(by Mimi and Sophia Lesseos)
My idea of family life came from television, from shows like “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family,” with mothers who made dinner for their children, read them books, and tucked them in at night. I wanted to be inside the TV. I certainly didn’t want to be in the dangerous and lonely environment that was my home. I was the youngest of five children, with a father who left us, a mother who went out every night, and a family that was deeply involved with gangs and drugs. I’d watch for the bus to drop my mother off, stumbling, smelling of liquor, not knowing what type of drugs she had taken that night. I’d put her to bed so that I could feel safe.
When she was sober, my mother did realize that she had five children to feed, and if she cooked, her dishes were memorable. There was always beans, rice, and tortillas available, and if I was sick, my mother would make Get Well Soup, which she had learned from her own mother. I’d help chopping the onions and vegetables.
When my mother married our 18-year-old Mexican gardener and he discovered her cheating, he’d beat her to a pulp. Even at an early age, I knew that the dysfunction and the violence of our home was not normal.
One good thing about my upbringing was that I became a person with no fear. I could handle anything. I left home at 16, got a job as a mud wrestler for a little while, then studied martial arts and pro-wrestling, known as Magnificent Mimi. Eventually I created a successful career as a stuntwoman and film producer.
I became involved with the wrong guy, who left me when I was four and a half months pregnant. I drove myself to the hospital to deliver my twins, a girl and a boy. Raising them has made all the difference in the world. It has made me a kinder, more patient, and more loving human being. It was my opportunity to be the kind of mother I’d seen on the good and wholesome family television shows I watched as a kid, where the mother cooks for them, reads to them, and tucks them in at night.
Being a stuntwoman has had a definite impact on my family. My son and daughter have visited film sets their entire lives, watching me get shot or stabbed. They’ve always known it's make-believe, but sometimes they found it hard to separate fantasy from reality. In one film, my face was smashed into the steering wheel of the car, blood squirting everywhere. Even though my daughter, Sophia was sitting right next to me watching the film, she started to scream and cry. Both of my children know about my family history of violence and gangs; they even visited my brother in jail, and one day after being released, he overdosed on heroin in my mother’s living room. I think Sophia’s reaction reflected her fear that I would be involved in any situation like that, even on film, and I set some parameters for what my daughter was allowed to see until she was much older. Now she knows that my work is all about safety and technique, and is quite proud of her fierce mom. She tells everybody that she wants to be a badass like me—but in journalism, reporting on the real world.
Like me, Sophia is fearless. I taught her to speak her mind and jump right into anything with determination, graced with a touch of sweetness and a whole lot of gratitude. But my work has made me even more than typically protective, demanding that my daughter be extra careful about life and aware of her surroundings. Sometimes our fellow humans are not so kind.
When I was growing up, any time that I got sick, Mom would make her Get Well Soup—enough for an army so that anyone who came to the house would have a bowl. The recipe was passed down from my grandmother and her mother before her, everyone adding a little spin, but the essence remains the same: a whole chicken and whole lot of garlic.
This soup was a miracle worker: Whatever was wrong, it would make me feel a million times better. My friends and