South Seattle Mom By Day; Entertainer Extraordinaire By Night

South Seattle Mom By Day; Entertainer Extraordinaire By Night

By Amber Campbell

If you didn’t know better, you might see South Seattle neighbor and entertainer Jen Ayers on-stage belting out 80’s rock hits, swinging on the trapeze and entertaining audiences with her killer comedic timing, and find it hard to imagine her doing down-in-the-trenches mom duty.

Well, try again. Because she’s much more than just a a rock diva with a throat of gold, big pink hair and fishnet stockings, she’s also a devoted mom to her nine-year old son.

Sure, she’s been singing, playing piano and writing music since age five, performing thousands of shows nationwide, fronting Seattle-based band Honey Tongue, sharing the stage with members of Heart, REM and Pearl Jam, and recently releasing her first solo CD, but when pressed, she’ll quickly tell you that her greatest achievement is “being Griffin’s Mom.”

And she’s got the mom chops to prove it. Jen and her partner Graham have worked diligently over the past seven years helping to build relationships and community around their neighborhood school, Hawthorne Elementary, which sits right across the street from their home.

“Years ago, we’d hear bad things about the school – usually from folks who had never stepped foot in the building,” she said. “My partner Graham and I got involved, got to know the school leaders and teachers and found a very special place full of great kids and excellent learning. We reached out to our friends and neighbors and worked to tell the real story about the school. Through the hard work, passion and dedication of the staff, community partners, parents and friends, Hawthorne’s reputation has changed and neighborhood families are choosing the school again. Word on the street is that families now try to buy homes within Hawthorne’s boundaries so that their children can attend.”

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Griffin and Jen in their Teatro ZinZanni dressing room right before their opening show of Rock This Way. Photo/Teatro ZinZanni Seattle

And while Jen is dedicated to being involved in Griffin’s life, she also involves him in hers. The two are performing together in Rock This Way, a rock and roll circus show for kids currently running at Teatro ZinZanni, where Jen has performed since 2012.

“Singing is my favorite thing in the whole world,” she says. “The fact that Griffin sings like an angel and loves it like I do is a really special thing. I’m one proud Mama!”

Jen is also currently performing in “Be Italian!” at Teatro ZinZanni and recently released her first solo CD, “Every Day Is A Parade” — a rock-music-to-motherhood journey inspired by Bali.

This week, she was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.

Name:
Jen Ayers

Neighborhood:
Borderline of Columbia City and Mt Baker – I claim both because I can easily walk to either, and spend a lot of time hanging in each. Though the sign down the street says we’re in Genesee Depot.

How long in South Seattle?
Since the summer of 1998.

Where from originally?
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Day job:
That’s a tricky one because my jobs are many and aren’t all done during the day. I’m a singer and pianist, I perform at the circus and with bands, I’m an actor, I write and record songs, teach piano and coach vocalists.

JenAyers4What do you like most about your day job?
The flexibility and freedom and that I get to do what I love every day (or night).

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My 9-year old son Griffin. On weekends, sunshine helps.

Tell us about your work in the community.
I’ve been teaching piano and coaching vocalists out of my home studio for over 12 years. The majority of my students (young and older), live in the neighborhood. Developing strong relationships with them is my #1 goal – and that extends to their families as well.

I’ve also spent a lot of time over the past seven years helping to build relationships and community around our neighborhood school, Hawthorne Elementary. We live right across the street. Years ago, we’d hear bad things about the school – usually from folks who had never stepped foot in the building. My partner Graham and I got involved, got to know the school leaders and teachers and found a very special place full of great kids and excellent learning. We reached out to our friends and neighbors and worked to tell the real story about the school. Through the hard work, passion and dedication of the staff, community partners, parents and friends, Hawthorne’s reputation has changed and neighborhood families are choosing the school again. Word on the street is that families now try to buy homes within Hawthorne’s boundaries so that their children can attend.

What motivates you to do this work?
A strong neighborhood school means a strong neighborhood. We moved to South Seattle 20 years ago because it was a diverse place and we wanted our son to go to a school that reflected that diversity socioeconomically, racially and culturally. We wanted him to be able to walk to school and develop friendships with kids who live nearby.

We wanted to be a part of an elementary school community IN our neighborhood. When Griffin was one we began taking Parent Child Classes at Seattle Central Community College. He got to play with other kiddos and we parents got to know each other, and learn about different child development stages and parenting skills. This program led us to Rainier Valley Cooperative Preschool for three years. Through these programs we realized the value and benefit of connections with other families – we created a strong network, learning about parenting together, sharing ideas, helping one another with child care, carpools, and meeting at the park, farmer’s market or Community Centers to play.

I’m happy to say, we couldn’t be more thrilled about our experience at Hawthorne. The school feels like an extension of our family.

What are you passionate about?
Music, singing, social justice.

What are your hobbies?
Gardening, walking, Pilates, travel, word games.

