MOM CRUSH: ALEXA
Photos by Marissa Kaiser
INTERVIEW BY KARIN HESSELVIK
alexa's motto is "i'm ok, you're ok" and it has seen her through a winding creative career, MOTHERING TWINS, BATTLING the dragons of cancer and ESCAPING NYC TO set up a new SEMI-SUBURBAN life for her family FILLED WITH SO MUCH LIGHT, LOVE, HUMOR AND ONLY THE OCCASIONAL JABBERWOCK. WE SPEND AN AFTERNOON IN HER COZY IRVINGTON HOME AND CHAT ABOUT CREATIVITY + MOTHERHOOD, HER NEW BOOK PROJECT AND ON WHY JOY CAN BE AN ACT OF RESISTANCE.
What’s the first thing you remember creating?
A stained-glass window I made at a hippie art class when I was four or five. It was basically pieces of colored glass held together with silver glue. I think of my little self, handling those dangerous materials and creating something beautiful that let the light in. I can’t think of a better metaphor for all I want to do as a writer, musician and a mother, too.
What’s the most recent thing you created?
To be perfectly honest: an essay about how motherhood exhausts me so much that sometimes at night after the boys go to bed all I want to do is curl up in my Golden Girls muumuu and Google Helena Christensen’s bangs until I pass out.
Are you a kid or a grown up?
I wish I could say I was still a kid. But extreme motherhood (namely, seeing one of my twins through cancer) forced me to grow up. The good news? I don’t bat an eyelash when faced with the Jabberwock. I like to think I’m Alice, all grown up.
What are you most proud of?
Having a child in remission means I have learned to live with my dragons. “Hey, dragon, seriously, you again? I’m driving here! What do you want?” I’m proud that I’ve learned to say, “Okay, I’m totally freaking out here, but this is actually hilarious because you’re just a big old Puff The Magic Dragon trying to freak the fuck out of me and guess what! (Insert Batman voice here) “I WILL SLAY YOU!” Welcome to my head.
When are you your most creative self?
In the early morning, after the boys have gone to school. I light a candle and I sit Indian-style in my nightgown with my coffee. I have always been a morning person. The day is fresh, the dragons are still sleeping and I have yet to decide my new idea is not amazing.
What does freedom mean to you?
With every breath we take we can choose to be free.
What have you learned about yourself since becoming a mother?
That my sense of humor saves me again and again. I mean, trying to figure out how to pee with two screaming babies on the loose was pretty insane. Or holding my child at 3am in the hospital waiting for him to throw up again from the chemo while a “Say Yes to The Dress” marathon is on TV and I’ve just found out we’d been audited. Now that's a memory! Motherhood, okay let’s be real, extreme motherhood, has taught me to throw my arms up in the air, like at the Greek restaurant when they bring out the dish on fire and everyone yells, Opa! I mean, what else are you supposed to do except clap your hands?
What role does creativity play in how you parent?
It plays a major role. I have no idea what I’m doing as a mother. I have no idea what I’m doing when I sit down with a blank page, or at the piano. Making up the rules is what I live for.
What’s something that energizes you?
Being outdoors. We recently moved from New York City to the Hudson Valley, and nothing energizes me more than walking on the Old Croton Aqueduct, alone with my thoughts and the once maddening silence that I now cannot live without.
What’s something that brings you peace?
At night, after West and Lou go to bed, I sit on the shag rug by their bed and breathe in their energy. To this day, when I have my hands on both boys at the same time, I feel a current run through my body: we are connected. They are everything to me and I remember to recharge so I can be their Sun.
How do you nurture yourself?
I love to cook. I spend a lot of time thinking about food, shopping for food and preparing food. I have a rhythm down now at home where I write, take a break and put something in the oven, write some more, check on the oven, etc. This way I’m creating something tangible, say muffins, all the while trying to create something totally intangible (words on paper).
Who is your lady crush?
