Wednesday, April 10, 2013


He sketched it quickly.  He was unsure.  He's always unsure.  I told him it would make a great project.  He still hesitated.  I refreshed him on my lesson on how to use charcoal and we set his goals for the project.  I moved to the next student but watched him out of the corner of my eye, like I always do.  I watched him questioning his idea.  Again.  Like he always does.   And then I watched him produce a great project despite his self-doubt.

Inside I was screaming to the world, "See this kid.  He gets it.  He doesn't know it but he gets it.  He's an Artist!"  His brain formulates brilliant concepts.  He can't see it yet.  He doesn't know what he has.  It comes so natural to him that he doesn't know how talented he is.  As his teacher, I know that he still doesn't know how to manipulate his mediums fully.  As his teacher, I know that he still needs classes to learn the technical skills.  As his teacher, I know that he still has so much to learn.  But as his teacher, I also know how rare it is to be able to see things as he sees them.  He is brimming with concepts.  He doesn't understand how many of us would love to be in his head.  How many of us, who call ourselves artists, wished it came that easily.  Anyone can learn to draw.  Anyone can call themselves an artist and produce beautiful pictures (or shock value pictures).  Anyone can sell art that people think is lovely enough to hang on their dining room wall.  But original concepts are harder to come by.  Art that makes you stop and question.  Art that makes a statement. Art that can make you feel something that you weren't feeling before you stood in front of it.  Art that shakes you a little and leaves you thinking about it long after you've seen it.  That doesn't come naturally to all of us.  That's what it is to truly be an Artist. 

Yesterday, in class we were discussing our final projects.  In my middle and high school classes, I ask the students to spend spring break researching art and artists.  They have to find something that they feel is inspiring and create an original work in that medium and style.  All of them had great ideas.  One student is making a mixed media book of places she wants to travel to.  A place for every letter of the alphabet.  Another student is building two model cars.  The same car, one a vintage model and another a current model.  He's going to build a sculptural piece with the new passing the old.  Another student is photographing the same ballerina from six different angles.  They all had good ideas.  I was very pleased and  I'm looking forward to seeing the finished projects.  When I got to my boy, he looked at his feet and said, I'm not sure I can do this.  I told him to tell me about it and we'd figure it out.  He wants to replicate the detail of the hands of Adam and God from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  But he wants to change it so that Adam's hand is old and decaying.  He wasn't sure if he should do it.  He worried that people would think he was being disrespectful or speaking in a negative way against God.  I said, If that's not what you're doing, what is it that you're trying to say?  He told me that he wanted to show the fact that man dies.  That Adam didn't stay in the Garden of Eden, young and free.  That he died, and now we all die.  But that God still reaches his hand out to us anyway.  He said that he was worried that people would see it wrong.  (In my best teacher voice) I told him it was great idea.  I told him that I didn't feel that it would be disrespectful.  I told him that just because Michelangelo painted it, that doesn't make the subject matter holy and unquestionable.  I told him not to worry about how people saw it.  I told him that art should make you question the artists intentions and make people angry or happy or sad.  He's still not sure he's going to do it.  On the way home (in my best mother voice) I told him that I hope he does.  I'd frame that.  

 He's better than me.  I can't tell him that as his teacher.  But as his mother, I know.  He's better than me.  It's a hard balance.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Lately, on top of reading for classes, I have been reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  It's the story of a girl who can sense the emotional drives of other people in the food they make.   The novel begins when she tastes a hollowness in her mother's lemon cake.  She, in fact, tastes this empty sadness in all of her mother's food and begins to sense that her mother is deeply troubled and discontent.  

When I read this, one chapter in, I began crying.  It resonated with the insecure part of my mother brain.  It's a part of the brain that I'm convinced all mother's have.  All women really.  Actually, I'm sure all men have it too.  It's the part of the brain that makes us feel like we're failing at the most important job we've been given.  In my case, that job is raising my children.  I began to wonder if my children can sense my insecurity.  Can they see the fear that I try to keep pushed down below the surface?  Children are so much more intuitive than we give them credit for.  They are closer to the wild than we allow our adult selves to be.  They can sense sadness and happiness and danger.  I sometimes fear that, in my attempt to redefine myself as a single mother in the last few years, I've left them feeling my own sense of being unsettled.  Not that I haven't tried with all I have to help them feel the complete opposite.  But I know things have changed for them too.  I know I'm not the mother I was.  In some ways, I'm better.  I've grown older and more patient.  In other ways, though, I don't know.  Sometimes I just feel like I'm failing in a crucial way.  

