Wednesday, May 10, 2006
My mother died five years ago around this time of year, when Jesse was just about a month old. That is when I feel I fully became a mother, an adult, and a woman. Parents work their whole lives to teach their children; and their final gift (though painful) is always a profound lesson. Her passing left me with a legacy of strength and perspective that I did not possess before: ironically, nothing teaches you more about life than death. Mostly, you discover that you can survive and persevere-and that surprises you. You connect with an inner core of strength that you may not have been aware of-and you hold onto the knowledge that those "spiritual abs of steel" will hold you in good stead for the challenges that we all face as that damn circle of life keeps on going round.
I come from a long line of women who create. I grew up playing with dolls that had been handmade by both my Grandmothers, in houses filled with creativity and expression. We always had a Sewing Room; a magical cave of fabric bolts and glass jars of buttons, shelves of gold trim, plastic fruit, and my mother's noisy sewing machine. She would make clothing, tablecloths, curtains, wreaths, and miniature Christmas Trees decorated with various themes. In the last place we lived, it was a small room with dark paneling and massive shelving that held a huge collection of plastic boxes all holding crafter treasures. The hallway off of this room held her doll house,always a work in progress, and next to that, the living room, with paintings she and my father had made. My favorite was a large red sun coming up over the horizon.
In the basement there was an orchid greenhouse, and my Father's workshop where he made weathervanes and clocks and wooden whirleygigs. And of course, there was the ceramics studio.
One of my first memories that I can recall fully with all five senses, is making a pot on my mother's rickety green wooden kickwheel. I am three, and the sun streams at a sharp angle through the basement window and it creates a spotlight in which the dust dances like a smokey apparition. The smell is sharp--clay smells like earth and mold and metal mixed together. And I perch on her lap, my legs not long enough to reach the base, her hands on top of mine, feeling the sandy clay spin beneath my hands, feeling her leg kick the metal wheel, the excitement of making the clay rise and form and become. My mother made me a creation junkie right then and there, just as she had hooked my father earlier, and would go on to hook the entire family.
My mother had a smile that would light up the whole room. This is what they said about her at her funeral: how very much that smile would be missed. And I remember seeing it, as we all gathered as children around the coffee table when she opened a box of crayons.
People have asked me what my mother would have thought about the success I went on to enjoy as a potter. I tell them that when I opened my first store in 1995, I saved for months to be able to send a limo to pick her up with my father, and drive her into the city for the opening. My mother, meanwhile, had been saving paper grocery bags for months--and at the opening she presented them to me: a pile of used grocery bags, carefully smoothed. "For the store, for when a customer buys something." she said. I never told her we had preprinted glossy bags hanging behind the counter. I have always loved that my mother arrived in a limo carrying paper bags for me to reuse.
I did not really come to know and understand my mother until I had my own children. Then her love for me, which before had been hidden in various pockets and casings of the baggage of my childhood, became crystal clear and tangible. In the voracious love I feel for my own children, I feel the certainty of my own mother's love. This knowledge becomes a looking glass through which allows me to review the past and see it anew--accepting the fact that I had failings as a daughter, and understanding now some of the more perplexing things my mother did. I am like her at her worst sometimes: when I express anger through a cold, stoney silence, or I am quick to criticize, or walk into a public place and complain about how loud the music is. I see me at my worst: My mother was very hard of hearing and before she got better hearing aids, I would stand behind her as a teenager, cursing her to her back. I allowed her to lose me as I got older by not letting her see often enough who I was growing up to become, then I blamed her for the distance. We never spoke about her impending death, and when I visited, I used to draw analogies to some of my pregnancy symptoms to the reactions she was having to chemo: as if cancer and giving birth could be the same sides of a coin flipped by God into the air.
Ah, but she loved me so. I am sure now that she crept into my room when I was small to check my breathing. Certain that she shared the pain of every scrape, every bruise, every insult and setback. Positive that her greatest hope for me was simple happiness.
And each day I celebrate her. As Jesse and I lay on the rug shoulder to shoulder with a new pack of markers. As Annie and I make a tent out of sheets and the cushions of the couch. As each day I am lucky enough to make my livelihood in a way that is creative and fulfilling. I am not motherless, because in the end, I am mother-full; overflowing with it all. And like her, doing the best that I can.
So stop smoking if you smoke so that you can be with the people you love and who love you as long as you can, and call your mother and tell her that you love her.