Karen and the Peter Girls
I first met (daughter) Alexandra Peter in an trapeze class. A trained dancer and an all round graceful human being, I often marveled at her beauty as she taught me how to hang from my ankles 10ft in the air in a loft in Brooklyn. When I asked her if she would like to be involved in the project she told me that she would, but there were a few more Peter girls for me to meet first. Three more to be exact. My biggest family to date, I met with mom Karen, 58, and daughters; Victoria, 28, Alexandra, 26, Elizabeth, 24 and Tasha 22 to discuss sisterhood, mothers, daughters and style.
Ruthie: Karen, did you always want a big family?
Karen: Yes, I am one of six children. I grew up in Brooklyn and I went to school in Manhattan. I met my husband in college. We married and moved to Pennsylvania and we’ve lived there for thirty years. We had our first daughter Victoria in 1989. I always wanted to be a mom. I am the fourth daughter so it was perfectly wonderful that I had four daughters! We were really happy to have beautiful healthy baby girls.
Ruthie: Girls, how do you find you are similar to your mom?
Alexandra: We all sing, that’s somethings she's had us do from the very beginning.
Tasha: We all like to cook. We all love to talk.
Karen: Are we all a bit..um..opinionated?
Victoria: We are all bad at driving at night!
Tasha: We all love musicals and sappy movies, we love to cry.
Alexandra: Mom is a cryer, our whole lives, she’ll cry at anything. I never thought I’d be that way, then at 21 it was just waterworks! I cry all the time, I could cry right now! We’re all cryers.
Elizabeth: Something that I have specifically in common with mom is our spirituality. That definitely comes from mom and I think it’s beautiful that we get that from you.
Ruthie: And what are the differences?
A collective “hmmm” resounds around the apartment.
Alexandra: Less and less these days
Tasha: We’re turning into her!
Elizabeth: Well, I like to be on time for things...
Alexandra: Hey I’m always on time for things too!
Karen: I’m kinda laid back….
Alexandra: You were super laid back when we were babies. There’s this video of us, Victoria is just hanging out with me and she’s like “Hey little baby” kicking with her toddler foot. I was watching the video recently and I’m like "She’s gonna kick me in the face," but mom is just recording the video the whole time and of course I got kicked in the face!
Victoria: Yep, no response from mom on the video.
Alexandra: Mom just keeps taping.
Karen: No it’s not that bad!!
Ruthie: So essentially you were abused as a child?
Alexandra: Haha exactly! Thank you!
Karen: It made her a better human being, she’s able to deal with all sorts of things that can happen to you in life now.
Victoria: I’m a lot more organized than mom, but Karen Peter can function in an extremely messy environment...
Elizabeth: Organized mess.
Ruthie: What do you most admire about your mother?
Tasha: I’d say her hospitality and kind heart, she’s always......(starting to break down) see? I’m a cryer, she’s very open and willing to take people in. I’m sorry, not a lot of people can do that. She’s always willing to do that, even for people she doesn’t know. I remember once Elizabeth gave her a call one day and said “Hey my friends are flying into Harrisburg Airport, can you pick them up and let them sleep in our house?” And she just did it. No questions asked.
Victoria: I think she really instilled in us the desire to be really curious. She travelled a lot in her 20’s and now we all love to travel. She has always encouraged us. I have a lot of hobbies and interests and I think that’s fueled by her saying “You can do it, you just have to try.”
Elizabeth: When we were younger my mom used to always have what she'd call these 'chicken soup moments’ where she would come home and tell us about a crazy connection she had had with someone else. A coincidence you could say. They kept happening over and over again, so they went from being 'chicken soup moments' to 'God moments'. The thing that she’s able to do is to see the connections that we all have with each other that we don't see, because she is so open to it. It helps me to be more open and to change, to see the beauty in life.
