A Mother’s Art Marathon

I’m here to share my unique experience with you. Something that took place almost 15 years ago. Many people are asking me: why did I decide to share my story now? The answer is very simple: it takes a woman 9 month to carry a human baby to full term, it takes a mama elephant 24 month to carry an elephant baby to full term, and it took me, Alla Annopolsky, 124 months to carry my baby (A Mother’s Art Marathon) to full term. There is no explanation—it is just a fact—this is how long it took me to get my story ready to be shared.

Today my son is 15years old and over 6’ tall.

I am looking at him with adoration, pride and surprise. Is he my son?

It has been the most wonderful journey. I only will do one thing differently the next time I come to this earth: I will have 5 children.

I am here today to share with you my diary. Something so personal, something that I was never planning to share with the world while I was writing it, almost 13 years ago.

For 13 years I had this extremely private collection stored in boxes, thinking of it once in a while, and forgetting it again, while being swamped by the waves of life.

Then one day I felt that I just needed to share it with the world! The feeling was as powerful as the one I felt when it was time to give birth to my son.

My experience is absolutely unique, and the art that I have created is something that will live much longer then I will.

Art is my passion. I have been painting all my life having been inspired by my late mother, the renowned Russian artist Berta Kuznetsova. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute, but chose to hold a day job in IT. Throughout the years, I have had multiple art shows in NY City and Westchester

At some point in my life, after I met my husband I realized that no one ever wanted to have a child more than I did.   A year before I got pregnant I lost my Mom in a car accident. Since we were very close, I felt her absence every second of the day, but even more so when I got pregnant. A mother is like air: when you have one, you don’t notice her, and when you don’t—you feel the void so deeply!

At some point a miracle happened and I got pregnant!

I was 39 and this was my first pregnancy. This in itself created tension and anxiety. As my pregnancy progressed, I felt as if I was born pregnant. I was really looking forward to my maternity leave, thinking that I would paint during the last months of my pregnancy. After all, I was going to be at home for about a month. I would not be traveling to the office, so I would not feel as tired as I did during the last few weeks prior to my maternity leave. To my big disappointment, I wasn’t able to paint, and not because my belly was so big that I couldn’t reach the canvas. I think all my artistic energy went into creating our son. The only thing I was able to do during that time was to drink tomato juice by the gallon (don’t ask me why) and take walks outside, socialize and read.

But then I found peace with a new hope: I realized that I would certainly be able to paint after I delivered. I should feel fine after I had the baby. Babies sleep most of the time, so he would be sleeping and I, finally, would be able to paint again. Of course, this would not be how it went in real life. I delivered and forgot about painting for a while…

The birth of our son was an enormously happy event in our family life.

The maternal instinct for safety was constantly in a state of heightened alertness, apprehension mixed with joy of becoming a mother.

After the standard 12 week maternity leave, I went back to work. My first day back, I felt completely lost. It just didn’t make sense for my son to be at home with his nanny and for me to be at work. Days turned into weeks and I fell into a routine that involved breastfeeding at nights and in the mornings.

I constantly felt exhausted. My mood followed the predictable path: I still felt happy about new motherhood, but at the same time, I felt exhausted and depressed.

My father, seeing me in the state I was in, and being a psychiatrist with over 50 years of experience suggested that I turn to painting. At that time I couldn’t even imagine that I could add anything else to my plate…. But, as I later realized the thought synched in.

And all of this was happening while I knew that I was lucky to live in a society and work for a company that truly supported working women. I was able to work from home one day a week. This was a tremendous help! Not only did it allow me to get an extra hour of sleep on the days I worked remotely, but it also allowed me to see my son between my meetings. I can’t even express how grateful I felt to my employer for this one day of working from home benefit. And I was actually able to accomplish a lot more while working from home than I would have in the office.

I knew that I was lucky to have a great family: my husband was wonderful and supportive, my father, who gave me unconditional love was always there for me, and I had a job which I loved and which allowed me to balance work and life.

So, I was determined to find a way to balance all my responsibilities. If I found peace inside, I would be able to translate this balance to my son and to my family.

