4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
My sister just texted me asking if I wanted the “birth vases.” There’s one of mine and one of Butchie’s and the jury’s still out as to whether my other sister will want hers. My sister suggested I take all three as a hat trick. She’s willing to throw hers in as an added bonus, I’ll wager. Because my sister is a neat-nick who will take an American Girl doll out of her daughter’s hands in order to pass it down to one of my kids and lessen her clutter, thank god. And my Mom is a hoarder, which would explain the flower vases from our births half a century ago. And me, I fall somewhere in-between.
I’m the middle ground in my family, the peacemaker, the clown. I’m a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. The fourth of five amidst a family of disability and illness, I knew my role early on. I’ve perfected living in the gray area, which exists somewhere between Hoarders and California Closets, apparently. It’s the thing that connected me to both my mother and my father, my ability to be daddy’s little girl, even as I helped care for him, and then later to laugh with my mother at her shortcomings, even as I worked to recover from my childhood. It’s all gray area in my book.
These vases my mother has kept and treasured for a half century are the ones she received in the hospital filled with flowers when we were each born. I remember them as painted ceramic lambs and clowns sweetly smiling, hollow and empty on the inside where the long ago flowers once nestled.
They’ve risen to the surface because my mother is moving. My mother is moving out of my hometown. My mother is moving out of my hometown to live down south near my sister, the doctor.
It makes sense, this move. She’s one fall down the stairs away from a walker with tennis balls. And she moved out of our family home over fifteen years ago when my father died. Only my retarded brother Butchie tied her to my New Jersey hometown, that and an easy train-ride up through scenic New England to see me. And now he’s gone and the scenic train-ride from Philadelphia could theoretically originate in Washington, D.C. just as well.
So now she’s moving south. For the warm winters, to be near her doctor daughter, to watch my nieces grow up. My sister is settled in her job, unlikely to move. There is security there and every amenity she could want. I told my mother it was the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do.
But my mother is moving, and she is not moving up to me.
And this was such a surprising blow it left me breathless. For all the crazy my mom brings, she’s been my crazy. I’d envisioned her splitting her time between Virginia and Massachusetts with Philadelphia trips to the third sister to round out her end years. But not this.
I can’t help but think how rarely I’ve traveled down to see her since moving up to Massachusetts, how I only travel down for funerals now. How I only saw my brother Butchie once between moving north and his funeral four years later. What with the four young children and the this and the that, it’s hard for me to travel now.
I had envisioned something different. I saw my kids beginning elementary school and my new responsibilities shifting from taking my kids to therapies to taking my mom to therapies, one care-giving for another. As they needed me less, she could need me more. And I’d be there. I would be right there for her. We’d go out to Target, we’d go for doctor appointments, I’d help her decorate her apartment in the advanced care retirement community, we’d find a nearby restaurant for weekly sushi and sake.
But now she’s heading down south and my sister will lead the charge.
And so my mother has been emptying closets, packing her basement, sorting through the outdated food filling her cabinets and refrigerator. She sent Butchie’s old shoes and leg braces up to me last Christmas, handed off some love letters from the 60’s in the church parking lot after a funeral last fall, and now these tacky ceramic flowerpots, these broadly grinning clowns and fawning sheep.
I will take the flowerpots. I will take them and place them in a bin in my studio. And when I look for a piece of inspiration, something that speaks of the passing of time, of who we are and who we’ve become, of things we’ve lost for good, or misplaced in a mismarked cardboard box in the basement, I will look to these ridiculously useless dust-collecting vases. I will make a woodcut or a drawing, a painting or collage, and I will make sense of this loss, these losses, that are such tiny blips on our days’ radars, such subtle gasps in our days’ respiration, that we could almost mistake them for a car sweeping past outside or a petal falling to the countertop.
[This post was inspired by a text from my sister this weekend, the vases my mother just found in her basement and the WordPress Weekly Challenge, Leftovers.]