Mother and Child: No. 40 of 40 Forts
As I was gathering the last set of pages to fold for my final forts, I took a break to review the Carolina Alumni Review, which had just arrived in the mail. In fact, I believe it was our first magazine we had received since rejoining the UNC GAA in a number of years. I loved the image of the “Penguin and Chick” taken by Brooks de Wetter-Smith in Antarctica in 2006. But I was even more intrigued by the final line of the article about Smith’s reaching out to Ansel Adams, a colleague of his grandfather, who was also a photographer.
“I wonder if there is some sort of genetic memory somehow.”
As you may recall, in my delivery, I did my best to summon any genetic memory that I had deep within me from both of my maternal great-grandmothers. They both had eight children. So I knew that despite my mother’s difficult deliveries, I came from a long line of women who delivered several babies. Certainly I could at least try my best. Despite the challenge, we pulled through at the very last chance. So the above quote deeply resonated with me and the experience I have been processing over the last year. I even redesigned an art project with a graphic based on a circular time line of my great-grandmothers’ births.
You may recognize that I used “Ice Tunnel” in Iceberg, my previous fort. I had a couple of pages in my hands, but how was I going to decide which to use for the final fort. Then I looked down at the page number. 40. There it was. The final fort. And a mother and child, no less. How appropriate for me at this point in my life.
So I began folding and instantly knew what I needed to write:
She decided to let God speak for her.
And since this is the final piece in a series about my creativity and my faith, I thought that it was important to share one of the most illuminating points in my life. And as I began to write this, I realized how the biostanza for this fort also perfectly annotates the story of how I finally decided to become a mother.
I have spent my entire life trying to decide what I was going to be when I grew up. Mainly I wanted a career that allowed me to work and have children. The career never took off and I finally came to terms with the fact that I really wanted to be an artist. In the fall of 2007, I made the commitment and enrolled in a class at the Corcoran. I took it VERY seriously. It was as if my teacher’s opinion could make or break me. I put so much weight on this class. Maybe because they are so expensive. But really because I was finally attempting to do what I said I wanted to do since I was four and what if I failed.
So in the spring near the end of the semester, I attended a Sunday School class with Chris Copeland. It was early and I usually skip Sunday School, but the class sounded interesting. It was about practicing discernment, which I discussed in a previous fort, as well. Chris asked us to participate in a guided meditation. I was not feeling it, but I tried to give it a chance. I found a recollection I had written in an old email to Chris:
First of all, I was in my apartment, when I was in my mind. Then when we went downstairs, I decided not to go into my parents’ basement because it is full of junk. So instead I was walking down the stairs at Matchbox because I like the architecture [both traditional and contemporary design mixed]. Then when I finally got to the bottom of the stairs, I was in a room with my heart. It was so huge that I could only see one side lighted by the stair well from above. I had just enough room to stand on the floor next to it after stepping off of the stairs.
I was stunned to see my heart. It was a real anatomical heart at least six times the size of me. It was like I was standing next to a very large SUV in a dark basement, except it was a heart.
Then Chris asked the class to ask our hearts what it wants. Of course, I started to conjure up an answer for her… art. But before I could even formulate the answer in my mind, I heard a voice. Clearly. Children. Not a baby, but the plural word children.
Whoa. Totally not what I was expecting. In their meditations, other people were walking down the beach. They had light airy visions. Chris asked if anyone would like to share anything. I kept quiet and left class as soon as it was over.
I was ambivalent about kids. I could go one way or the other. I loved my life and children definitely would put us on the fast track away from our new apartment. Plus there are issues with the schools, crazy parents, the environment. How could I bring a child into the world if I really cared about the environment? Right? But one morning I had told Henry that maybe my child would have some solution to help turn things around. Or at least care about the environment. So I had not ruled the idea totally out of our future.
But how often do you hear your heart speak? Or meet your heart? Or even consider that your heart is its own entity? This was the first time I had any clue that I was just a person embodying something so much bigger than myself. So I decided that it was time to take her seriously. I mean what could possibly happen if you ignore your heart. Nothing good. And I didn’t want to find out.
Long story short, we got the ball rolling and two years later, I have a one-year-old. And it is SO. MUCH. FUN. Today, we laughed and sang and read children’s books. I even took a children’s literature class in college. Two, in fact. My graduate work was entitled art and play. Why was I hesitant to have kids for so long?
Well, for one reason, they are a lot of work. And another, you can’t send them back. And the stuff! Where would we put all of the stuff? But so far, so good. And honestly, this series of creative exercises helped me wipe clean the growing mound of anxiety stemming from motherhood – the guilt about sleep and my level of expectations. It was poignant for me to realize there are more important things in life than parenting decisions. In the last year, I have had two friends my age face cancer without health insurance. The Gulf Coast is about to be wiped out from a massive environmental disaster. These are real issues. Not what time my baby goes to bed. What matters with her is that she knows I love her unconditionally.
So now on the other end of the forty forts – the folding, the writing, and one filled composition notebook later – I found myself at peace and really happy. And miraculously my lower back pain is gone. The last couple of nights a couple of phrases have popped into my mind while writing. This was my path to peace. This is my faith story.
On Tuesday, I rode with Ceci to The Plains to pick up her art work. On the way there, we discussed her graduate work at the Corcoran. And my mind started counting up all of the pieces I have created that were related to my roots. My family and my understanding of my home is my muse. Now I see more clearly how my connections here in DC are intertwined with those generational ones in NC.
As I began this series, I pulled out The Gift – Poems by Hafiz, a book of poems, to set the tone for my work. I thought it was the first thing that I should do as a I finished my last fort. It was perfect.
I think we are frightened every
Moment of our lives
There are a lot of things to be afraid of in this world. But I am not. And it is so refreshing not to worry. Right now. That does not mean that I won’t find myself worrying in the future. But at this point, I find myself at peace. And often at the end of the day, I feel euphoric and so, so grateful. Going to bed with this feeling has made me realize that I love God that much more than I ever did before. And it helps me better understand a smidgen of how God must feel for me as a spiritual child.
Being a mother has made me realize that love is universal and everyone has the same experience of loving this small creature who has taken over their lives. A baby evens the playing fields. All of a sudden you have something that you can share with any parent on the street regardless of their background.
We were able to witness the universal language of babies first hand when we went to see Babies with Lucy on Mother’s Day weekend. She loved it and jumped and waved at the screen throughout the movie. I cried the first twenty minutes just feeling overwhelmed with emotion. But the movie made it clear that babies are doing what they do and making it regardless of what they have. I saw Director Thomas Balmes on Oprah. He said his uniting thread was love. Babies who were loved deeply.
“I wanted four loving parents,” he says. “What I realized, and you realize in the film [is] whatever the environment is, the basic needs are fulfilled. As long as there is love, the baby goes well.”
Today, I watched the video of Lucy sharing tea with Veronica several times. I noticed that she never once looked at me. That is nothing new when other people are around. She is 100% extrovert, which in turn has made me a much friendlier and outgoing person. Which has also made me a much happier person now that I am not hiding behind any blinders. We go out and engage in the world.
The one thing that struck me about watching her in the videos was her confidence. She is friendly and loving and confident. Of course I am pleased because I want her to grow up to be just that. Who knows if these traits will stick as we face future phases in life. My goal is simple: to make sure she becomes independent without losing her ability to connect with others.
And this brief glimpse of her little personality shining through makes me realize that these are the same things that God wants for me. For each of us. To go forth and love one another. And be confident. Because we have so much love to give.
This paper sculpture, roughly the size of a coffee cup, is one of forty forts I created during Lent 2010 as a creative exercise and spiritual exploration.
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