At some point, recognizing that painting was something that helped me through difficult situations in the past, I started going into my studio. Initially I would just come, sit and read, or doodle something. After a while, I started painting. But painting for short periods of time on the weekends was not sufficient for me to produce anything complete. I would come back after a break, in a different state of mind, and not be able to continue the piece I previously started. I would start a new piece and the cycle would repeat, leaving me disappointed and frustrated with a bunch of unfinished works around me.

On top of that, physical exhaustion was wearing on me. My son was my only solace among the chaos. He brought me infinite happiness and my world revolved around him. But what about me? I couldn’t help wondering…Was I existent? Who was I as a person—as an artist?

January 1, 2002 – after months of frustration, an idea came to me. I would paint one small picture each day for a year, resulting in 365 completed pictures! That very night, I took one small canvas I had at home and painted my first diary entry. As soon as the brush touched the canvas, and I felt that I would be able to finish the piece that day, I felt the colors of my art, energy burst back to me as it had been years before. I poured my feelings onto canvas as a way of restoring my internal harmony and made a commitment to painting one picture every day.

After a few painting-per-day days I realized that it would be interesting for me to know what happened on the day I painted one picture or another. So I started to keep a narrative diary as well.

Night after night I created pictures which transformed my anxiety into my creative process, into catharsis, into a type of self-treatment, education and growth.

From then on, I devoted two to three hours a night, after my son’s bedtime, to painting. It was my escape. I still had the usual challenges—lack of sleep, and work frustration—but those challenges no longer bothered me. I was happy and flying like a bird! I had my life back, colors, smells, even my sex life. Daily, religiously, regardless of the day of the week, I went into my studio and wrote my story on a canvas.

After a while, I found myself lost between two worlds: the night, when I could think clearly but when I was often creatively challenged, and the day, when my usual struggles threatened to overtake me. Which world was real? All I knew was that seeing the world through my son’s eyes was the biggest thrill and the happiest time of my life. There was nothing in this world I wanted more than to be a mother.

The time came when I started to skip art diary entries until I finally stopped. Initially, I was very angry with myself as it wasn’t in accord with my plan. Only much later did I realize that ending the project when I did was an organic part of my story because I had finished my Art Marathon just as the stress eased off! I needed the art to survive and to keep my sanity during this wonderful and difficult time when I couldn’t physically function in this real world, because I was absolutely exhausted. My inside world—my art—saved me.

The result is 182 paintings that tell the story of my internal struggle and reconciliation of my two identities: mother and “working woman”.

As we celebrated my son’s 15th birthday, I suddenly recalled these 182 paintings. Feeling an intense need to share them with the world, I created my website (AllaAnnopolsky.com), showing the joys and sorrows, love and fears, chaos and colors that flowed through me in my first years of motherhood.

Perhaps it was all correct (working while having my baby), after all.

The questions, perhaps, should be:

  • How many hours work week is the best and realistic approach for each specific mom?
  • Should a woman come back to work in 12 weeks after the maternity leave? (Twelve 12 weeks maternity leave is way too short…! I would vote for at least 6 months, and ideally a year!)

Today I see my 182 paintings/diary collection as a treasure. Something that my son will be able to return to during his life, see which piece I painted when and read my daily notes about our lives together when he was a baby. I am realistic about the fact that he still has a few years to go before this story is going to truly interest him, but I am sure that this day will come. Specifically, when he has his own kids.

Today, I feel lucky that life presented me with these special circumstances which created the right environment, the right atmosphere and inspired me to create my Mother’s Art Marathon.

Perhaps, I would never create this body of work “Mother’s Art Marathon”: if it weren’t for my specific working mom situation.

Perhaps, I would have created other paintings or none while working part time and being able to balance my work/life better. But that is a hypothetical question…

Pregnancy is a special time for the entire family, but especially for me, it wasn’t fun either. But how happy I am to have my son!?

Did I have an option to work part-time? Could I have asked my employer to work part-time? Absolutely. However, I always felt that part time positions were not stable and I would be the first to be eliminated during layoffs. I simply was not brave enough to take that chance. I hope society will find a way to offer a secure part-time option for young moms. This would allow the woman to spend more time with the child, have a career outside of the house and be able to better balance the motherhood role with the working mother role.

What will I do differently next time I come to this earth?

  • As I mentioned before, I will have at least 5 children.
  • I will find a way to work part time, instead of full time.

I want to use my experience to help others who are faced with similar challenges to find peace and balance the way that I did through art.

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