Being a single mother adds another entire dimension to the fears I have as a mother.  I worry that I'm not enough on my own.  I don't have a partner who can pick up the slack.  I don't have that other person who can see what I can't see.  There are three of them.  What if I'm so focused on one that I fail to see another one hurting?  Or I worry that I'm too much.  What if they grow weary with my presence?  Does absence really make the heart grow fonder?  And if so, what does too much presence do?  Does it make the heart grow resentful?  Does constant presence become background noise in their life so that they have no definite memory of you?  The other day we were sharing memories around the dinner table.   We had gotten onto the stories of our time in Virginia and the lovely little Montessori school that they attended.  Then the boy said something that pricked me.  It was really insignificant and seemingly not a big deal.  He said that he remembered that his dad walked him to school.  I said that I was sure he did a few times.  He countered and said no I only remember dad walking me to school.  Now that doesn't seem like a big deal unless you know that I took him to school and picked him up almost every day for the three years we were there.  I let it go while he was talking, but deep down I grew more and more hurt as this continued.  They were sharing stories and I wasn't in them.  Yet, I know that I've been more present than any other adult in their life.  Where am I in their memories?  Logically I know that I'm in the memory of their daily.  Logically I know that those other memories stand out because they are rare.  But emotionally, it still hurts.  

A fear like that is only compacted by the fear of another woman entering their life.  What if their dad finds someone who is better with them?  What if they go to that woman with their fears and concerns?  What if their childhood memories center around her for the same reason that the boy remembers his dad walking him to school?  And the ultimate fear, what if I die?  Will they remember me at all?  This is the fear of my nightmares.  I worry that their life will be completely different.  I worry that their dad won't know what's important to them.  That he won't know what to take from this home to his.  I worry that he won't know the rituals and traditions that I've sought to establish in their lives.  I worry that he won't remember to take the pictures or the letters or the baby clothes that I've saved for them.  I worry that he won't remember the stories of their births.  I worry about stupid things, like the fact that I can always find Sicily's bunny when it's missing before bedtime.  I worry that he won't care about the bunny.  And more than all of that, I worry that he'll forget to remember to remember me.  And I will fade from the earth having meant nothing.  

 In case you're reading this and you are now worried about my mental well being, don't be.  I don't sit here and wallow in these fears.  Most days I move through our daily life without a thought to any of this.  Most days I do the work of being a mother and at the end of the day, I feel good about that work.  Most days I go to bed with a heart full of love and hope for the next day.  I love my role as a mother.  It's my life's greatest work.  I am thankful for every minute that I get to spend with my precious three.  Good and bad, I love that I get to be here in their daily.  But some days the fear creeps up and consumes me to the point of anxious tears.  On those days, I can do nothing but hold it at bay with a carefully constructed wall until I can pour it out into words on the page.   It's funny, the things that prompt it.   Like a book about the sadness of lemon cake.  I love lemon cake.  And yet, I don't think I'll ever be able to eat lemon cake again.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Winter Weary

