I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
When I was still a tiny little thing small enough to lift my weight doing every last pull-up you’d dared me to, I lived in the mountain town of Oakridge, Oregon, an equally tiny city where the only activities beyond whittling bear statues and getting pregnant included mountain recreations and mingling at the local Dairy Queen. Coming from a family that spent most of their time alfresco, secretly avoiding people, outdoor recreation proved to be the obvious choice, and merrymaking ensued around winding dirt trails, up the sides of snow-peaked mountains, to the tops of waterfalls, and down the medium-level ski slopes where six-year-old girl pile ups only got in the way of real skiers. One of our favorite hobbies was venturing to bodies of water, as if the Moon in us was trying to get back to overseeing the tide. We spent the majority of our recreational time vacationing on the Pacific, donning on water socks to trapeze our way across the crystal clear Willamette (before it cascaded down the mountains into the city sludge that comprises the Portland waterfront), doubling up on jet skis at my uncle’s houseboat to ride the wake of speed boats and inevitably flip over three times, distracting ourselves from the nude old fogies at the hot springs by squishing sulphuric mud between our toes, and spending the day paddling around Oakridge’s many reservoirs, our skin getting browner and our locks bleaching in the sun.
One of our favorite spots on the reservoir, just a few winding, cliff-side miles from town, was CT Beach, a little inlet that looked upon an enormous picturesque lake where fishermen could deposit their boats and outdoorsy families like mine could lay out a picnic and then dive in. On one such outing, my family towed in a big inflatable raft and oars from my dad’s rowing days, and we set sail against the slight chop the wind picked up across the water. A beautiful day beamed down on the Moon-Wood family as the two little daughters paddled themselves in circles, when all of a sudden my dad–like all young dads before their children hit puberty and refuse to be amused–decided to shake things up and flip the boat.
Everybody flew from the raft shrieking through mouthfuls of water, angrily splashing my dad, and groaning, “Daaaaaaaddy!!!,” but I was far from able to unleash my juvenile wrath on anyone because I was accidentally tied to the boat. Upside down, fully submerged, and struggling against the little bounds I’d gotten myself caught in, I stared down into depths I would later discover looked like a cavernous mud vortex winding down to the center of the earth (that you could hike!) when they drained the reservoir. I couldn’t see far at the time because the water here was always thick with green silt, but I could imagine the life flourishing just out of view. Looking up was no better, as I beheld summer sunlight pirouetting across the undulating surface, reminding me that I was down below, in this dark, oppressively silent world.
This story clearly has a happy ending, as young athletic dads with a penchant for peevishness also tend to be very good at saving kids from overdramatized accidents, but a life experience like that changes a girl, and soon, little water baby Emily Moon was terrified of the element that had previously brought her so much joy. But that didn’t mean I immediately holed myself away in a desert trailer, turning on faucets with my eyes closed. When you’re an older sister, your entire life revolves around maintaining a facade of bravery for the little one’s sake, even when “the little one” is twenty years old and your “bravery” is put to the test simply catching the spider she’s screaming about.
With this sense of faux strength inflating my sails, I spent the next sixteen years approaching large bodies of water with a weird amalgamation of terror and domination, eager to beat back the aquatic threat that had done me no greater harm than instilling my irrational phobia. There were times when I almost lost the battle against the big blue drink–like the numerous times the stormy Pacific waves tried to beat me into a pulp against the sand below; the time a deceptively beautiful river in Westfir began to drag my wild-eyed, fervently paddling Shoobie away in its current and my dad–ever the aquacade hero–had to dive in and rescue her; and the time my cousin Mahina tried to leap from the houseboat deck to to my uncle’s boat, undershot it, and I experienced the cinematic cliché of gripping her hands while she begged me not to let her fall into the black, nighttime river below (fortunately, everyone’s parents came running before my clammy little hands resulted in Willamette folly). But in my relentless crusade to save face, I usually win, engaging in daring stunts just to thumb my nose at fear. Included in these reckless behaviors are swimming far out from shore by myself in Kauai, to the depths reserved for surfing the combers that break over the encompassing reef; swimming for hours on end at night, off of Tybee Island, when the world is black and the fish are feeding one state up from shark-beset Floridian waters; and pausing on the shore to listen to the sound of something big and lumbering, splashing through the water only feet away on a strange southern night when the beach fog was so thick you couldn’t see six inches in front of your face. While I’m none too eager to repeat the idiotic behaviors of my past, at least I can rack up the points against my phobia, limbs still wholly intact.
I don’t make the fight against fear easy for myself though. While harboring nightmares of the deep, I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by bodies of water: researching aquatic creatures–pelagic or otherwise, exploring multicultural mythologies bent on explaining away the sea, writing numerous stories that enveloped seafaring in some way, and squirming through every episode of River Monsters I could get my hands on, too distracted by the idea that freshwater’s teeming with terrifying things like pallid, Spanish river dolphins to admire my oldest man-crush to date: extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade.
Thus, it’s a strange, masochistic love affair I’ve got going on with water. On the one hand, water has chaperoned most of my life and provided me with some of the fondest memories I can summon to this day. Sure sharks feed at night, but lying there in a black bed of oscillating seawater while staring up at an enormous white moon was one of the most serene moments of my life. And declaring Monkey Head Rock officially seized while the tide swiftly began to close in was exhilarating. On the other hand, all this risky business I conduct to prove my “might” may very well lead to me straight down to Davy Jones’ locker on the Flying Dutchman Express.
Perhaps if I can surmount this fear of mine though, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… At least there’s always the Bill Dance bloopers my dear Greta James introduced me to to get ya rootin’ for water!