he gets time for himself as well.
As Logan has gotten older it gets easier. He can be quite independent so I can get large chunks of time for me, some days more than others. We are in the same space for hours at a time doing our own thing at times.
What do you want your young son to understand about the world?
Wow, that’s a big one. I want him to know that he can go for whatever he wants in the life, and at the same time I want him to understand that has innate privilege and advantage. I want him to see the beauty in nature and in people, and to be aware of the diversity and differences. Since we homeschool, at-this-time we are in control of his understanding of history and current events. To the best of our ability, both Paul and I are teaching him a broad view, not the revisionist history most of us learned.
What do you stand for?
I stand for living life as an evolution and a revolution. I get excited about new things all the time. Sometimes I move slowly and others I plow ahead like a bulldozer.
I stand for justice, freedom, and love. Since I was a kid I wanted to right wrongs in the world. As a woman in my 50’s I’ve come to realize there is so much I have not understood about the institutions that hold up the way we’ve lived. I cannot tolerate doing nothing. I create art, I speak, I march, I organize, I continue to learn and grow.
What drew you to Harlem to live and how has it changed over time?
When we were looking to buy an apartment in 2010 I had a strong desire to have a duplex. I think there was a part of me that want to recreate my childhood home. Living in NYC, space is a premium, so that was a daunting task, especially when you have a budget. We were open to many areas in Manhattan, and when I saw our place, I knew it was our home. We liked the fact that it was a building where the neighbors knew each other.
In the time, we’ve lived here we’ve seen the same gentrification that takes place in many areas in NYC, and other cities. It wasn’t until we lived here and got to know people in our neighborhood, and make friends did I realize the impact we had as a white family by moving in. People who’ve lived here their whole lives are getting priced out. Now that we are entrenched, we must be respectful of the history and people of Harlem.
What’s the importance of sisterhood in your life?
Sisterhood means so much to me. There are things that we can only share with those who can understand the experiences we are going through. I have reached out to them, and they have reached out to me when we are at our highest and our lowest. My best business connections, and some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life is with the people in my sisterhood.
White women are often unconscious to black mother’s need to protect their children from death, what part do you play in bringing consciousness of privilege into raising your son?
I mentioned this in an earlier comment—It is so important that Logan understands the responsibility of the privilege he has being a white male, now, more than ever. We don’t want to scare the crap out of him, so we reveal things, and explain that are age appropriate. I bring him to marches and rallies when I think it is ok for him to be there. We went to a vigil for Syria. He listened to every word the speakers said with tears streaming down his face. I didn’t realize it would be that heavy when I took him, but I’m glad I did, and his empathy was beautiful.
If you didn’t feel you needed to ‘tone yourself down’ what impact would you have?
That’s an interesting question, you know I don’t tone myself down too much, except for the way I communicate certain things. I spent a lot of my life trying to make things peaceful for the people around me. In truth, it was conflict avoidance coming from a childhood being around parents who fought hard before they divorced.
I know I would have gone further in most of the businesses I’ve been in if I wasn’t so damn nice!
How do you see men needing to show up differently in the world?
Most men have been complicit in small and sometimes large ways in misogyny and the sexist practices that have women out of the halls of power globally. In the Western paradigm, it’s been assumed by many men that we are in a post-feminist world. In some cultures, women are denied basic human rights. Men are missing out on so much. I think there is so much fear that when we are free to unleash our power we will destroy them. Maybe some women will, but I believe we will take them for a helluva ride and make their lives better. This also applies to much of what we see where white men are terrified of sharing power with anyone.
Men who are ready to make a difference must stand up for injustice large and small while being aware that it might have short term negative effects for them in our current culture.
The President is often seen as a symbol of fatherhood, how does this land with you?
The whole idea of this disgusts me, especially with our current president. We have idolized the role of the father of our country. The dude in the White House right now is an abusive dad. A lot of people in the USA have some serious daddy issues to work out. That’s a whole book…
As an artist of provocative works, how do you discuss what you do with your child?
Logan has been around my artwork his whole life. Because the subject is the human body and about sensuality it could be kind of “chargey”. Paul and I have taken a straight forward tact about the human body and sexuality. We answer his questions without aggrandizement. To him, it’s all as natural as anything else we talk about. As he gets older this may change. When he’s a teen he might get shy about his body or feel awkward around these conversations, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
What’s next for you professionally?
I am working on a new project that I am really excited about but don’t want to announce yet. I’ll just say this, it is around women, money, and class. This is going to be a game changer for me. I am also working on a collaboration with a group of powerhouse people around intersectional feminism.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)
One common denominator I see with mother’s is the constant attempt at what I now call, “non-existent balance.” Once I realized it wasn’t going to happen, that the scale tips back and forth I told every mama I knew.
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