Alexandra: We sisters used to fight a lot and uh…..sorry, now I'm crying, she always wanted us to be friends. She would say “you’re sisters, you need to be there for each other”. To have her encourage this made us closer. I don’t know a lot of families who have that. I talk to people who say “Oh yeah I’m not that close with my sister” and I think “How are you not close with your sister!?” We have a sister group-chat and if you go away from your phone for a minute, you come back to 200 messages because we are constantly talking to each and being there for each other. We show up for each other.
Elizabeth: You always made us sing together, she would say “To sing together, you have to be in harmony together.”
Karen: That’s true.
Elizabeth: In that singing process you have to let go of the argument you were having and by the time you finish singing you’ve forgotten what you were fighting about.
Ruthie: Karen, how do you feel hearing what they had to say?
Karen: It’s just wonderful, it’s every mother’s dream. You want your kids to get along and have that love and forgiveness for each other.
Ruthie: What do you admire about your daughters?
Karen: Oh they are just all amazing! I feel so blessed and so proud. It’s tough because they're all so grown up. Victoria, she’s constantly using her gifts and seeking out new things to do. She’s a much better cook than me! They actually have helped me to be a better person. They push me. A recent thing was that I wanted to lose some weight and she introduced me to this Whole 30 and they all sent me recipes. Alexandra is full of joy, a great wife, she’s talented, I love to watch her dance. Elizabeth is kind, very organized and focused, very spiritual. I’m proud of her, she’s in grad school right now. Tasha... so I held Tasha probably until she was about six years old, the youngest daughter, you know? She was the baby and growing up I wasn’t sure she was going to manage, during high school-
Tasha: During high school!??
Karen: Elizabeth used to have to wake you up in the morning remember?
Tasha: It was just easier that way.
Karen: It’s that fine line of trying to make your kid independent, but she’s the baby. I love that she learned how to play the guitar. You know from middle school on, she was amazing-
Tasha: Before that though….
Karen: Oh shhh, no I meant your musical ability. She’s a great musician.
Ruthie: Is there anything you wish you could say to each other that you haven't already?
Alexandra: We are pretty brutally honest, it’s never a big secret, it’s always said to you. No one holds back.
Karen: It’s better than being resentful or holding a grudge, don’t you think?
Tasha: We’re not passive aggressive, we’re aggressive!
Ruthie: Have you ever experienced a difficult time together?
Elizabeth: Well, when I was in college I ended up, um, going to the hospital. There was no doubt in my mind that my sisters would support me. It was exactly what I needed because I doubted myself. They didn’t make fun of me for it, they didn’t hate me. They joked about it and were wonderful, that meant so much because I realized I wasn’t alone, I had three sisters who cared about me, even when I felt alone amongst forty thousand other students at Penn State.
Ruthie: Do you guys ever shop together?
Elizabeth: I hate shopping. They shop for me!
Victoria: We send each other things we like online.
Karen: They buy clothes for me.
Elizabeth: Banana Republic is all I wear.
Tasha: I’m a hipster preppy. I love white and navy. Elizabeth and I love stripes and we all have matching pajamas.
Victoria: I studied abroad in Tokyo so I love that style. I also like a more androgynous look.
Ruthie: Do you all want to have children?
Tasha: In a perfect world I’d have four.
Alexandra: It’s about what you can afford - especially as I live in New York and I’m an artist.
Ruthie: So maybe half a baby?
Ruthie: Anything else you’d like to add?
Elizabeth: Yes, mom never misses an opportunity to say: I love you.
Alexandra: I was on the phone with mom once and I said “I love you bye.” After I hung up the phone my friend said “Who was that?” I told them “My mom” and they said “You tell your mom you love her on the phone, that’s so nice!”
Tasha: If I don’t say "I love you" as a goodbye I’m like: oh my god, I gotta call back, I have to text her!
Elizabeth: One last thing. Mom never stopped being a mom. I knew people in college who would say “My mom is my best friend,” well best friends can come and go, but your mom is your mom forever.