I’m holding a red spiral notebook from 1983. The pages are crisp, the rule lines faded, but the penciled-in writing— Mom’s words and mine— is still visible. I don’t like to hold on to objects, but I’ve kept this notebook through many moves, many purges. And in this year of a big birthday for my mom it seems extra important.

A story for my mom’s birthday could be dramatic: Mom was born at the moment India fractured into two nations. As a teenager she left India behind, crossing borders and cultures to live in the U.S. Years later her husband died and then two weeks later, her mother. A few years after that her son was diagnosed with colon cancer and then months later, her daughter.

But those events are documented in my mom’s artwork and in her book, too. (My mom wrote a book! A big, beautiful, introspective art book!)

This story is about working mothers who have full side careers as artists. Mom might tell a different version. Here is mine:

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