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Performing is a family affair in the Ayers household. Photo/Jen Ayers

Tell us about your family:
I met my partner Graham on the first day of college at orientation. He’s my best friend. We toured the country in our rock band. It was our baby until we had a real one. And aside from our wedding day, the day Griffin was born was the best day of my life. I spoke to him when he was in my belly and told him to be fearless. And I realized he was the day I lost him at the Columbia City Farmer’s Market when he was two and found him 10 minutes later 50 feet high inside a tree. I’m an only child too. My parents live next door to us. Yes, they really do. And Graham’s parents have a Mother-in-law apartment on our property that they stay in when they visit from Washington D.C.  We call our two double lots the family compound.” It makes life interesting, somewhat communal and pretty awesome, especially for Griffin – having so many creative, helpful, loving grown-ups around. The rest of my extended family is mostly in Wisconsin. My grandmother is turning 90 in November. She still visits us twice a year for Christmas and Griffin’s birthday. Yes, good genes. I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins who I wish I could see more often. But when we all do get together, we fall right back in to laughing, eating, playing games and just hanging out. I am lucky in the family department.

What’s your most favorite thing about South Seattle?
I feel like I live in a small town. When I’m out running an errand, or walking at Seward Park, I almost always run into someone I know. It’s comforting to feel so at home at local shops, restaurants, coffee houses, the post office. But if we want a taste of the “bigger city” we can just hop on the light rail.

What’s your least favorite thing about South Seattle?
Inconsiderate drivers on Rainier Ave South.

Where is your favorite place to go in South Seattle?
There is this little green area in Genesee Park between Genesee Avenue and the Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center. The ground is higher there, surrounded by trees and bushes and flowers. There’s a bench with views of Mt Baker and the lake. I like to sit there at different times of the year and take in the colors, air, scents and views. I also spend a lot of time in Columbia City. Breakfast: Geraldine’s; Drinks: Lotties; Live music: The Royal Room. But if my son is with me, we hit Full Tilt first.

If you could live anywhere besides South Seattle, where would it be?
Italy

If there were one thing you could change about South Seattle, what would it be?
This is complicated. Because in many ways it’s the views and treatment OF South Seattle by Seattle proper, City government and even Seattle Public Schools that I would most like to change. I think South Seattle often gets the short end of the stick. If windows get busted out of a bus shelter in Rainer Valley, it may take months before the city fixes it. Not so for a broken shelter further north. If a public school in South Seattle is struggling on paper or by reputation and going down in enrollment numbers, the system is designed such that the funding for that school also goes down – which causes that school to struggle further. And which creates divides even among friends and neighbors in South Seattle.

My experience in Seattle is that the squeaky wheel gets greased. If you yell the loudest and the most often, your neighborhood or school or city street will get its needs met. But in our richly diverse South Seattle neighborhoods (one of the things I love most about living here), we have a lot of residents who have important needs, but may not have the English language skills, or access to computers or relationship connections to raise their voices to the right people at the right time in the right place. These inequities are disheartening.

When I first moved here in 1998 from Seattle’s north-end, a lot of my friends had negative views of South Seattle. Some had never even been down here. Maybe a few had been to Seward Park once or twice, or been to Seafair when they were a kid. Graham and I would laugh about how lucky we were. We had sidewalks and a dog park three blocks away and Lake Washington and the best neighbors in the world. We could walk to an Ethiopian Restaurant, dim sum, the library, the bank, PCC and a burrito stand. Let the haters hate. They didn’t know what they were missing out on. Unfortunately, I think it’s this attitude that leads to many of the inequities we experience living in the South-end.

Who inspires you?
People who make art and are unafraid to share it.

What was the last thing you read?
Kim Gordon’s (from Sonic Youth) Biography “Girl In A Band”

Tell us something about you that not many people know:
I have a BA in Pyschology and Minors in Education and Women’s Studies. I worked at Seattle’s Crisis Clinic for 7 years taking calls and supervising on their Suicide Prevention and 211 hotlines. I had a plan to get a joint PsyD/JD and maybe do work similar to Jodie Foster ala “Silence Of The Lambs.” But my experiences those 7 years got channeled into my songwriting and little by little I cut down my hours as a Social Worker so I could tour more with my band Honey Tongue. Music and performance emerged as the “day job.” I never did go to Grad School. But the skills I acquired at Crisis Clinic and managing my bands definitely came in handy when I was Hawthorne’s PTA President, and in every day life too.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Hanging out with my healthy family on a beach in Bali.

What is your greatest fear?
Being left behind. And Donald Trump.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I can be bossy.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Dishonesty.

What is your greatest regret?
That I never lived in New York City.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My partner Graham.

What is your current state of mind?
Content for now because I am reminding myself to live in the moment.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being Griffin’s Mom.

What is your most treasured possession?
My Steinway piano purchased by my parents when I was 10.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their unconditional love and knowing that I will walk away from a chat on the phone or a night out with them feeling understood and cared for and grateful that I may have been able to provide the same for them.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Katniss Everdeen

Who are your heroes in real life?
Julia Cameron (author of “The Artists Way”), Caroline Myss (author of “Sacred Contracts” and “Anatomy of the Spirit”), and Ram Dass (spiritual teacher and author of “Be Here Now”) – Julia helped me nurture my artist self, Caroline helped me see the light and Ram Dass helped me affirm it all.

What is it that you most dislike?
Rats (I hate them so much it hurts to type the word), and feeling left out.

What else should we know about you?
10 years ago at age 80, my Grandmother told me she feels like she has never grown up. This statement and feeling is a good reminder to always try to uncover, recognize and celebrate the inner child in myself and in others. Makes for happier people and stronger connections.

Top photo: Jen singing Guns N Roses in a gondola in BE ITALIAN (Teatro ZinZanni Seattle)

 

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