On Motherhood and Womanhood with MomThenMeNow — Inheritance Project
Inheritance Project: What did you inherit from your family, and specifically, your mother?
Melissa: The older I get, the more I see my mother in me. It’s crazy! There was a joke in my family when I was younger that I was switched at birth. As a child, I didn’t look like my parents or my sisters at all. However, in the last few years, I see so much of my mom in me. Especially her eyes. It feels like as I fully become a woman in my twenties, she is coming through in me. I got her love for music. I am proud to say that I inherited all of her compassion. She has the biggest heart and I take notes on how to be more selfless from her.
Cassie: I come from a very close knit family, it’s just my parents, my brother and me -the core four. We were raised in a very loving, hardworking, open and non-judgmental household. My mother is the root of why anything gets done, why we all love so much, why we question everything and why we are all good people. She truly holds the world in her hands. I’ve watched in awe as she has run a successful jewelry business for the past 40-plus years, never missing any -and I mean any — moment of my or my brother’s life. She is the personification of the phrase, “I don’t know how she does it”. I wish I could say that I inherited even half of her drive, but I do know that I have inherited her spirit for life, her honesty and her compassion for others. I know she inherited those traits from her mother. I hope that one day my children feel the same way about me.
Inheritance Project: How does your inheritance influence your identity?
Melissa: My mom is Italian and Brazilian, two cultures that place a huge value on family and tradition. My mom’s extended family, however, split up when her mother moved to the states against her family’s will. I think because my mom was raised by a single mother -who had to be fiercely independent when she lost her husband unexpectedly — my mother inherited strength.
She passed that strength down to her three daughters. My sisters and I have been really lucky to be raised in a home that supports women with strong opinions and loud voices. My father comes from a big Jewish family and I feel so lucky to have had my extended family so close by growing up. At my core, family is really important to who I am. My parents also have really artistic backgrounds and I inherited that from both of them. Without the arts, I wouldn’t be who I am. Being an artist is so much of my identity. I have my parents to thank for that.
Cassie: I come from a Jewish background. I went to a private Hebrew day school from K-5 because my parents thought I could get a great education while learning about my faith and heritage. I used to roll my eyes about it all, but I am so thankful for it now. I stand on the shoulders of so many strong and hardworking Jews and feel so connected to them because of the many traditions my family practices. My Jewish faith and pursuing a passion is fundamental to who I am.
My mom grew up in West LA going door to door selling homemade jewelry, chaperoned by my grandmother who supported her passion for creating her own designs. She now runs her own store, and has for the last 45 years. When my mom discovered my love for performing and song, she did the same, immediately taking me to my first voice lesson at the age of five. She did all she could to help me pursue my love of the arts, even sending me to a performing arts boarding school my freshman year of high school that was four hours from our home. I wouldn’t be myself without either of those educations. I’m endlessly grateful to my parents for placing a value on both of those things, for telling me to never give up on what I love and to never apologize for being myself.
Inheritance Project: Why is knowing your parents and your inheritance important to you?
Melissa: Stories about people and families and how they got where they are sparks everything in me, but there are a lot of mysteries within my own family history. Both of my maternal grandparents were long gone before I was born. I want to know so much more about the lives of the women before my mother, and my grandmother, and her mother, and her mother. I think knowing where we came from can lead us to who we are meant to be. To me, the absolute beauty of motherhood is that it is something that connects us all the way back. In the long line of women in my family, every woman has been born, birthed her own daughter, and passed on. The only thing we as women know for certain is how to create life. That is pure magic. It’s a line that connects us all.
Cassie: I think knowing where you come from leads to loving who you are. My family has great longevity, and I am thankful to have the answers to so many questions about who we are and who we once were. As an adult, I finally recognize my parents as people living in the world. That may sound odd, but as a child I think we only see our parents as our parents, and not human beings with all the same feelings, problems and life experiences that we have. I am not only my mother’s daughter, but also her confidante and best friend. Listening to her life experiences has only helped me with my own. There are so many nuances to growing up, and knowing even a smidgen of my past connects the dots to why I am the way I am.
Inheritance Project: Tell us a story about your mother that’s particularly resonant or memorable for you.
Melissa: One of my very first memories of my mom is so vivid in my mind. I must have been three or four and we were laying in her bed in the summer. My older sisters were at swim practice, and my dad was at work, so most of the morning was spent with my mom alone. We would look at the ceiling and sing a song that we made up over and over again to each other. The lyrics were, “I love mommy and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. We do everything together. I will love mama forever.”
It was so silly and still serves as a really special memory for me. Memories are funny: Sometimes the song will randomly come into my head all these years later and there I am again in my parent’s bed in July in the 90s. I should tell her that. Not sure she knows I remember!
Cassie: My mom and I have so many memories together. She’s my travel buddy. I think my favorite memory is driving down the east coast with her to Florida. I worked down in South Florida a lot after college. Sometimes when I’d be down there for an extended job, I’d drive my car down with her — she drove most of the way. It was so nice to just sit with her for hours, singing through all our favorite songs, stopping at places we’ve never seen before, and sometimes eating Krispy Kreme donuts, but only when the light is on. My mother’s zest for life is unmatched. She still maintains a childlike wonder that has definitely passed down to me. We can turn any situation into a fun one. I will never be too old to hold her hand walking down the street. I picture a little girl one day holding my hand on the other side.