I Got It From My Mama: Mother’s Day with Kristi and Shelley

By Kristi Alexandra

We got it from our mamas. As two ladies who run a feminist magazine, leading a group of warrior writer women who each have their own voice, we thought we’d give some credit back to the women who’ve shaped us. It’s through their guidance and resilience, after all, that we’re here today.

My mom, Shelley Murphy, is a self-made woman/entrepreneur running her own shop, Shelley’s Hair Studio. Her New Westminster heritage home is outfitted infront to house the salon: 1950s-themed curios including the iconic Marilyn Monroe and Coca Cola memorabilia abound. Her business-savvy is what kept our family clothed through my childhood, and what inspired me to be working since my first paper route at the age of 12.

My parents divorced when I was young, and until we met my stepdad, Ray, we moved from place to place with my mom doing her best to keep afloat financially while raising my brother and me. In the early days, she worked as a hairdresser for $10 an hour while putting us through daycare, swimming lessons, and music lessons — things I took for granted at the time.

Was it difficult being a single mom?

At times, but I was really only a single mom for a little while. It was busy, it was very busy. I kind of felt like the big sister from Shameless: I was running from jobs and daycare and making sure everybody was in the right place, teeth brushed, shoved out the door and into the car.

Did you feel like having kids so young held you back from doing anything you wanted to do in your twenties?

Not really. I never thought of it that way once I was in it. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I just don’t like to be bored, and I certainly wasn’t bored. I didn’t really feel like I was missing out on anything. Some of my friends weren’t having kids and I kind of felt like they were missing out in some regards. I didn’t think that they were doing anything that much better, but back then I don’t remember people travelling as much as they do now or going to see the world. My friends didn’t do that – they went to Hawaii and that was about it. They were just working. If I wasn’t a mom, I’d have probably just been a barfly.

My mom and me in the early ’90s.

How did your relationship with your own mom form your relationship with me?

Everyone always desires to be different from their own mom, but looking back, my mom was actually pretty decent and regimented. I did pick up some good things from her, but I also tried to be more calm with you and understanding. [laughs] I don’t know if that happened, but I tried.

I tried not to make you feel bad about yourself or guilty, but I think that’s just what happens when you’re a mom. The words you say just come across that way to your kids, without you meaning to. You always try to end up being different than your parents were, and you end up being the same and realizing that how your parents raised you wasn’t all that bad. When you become a parent, you go “Oh, wow. My parents did that for me and I can’t even give that back to my kids.”

Becoming a business owner – did you make that decision for the family?

Well, yeah. It was always one of my dreams to run my own business, but I think when I was pregnant with Ross [editor’s note: Ross is my 11-years-younger brother], I was happy because that decision was made for me. I thought, “Okay, here’s my chance to do what I wanted to do” – and still have money, but also be at home for you guys, too. Although I never expected to be as busy as I was – but I did make good money, which has helped support us. I don’t think we could have made it if I didn’t work so much. There’s no way we would have anything.

Was it your goal to have a career while being an at-home mom?

Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t really on my radar. My thought about being a stay-at-home mom — and this is not anything against them — but I personally didn’t want anyone else to support me because I didn’t want to feel indebted to someone else.  As a woman, I always wanted to have my own money and I wanted my kids to have that example — boy or girl — to strive to be their best to have their own money and to make their own way in life. I just wouldn’t want you not to strive to be your own person.

But I think it’s really important that women have that one-year mat leave and to be able to split that with your partner because I know that’s important for the child. It’s really important for the child for the mom or the dad to be there. Genetically, it does usually boil down to the mom being there for the child… beyond that, women especially need to make their own way in life. It’s nice to be a good partner to someone else, but not to weigh too heavily on one or the other, because that’s where resentment builds. And money gives you power. You don’t have to be a millionaire, but have enough to feed yourself, to clothe yourself, to put a roof over your head, and hopefully give a decent life to your children.

My and my stepdad Ray, only a couple years older than I am now.

Are there any business smarts that you wished you imparted to me that I don’t have?

Yes. I have always enjoyed my life and enjoyed my own money — maybe a little too much. I like to travel and I like to eat in restaurants, I do enjoy myself a lot, but I think that my mom is actually a better example of a money planner. I wish she would have taught me more about money so I could have taught you more about money – like saving for RRSPs, putting that 10 per cent of every paycheque away. I have always paid my bills, and I never default on a payment, but I should have taught you more about money.

What did grandma teach you that you taught me?

To be independent. She always worked, she was the breadwinner, really. I think that’s a good thing. It’s nice to be 50/50, but who wouldn’t like a spouse who makes more money than them and pays for things with a glad and open heart? But those things just don’t exist.

The biggest lesson that I think I taught you was to be kind to people all the time. An eye for an eye doesn’t really work — that if someone is shitty to you, just let them sit on it. And I do think you’re like that. All of your teachers always said you were one of the nicest students to have. That’s just our whole family. My mother was always generous with her time. The one thing that my mom has always been, and what she’s instilled in me, is giving your time to people when you can. Give service to others.

Was it a conscious choice not to raise us with religion after the divorce?

Your dad became religious after the divorce. We didn’t do anything like that when we were together. When we were together, I briefly studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I was the one who brought religion into our family and talked about it all the time, and he didn’t want anything to do with that. Studying with them was just learning, it was just bible study. We didn’t raise you with that, though. My dad was raised catholic, but he decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with that and that we wouldn’t be raised with religion. I guess that wasn’t really our thing.

But you raised us with spirituality.

Some kind of spirituality, yeah. I think my family has tried on many different religions, but we’ve always thought about a spiritual life of some sort without really putting a label on it.

What do you hate most about my style?

You always wear things that are torn. I don’t get it, but I think you like that. I always imagine you in tailored pieces, I think that would be nice, but you’re more into the bohemian vibe with rough edges and bright patterns, and big colours that are, uh, different.

What do you like most about it?

You always do your makeup really nicely. You’re always put together that way – it looks classic and classy. Sometimes you’re a little too booby but—

I can’t really fucking help it.

Well, I know. I think you always look gorgeous, okay? You’re kind of like Breakfast at Tiffany’s but boho.

What’s your style?

I like big, chunky jewelry and statement pieces. I think I have a lot of black, white, grey, navy and mahogany. I’m more matchy-matchy, with some drape-y things.

What do you think I took from you, style-wise?

I always do my hair and makeup everyday, just like my mom did her hair and makeup everyday, as do you. It’s not often that we walk around looking like we’re just out of the shower. My friend Lorraine [ed note: her walking buddy] and I always laugh with each other because we’re decked out with our hair, makeup, and jewelry, and then our walking gear. Who else does that?

Why did you pick Marilyn Monroe as the style icon for the salon?

She was just very feminine, and she always worked hard as a woman. She was kind of the vulnerable, powerful – the little bit of everything that every woman is, but she’s really the epitome of all of that.

What advice would you give to me to give to the future generation that I didn’t gel to?

I think you have, actually. You’ve travelled all over the world and I have always wanted that for you. You didn’t start a family too young, I also wanted that for you. Not that I regret it, I’m happy I did it. I just think: don’t overthink your life. Your life’s journey is just exactly that. Make plans, but if your life takes a different path, then embrace it and don’t fight change. Don’t fight the path that your life is taking you on just because you think your life should be at a certain place. Enjoy the process.

Do you have anything that you want to add?

Can we get more wine?

Kristi Alexandra is an unabashed wino and wannabe musician. Her talents include drinking an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon, singing in the bathtub, and falling asleep.