It was 2001, and we were approaching Andrea's very first official Mother's Day. I knew that I had to make this new holiday for my wife a special one -- no forgetting, no slip-ups -- I better come correct. Or else.
What to do? What could I possibly do or give Andrea that showed her just how much I appreciated her new role as mother to our baby daughter Ava? I was beside myself, trying to figure out how to make it especially memorable. And then it came to me. I knew what I had to do. And I knew she would flip over it. Now all I had to figure out was how to pull it off.
About a year before Ava was born, I got into graffiti. It started when I began to hang out with some graffiti writers who had offered to help me with a side project I was working on at the time. Following these young 20-somethings through mud, tall grasses and under bridges smelling of filth and excrement, through remote urban landscapes (that only a select few knew of) to isolated concrete walls that were covered with brilliant color and vivid wonder-- such an unbelievable rush. These places were like little urban Disney Worlds where only graff writers could come to play. It was an amazing thing. Each trip into the graffiti fray found me just a bit deeper. Slowly but surely, I was hooked. I got the itch. And it wasn't something that I was looking for either. Just a new venture that presented itself to me. I had to take it. I had to do it.
It was just a little bit at first: a tag here, a tag there. But then I was creating faces and characters- and it seemed to come so easy to me, yet so hard for some of my fellow graff brethren. Since I had come from an animation background, conjuring up characters wasn't so hard for me. I had a vast amount of sketches to pool from; All I had to do was grab an aerosol can and I was good as gold. Can you see why the graffiti world had such a strong pull on me? It was a completely new artistic outlet -- a chance to work on a new style, new skills, a new way of looking at things. I couldn't just let this thing pass me by, right? Well, no. Of course not. But I wasn't like those younger cats who could just grab a bag of cans and tips and head out in the middle of the night. I had a wife, a new baby. It wasn't just me anymore -- it was the three of us that I had to consider. Those other graff guys? They had it easy. For me, there was so much more to consider, more at stake. But the graffiti pull was so strong, so possessive that I couldn't stop thinking about it. I struggled with graffiti-centered thoughts and I had to find some sort of balance if I wanted any kind of peace at home. It got a little crazy.
And talk about bad timing -- we'd just had a baby! Definitely not the time for a 32 year-old dude to suddenly pick up a new art form -- one that often found me lost within the confines of Atlanta's urban jungle. What was I doing? Why was I hanging out with kids 10 years younger, trying to work on my can control with hobo piss at my feet? Was it worth it?
I have never been a good judge of time. I would always tell Andrea I'd be home in an hour, only to show up two, possibly three hours later. Tension began to build between us (understandably), and I tried desperately to make it work. But it was hard. I was getting out there and doing something whereas Andrea was stuck at home, trying to figure out how to parent a new baby. Ultimatums were set. Promises were made. Bit by bit, month by month, things got better between us. This new love of my life (graffiti) wasn't going to come between my wife and baby girl anymore. And Andrea made it clear that it wasn't the act of graffiti that she had a problem with -- in fact, she loved graffiti and loved the fact that I was really into it, loved seeing how it creatively invigorated me. It was more about how I was managing my time. Had to rethink my priorities. Because I was acting like a kid in a candy store, selfish and not thinking about others.
So (with that backstory in place) Mother's Day was approaching and I came up with an idea for a gift that I knew would blow Andrea away. However, it was going to require a little bit of fibbing and whole lot of rearranging of time in order to maintain the element of surprise: I was going to paint a huge Mother's Day mural in honor of her.
At the time, we didn't have a computer at home. So whenever I had to do extra work for Andrea's brother, Nate (for his group), I had to make the trek downtown and do all my Photoshop work at Primal Screen, often on the weekends and late nights. With this in mind, I told Andrea that Nate had called me and wanted me to work on some promotional materials. Couldn't do it unless it was this Saturday. I hated using Nate for my diabolical plan, but I called him beforehand and he was down with the charade. He loves surprises and knew that Andrea would really dig this gift. But my alibi would only be good for a few hours -- what if Andrea called me at work (we didn't have cellys at the time)? Kendra, Nate's wife, arranged to take care of Ava while Andrea went out for a Mother's Day massage around noon, so that gave me at least another hour to do my painterly deed.
All of this organizing took all week to work out -- I wasn't going to slip up on this one. I really wanted this to be special for Andrea and I had to have all my ducks in a row before the big Paint Day.
It was Saturday, the day before Mother's Day. I got up early, bought my materials on the way into town, and was rolling the background color by the time it was 7am. I wanted this to be big, so I had to pull my car up to the edge of the wall and I proceeded to stand on the trunk to get to the highest point of the mural.
As the day progressed, I was getting worn out. And it didn't help that the sun was beginning to beat down on my forehead, giving me a headache by the time it was 10am. But I kept on keeping on, trying to get the biggest piece I've ever done completed by 1 o' clock.
It was very different to work on such a larger scale than what I was used to, with my arms getting tired more often -- but once I figured out the basics, everything fell into place pretty well. Throughout the morning, I was visited by an unusual amount of people who were coming by to check up on the wall. The Civic Yard was a large permission wall in the heart of the city and thus, many passersby would swing by, to see what was happening. It was one thing for me to see other graff writers stop by, but for some reason, I had my share of cyclists and runners come up and watch what I was doing silently. I even had two separate photographers come by and take a couple of shots of me in action. It was wild.
At 11:45, I took a break and headed over to Primal to make sure that Andrea hadn't called me or anything. Sure enough, as soon as I got inside, the phone was ringing. It was Andrea. "Where have you been? I've been calling you for 20 minutes!" Oh, shoot. I shot back with the only excuse I could come up with on such a short notice: "Sorry. I was in the bathroom." After dodging that bullet (somewhat), I zipped on back to the Civic to finish what I started.
I felt the rush. I had to get this thing done before Andrea was back from her massage at 1pm, but by the time the hour approached, I knew that I wasn't going to make it. 1:30 came and went. 1:45... I finally finished the thing and I headed home, exhausted and sunburned. How was I going to explain that one? Didn't think that one through!
Welp, to finish up the story, I was originally going present the wall to Andrea on Mother's Day, but I couldn't wait. I was so excited about the wall and I felt that I had worked too hard on it that I couldn't wait a single day. There was also a remote possibility that some toy might tag or paint over it between now and the Big Unveiling. I wanted to snatch her up and whisk her downtown immediately. "Where are we going?" She asked. "You look worn out... what's going on?" Nothing was escaping my wife's keen eyes, was it? "Just wait," I reassured her.
We pull up to the Civic's parking lot and Andrea asks, "Why are we here?"
"There, straight ahead. See it?"
She was speechless. She couldn't believe it. It was a priceless reaction and completely worth all the hard work I had to endure in order to keep it from her all week as well as to actually paint the darn thing all day. Completely worth it.
After a couple of minutes of her gawking at the huge mural done in her honor, I suddenly felt this deep, sinking feeling deep within my chest. I looked at her and muttered:
"How am I going to top this for next Mother's Day?"
See the entire photoset here.