It's spring.  You wouldn't know it by walking outside.  Last night icy rain fell in sheets over the still frozen ground.  The boy cut the grass on Tuesday.  It wasn't really that long and had only started to come up in patches of mostly clover.  I think he just needed to do something that made him feel like it was warm outside.  The little one was grateful all the same.  Her soccer ball glides smoother through her homemade goal, now that the grass is level.  It also helped us find the remaining Easter eggs.  Analiese came to the door with three yesterday. A pink one with yellow dots, a blue one with black zebra print, and a metallic purple one.  How had we missed those?  I think we hid too many.  Even now staring out into the rain soaked backyard I think I see a pastel pink one in the crook of the old tree that's starting to blossom.  I know by the little green buds that's it's here; it just doesn't feel like it.  I even picked daffodils on Wednesday.  It's really a foolish flower to pop up in the frost. I put them in a jar by the window.  A little sun to kill the drafts.  I think it helped a little.  We're all chilled, winter weary, and in desperate need of an outdoor meal on the weathered old picnic table that bows in the middle, making the plates wobble when you pick up a bite of potato salad.  It's supposed to warm up next week.    That will be nice.  The boy needs to wade in the creek and find snakes.  And the middle child needs to work her fairy magic, building rainbows, planting flowers.  I need to read outside.  I've worn holes in all of the seats from too much reading indoors.  Only the little one won't notice much of a change.  She doesn't feel cold.  She's an island of her own personal sun.  Thirty degrees or seventy degrees.  It's all the same to her.  Her toys ride nicely in her bike basket either way.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Holidays and Family

Easter 2013

I love holidays.  If you really know me, you know that saying "I love holidays" is actually a bit of an understatement.  I don't just love holidays, I live for holidays.  They make my little world go around.  I love decorating for holidays.  I love planning for holidays.  I love cooking and baking for holidays.  I'm not one of those people that gets stressed out about holidays.  An approaching holiday (I'm including birthdays and all other celebrations in that word, by the way) can actually rid me of stress as I move out of the daily and into the special.

Christmas 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

I love throwing myself into the preparations of a good celebration.  But more than that I love sharing all of that with my kids and my family.  Especially my kids.  I suppose it's because the two things that make my world go around meet.  My children and a celebration.  There is nothing else better than the collision of these two things.  In these moments, everything is right.  Everything is pure.  Everything is good.  And it just lasts a moment.  If you spend your holidays with kids  you know that a celebration with kids is really a collection of moments.  Let's not get too idealistic here.  It's still a day like any other, so of course there are fights and meltdowns thrown into the equation.  But there is also a little bit of holiday magic thrown in to help glaze over those things just a bit.  So that after it's over you don't remember the ugly, you remember the beautiful.  You remember the sweet moments when an older brother helps his little sister with her new toy.  Or the moment when they open a gift and their face is pure excitement.  Or the quiet moment when they are dying eggs together.  Or the huddled session on the couch when they're whispering to each other and laughing.  It's magic.  It's holiday magic.  I'm happen to be the kind of person that seeks out magic.

Halloween 2012

Chris' Birthday 2012

And I know I'm lucky, because I know this is not everyone's holiday experience.  Holidays cause some people stress for good reason.  I've heard stories of holidays gone bad and I think my reaction to celebrations would be different if that was my history.  But I grew up in house where holidays were a really big deal.  When everything else was upside-down and sideways, holidays were still right-side-up.  And that's still true.  My sisters and I will travel great distances to be together on holidays.  (Or we've been known to put all of our kids in matching clothes so that hundreds of  miles apart we feel like we're together.)  Holidays play a big part in our history.  I come from a family of survivors.  If you were to sit down and listen to the story of my family you'd find out that we should really be highly dysfunctional.  Things are always going wrong!   (Really.  I should write a book about it.  It would keep you on the edge of your seat, I promise.)  Just in the last few years, between the three of us we have been through major car accidents, major surgeries, cross country moves, marriage, divorce, complicated child birth, NICU, bankruptcy, job searches, and an unfortunate incident with a cup of coffee.  That's just in the last few years and I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting!  But all of that has made us closer.  My sisters are my best friends.  And I think it has something to do with the fact that our life has been complicated since we were born, but there were always days set aside when all was right and warm and good in our world.  Our parents gave us that.  And now we each give that to our children.

4th of July 2012

Easter 2013

The thought, the planning, the care that I pour into holidays is all for my three crazy sprites.  I know that their world sometimes feels upside-down and sideways.   I know it feels that way because I'm living this life with them.  But I hope that on a handful of days throughout the year, I can make their world right -side-up.  For a few moments, we can celebrate and laugh and play.  And I hope that in those moments, their world is right and warm and good.  So that one day, many years from now, I can watch them do the same thing for their children.