4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I got it. The absolute best worst gift one could ever hope for on her birthday.
When I opened the box I immediately burst into tears, no pre-game chokey voice here. There was my Aveda Rosemary Mint shampoo and conditioner, the exact shade of Burt’s Bees lip balm I love but which I never buy because I can never remember which shade I love, Godiva truffles and polka dot sleep socks. Who knows you like that? Your childhood besty does, that’s who.
And at the bottom of the box were all the letters I’d sent her throughout the years, most of them from our years apart in college, me in New Haven, CT, and her in Millersville, PA, over half a life-time ago.
The best gift ever.
After receiving the bins of letters from my mother’s first four years of marriage earlier this year, I’d been contemplating how very little I know about myself in my late teens and early twenties. And here I was, writ large, all loopy script on the backs of History of Art notes and goofy Hallmark cards. My besty had revived a piece of me long gone.
So that night I sat up late, and I read.
And do you know what? There’s a reason I got rid of those college journals.
I don’t like that me. I like absolutely nothing about the girl who moons over boys, who makes jokes about how little she tries in a German language class that she should be acing (but is whiffing), who actually said to a boyfriend, “Why would you want to study abroad in China when you could stay here in New Haven with me?” Oh my.
I don’t like the girl who can’t stand to go to bed at a regular hour because she’s desperately afraid she’s going to miss something EXCITING but then literally falls asleep in the middle of taking an exam. I mean, she’s funny sometimes, but I don’t like her. There’s not much to admire there.
How was it that I was a girl floating through college without considering that my feet too had weight, that who I would become mattered in the world? Why didn’t I see that I could change the future, that I was an investment in myself?
I prided myself in never missing a class, in joining lots of things. But what I mostly didn’t do, was show up, heart and soul. The world was my oyster; there was every sort of speaker, class, and professor available for ME. The Dalai Lama came to campus, you feeling me? But there I was… tentative me; self-conscious me; a me who was knocked flat off her feet at the slightest breeze, because she chose not to stand, feet firmly rooted. I was a goalie, damn it. I should have known better.
The worst gift ever, right? So I put the letters down and wandered off to bed as my Tuesday birthday ticked into Wednesday. And I’ll tell you that the next day it took quite a few eight minute miles to chase that ghostly girl away, away.
I thought about the best worst gift as I bundled the kids out the door, as I drove and ran, as I rehashed with my Mama-runner besty the shameful idiocy of youth wasted on the young. And as I waited in the carpool line to pick up my son, I flipped from NPR to whatever was playing to clear my brain and find a little inspiration.
I don’t know where I’m going
But, I sure know where I’ve been
Hanging on the promises
In songs of yesterday
An’ I’ve made up my mind,
I ain’t wasting no more time
But, here I go again
I kid you not. Whitesnake. Who even knew you could still find them randomly playing on FM radio?
Tho’ I keep searching for an answer,
I never seem to find what I’m looking for
I sat and thought. I thought about why these letters had gotten me so down. And then I wondered how that girl could have graduated and become someone entirely different.
And it came to me. I remembered my senior year of college, when I quit field hockey and declared myself an art major, I took a writing class called Daily Themes where I wrote every single day, I focused on time with my friends in a way I hadn’t before. I dabbled in dating here and there, but mostly I was single.
What I realized is that it took those throw-away years of not picturing what I could and would grow into besides someone else’s wife, to eventually graduate and become my own person, a person who guided teenage girls in their own search for themselves, who spent evenings alone working through paintings, who read voraciously, researched lesson plans, learned to teach, run marathons, hike in the wilderness for weeks, eventually to find true love and build a family.
It took that horrible, foolish me then to grow into me now. And I forgave her. I wanted to reach back and grab her shoulders and say, “You will become someone, something solid and filled with the world. Start today. Choose your path. You are so much more than you think you are.”
When I returned home to finally write it all down, I opened up the best worst gift box and picked up a couple more envelopes. I found a letter written on the back of notes from Myth and Symbol in Indian Art. And amazingly some of it came back to me. Ashokan pillars, Rajput and Rajasthani art, the Great Stupa of Sanchi, and most of all darsan.
Darsan is a complicated ethereal sort of thing that loosely means “sight”, seeing and being seen. There was a religious transformation that occurred not just when the worshipers saw these Hindu deities, but also when the eyes of the statues saw them. When this sight occurred, from worshiper to deity and back, a mutual affection transpired, an inner knowing. And thus, the artisans creating these sacred entities would paint the eyes last.
Seeing myself and being seen for who I really was at the core, that was the most important thing, and it came last.
Hit it, Whitesnake…
An’ I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time.