They come in various ages and sizes, they’re committed to combating sexism and racism through their art, they are graduate students and social workers and avowed "renegade feminists," several are mothers.
But what really sets these women apart are the giant lily pads on their heads.
Krista Del Gallo, Sarah Walker, and Paula McDermott are three of the H2hos -- Austin’s own politically radical synchronized swim team. Costumers Rachael Shannon and Molly Gove attire the team in its performance frippery—which could mean flower-studded swim caps, white mesh bell-bottoms, black bat-winged capes, or the aforementioned lily pads. Each performance—backed by a live band called the Wishing Well—demonstrates the team’s ethos: Feminism is alive and beautiful and perfectly symbolized by women working together to pull off water stunts.
McDermott joined the original lineup when the team formed in 2001, recalling some of the moves her own mom (herself a synchronized swimmer) used to bust back in the day. When subsequent pregnancies sidelined her, she cooled her heels as a "prop ho," releasing leaves into the water and "swimming around with an iceberg on my head." Likewise, Walker sat out one season with her colicky newborn but is returning to the water for this year’s performance, scheduled for August.
Del Gallo, Walker, McDermott and Gove came out of the pool to dish on the vagaries of motherhood, art, and the state of the world.
Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?
SW: The typical famous women, but most of all my elementary school art teachers and my high school English teacher - both were amazing to me because I had never known anyone else who seemed to live completely on their own terms, without fear of judgment by others. (I'm still working on that!)
PM: My mother for her strength and vitality and stories of my great-grandmother for the same.
KDG: Waitresses and ballerinas. Later [it was] Gloria Steinem and later than that Winona Laduke and Angela Davis and Alice Walker and Rigoberta Menchu. Now I try to see the inspiration that comes from really listening to anybody's perspective and story.
MG: I was very inspired by the pages of Teen and Seventeen magazines, for whatever that is worth. Also by the Go-Go's, Pat Benatar, and Eleanor Roosevelt (not necessarily in that order).
You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?
SW: Don't worry so much. It will all turn out so differently (and so much more magically) than you know.
PM: You don't have to prove it.
MG: This young life you have will not leave you broken. I can't tell you what I see in the future, but you are in it and you are an amazing human being, touching many every step of the way.
What is the biggest challenge you see mothers faced with today?
SW: So many challenges... but one that strikes me is an odd lack of connection with others in the same boat. Sometimes I think this is driven by forces beyond our control (lack of money, the technology and geography that pulls apart families and communities, etc), but I think we often are really afraid just to reach out to other mothers and admit how much we need some help. I think one of the toxins of our age is to have to always try to appear we are in control/know what we are doing, and thus a fear of being vulnerable and authentic.
PM: Of course this depends on your culture and well-being, but in general the biggest challenge seems to remain being pulled in many directions and trying to meet unrealistic societal expectations related mainly to gender. It is amazing how very feminist households struggle with gender [roles] once a baby enters the picture.
KDG: For mothers more or less in my subculture in this country I feel like it is challenging to go beyond the superwoman model that was set up by 1980s liberal feminists of women who ‘do it all.’ Now I feel like mothers who want to work and be fully present in their children's lives need to work more on redesigning our environments -- that is our workplaces, our gathering places and our communities so that we don't have to be and do everything [and the] culture is set up to be welcoming and nurturing to women with children who want to have opportunities and be involved.
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What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?
SW: I'm subject to the same irrational perfectionism as my sisters, and sometimes I lack patience with myself
PM: Sleep deprivation!
KDG: Sleep deprivation, not enough time to do yoga, and insecurity.
RS: [I try] to be vigilant in my opposition of racism, classism and internalized sexism. To be fearless in the face of these blights on humanity.
What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?
SW: Compassion and support in times of need (I strive to do this in my profession- I'm a psychologist)
PM: My no-nonsense jaded optimism.
KDG: That I am able and have the opportunity to give anything at all. I feel like gratitude is about the most important sentiment, after peace, for individuals to have in their hearts, so it feels good to act out that gratitude for such a benevolent universe.
MG: The delight I see in people's faces.
What makes you most happy about the way you parent?
SW: I don't hold back my heart. Ever.
PM: My sense of humor.
KDG: I feel like I am laid back, and I try to be more or less a minimalist on the material side of the baby world. I give my baby more physical and emotional affection than I have ever granted another human being. I am also really excited that I didn't totally change as an individual and am not totally absorbed with everything baby. I have read very little on how to parent.
MG: The confidence, brilliance and resilience I see developing in my daughter.
How do you balance motherhood and art?
SW: The question almost makes me laugh - I almost never feel in balance! But it's always a worthy pursuit. Sometimes you have to do more than "just" work and be a mom, you have to express something fun, meaningful, frivolous, whatever. An incredibly supportive partner and sister Hos have enabled me to rejoin the Hos this year. I'm so excited for my son to witness this explosion of feminist art and energy!
PM: Not very well... and with lots of support.
KDG: I have a fabulous partner who is also involved in the show as a musician, so we have really tried to facilitate and support each other's involvement. I am fortunate to be a part of community, and have friends help with child care during practices, and if no one can baby-sit, we just each take turns hanging out with the baby and watching. I feel that it's very important for Nadine, my daughter, to witness her mother working together with a community of people to create something beautiful. The extended network of folks that the H2Hos have evolved into has provided Nadine with essentially an extended family of interesting, funny, fabulous and loving individuals. This has been an immense and unforeseen benefit of participating in the H2Hos. Plus, it's really important to me that Nadine, as a Pisces, learn to love and live in the water at an early age.
MG: Balance? What is balance? I neglect my daughter to bring you my art and then, alternately, I neglect my art to bring you my daughter.
What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?
SW: Trust your instincts! Books and well-intentioned others will give you all kinds of info and conflicting advice - but every baby (and every mom) is different, and ultimately you know what's best. To moms in trying times? For those who experience the depths of colic (like I did) – know that it WILL get better, but sometimes all you can do is hold onto your love and your sanity. Don't be afraid to ask others to help you get a break when you need it!
PM: Perspective, mindful answers, and a good escape plan.
KDG: To all new mothers I would grant calm and focus... some way to see the unique and beautiful time beyond the blur and shock and overwhelming sensations. To mothers during trying times I would grant a sense of recognition and appreciation of all their tireless efforts to raise another human -- which has to be the most difficult task in the whole world, but so often is ignored as the daily accomplishment that it is.
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