I have so many. I call them my Board of Trustees! But lately I’ve been reading women writers who are also mothers. There’s a Barbara Kingsolver interview I love where she talks about going into super focus mode as soon as the school bus pulls away. Or Cheryl Strayed talking about how she had to go away for a few weeks just to finish Wild. I’m so in this right now that any lady who can help me write a book and be a mother is my lady crush.
Three words that describe your take on motherhood
Humor, humility, grace.
Best thing about having twin boys?
Their magical connection. I call them Twin Magic for a reason. They live in a magical kingdom all their own. I’m lucky when they let me visit. Sometimes they don't!
Two kids at the same age at once. Believe me, when I see a mama with like three under three my heart goes out to her, too! But there’s something about two going through the same things at the same time that can leave me feeling like I Love Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates on the assembly line.
Best piece of advice you received on parenting?
My friend Molly says don’t take advice, don’t give advice. She’s right.
Where does your “i'm ok, you're ok” mantra come from?
It’s from an old self-help book my parents had growing up. I haven’t even read it but I love the idea of muttering “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” to ourselves when it feels like the world is ending. Like when one of my kids has pooped on my foot, and I realized I forgot to pay the electric bill and I have to tell my agent I won't be making our deadline. I'm okay!
What role does music play in your life, now?
Realizing that music was no longer making me happy was so hard for me. Was I really going to turn my back on ten years of working towards becoming the next Stevie Nicks? But then I didn’t become the next Stevie Nicks! Admitting that I didn’t even want to be the next Stevie Nicks was the most freeing thing in the world. I know I will make music again, but it will be on my terms.
Can you talk about your new book and what messages you hope to convey in there?
All I’ll say is that I hope my tales of extreme motherhood, neurosis and heartbreak will inspire other mamas to keep going. You got this. We are all in this together. I'm pretty sure Nora Ephron said, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.
How do you define success?
It used to be that I would be really famous! (So embarrassing.) Honestly, while it would be nice to write a bestseller or a hit song, I feel successful these days if I keep my cool and manage to be present. Is everyone breathing? Did I laugh? Did I make you laugh? Then I killed it today.
How do you stay inspired?
My girlfriends inspire the fuck out of me. My friend Caris painted a mural in LA. Latonya got a book deal. Samantha launched a kid’s line. Jessie sold three houses in one month. Annie went on tour. Alyssa’s story got published. Rachel’s new song is awesome. Heather made her own perfume. Just thinking about all the ladies in my life kicks me in the ass and I keep going.
Why do you think being part of a female community is important?
We need each other. Too often as new mothers in particular we are so insulated in our cocoons we forget that millions of other mothers are going through exactly what we are going through at that very moment. When I think that way, my anxiety slips away.
What’s your biggest struggle right now?
I know I just bragged about slaying the Jabberwock, but I still struggle with fear. Can I trust the Universe again after it dealt me some blows? Will this dream come true after the last one didn’t? Learning to trust the process, and believe in myself, is a daily struggle, but one I find so fascinating that I look forward to each new day.
How do you make room for magic in your life?
There’s always room. And if there isn’t, they’ll wake me up at midnight. Two words. Twin Magic.
What would you do with more time?
I’d take better care of my body. I don’t get to exercise enough or give my body the chance to continue healing from the trauma of carrying fourteen pounds of babies. I sprained my ankle this winter and it was a good reminder to slow down and be grateful for what my health allows.
What’s one thing you would still like to do?
I want to help people. Hopefully through the books I will write.
In this current political landscape, what role do you think we can play as creatives and as mothers in affecting change?
We need to keep using our voices and making our work. While we of course have to fight and resist, now more than ever, I believe joy is resistance, too. After I call my senators and sign a petition (which is sometimes all I can do in a day if I’m with my kids) I’ll make sure to get outside and breathe in all the good the Earth has to offer.
What’s a question you wish more people asked?
Do you need a hug?
One thing you’d like to tell another pom pom mom trying to figure it all out.
“You’re a great mother.” Once a stranger said this to me on the street when both kids were screaming and I was about to burst into tears myself. It was everything. I make sure I remind every mother I come across, including myself.