Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Box

My mom is amazing.  She's an amazing artist, person, and grandmother, too, not just amazing as a mom.  I'm one of only three people in the world, however, who get to judge her directly on the mom-front, and the vote is unanimous that she is the best.

I've been struggling with how well I measure up in that role lately.  I know I am good enough most days, and there are moments I'm satisfied that I've done something I can be proud of, but I've never felt more inadequate to the task than in recent years.  I appreciate most of the freedom I have now that my kids are more independent compared to the baby and toddler years, but I miss the relative simplicity of their worlds being so small.  Often the first time I see them on an average day is when I get home from work.  They are beyond my reach.  It's a helpless feeling.  I worry I should be doing more for them but it's hard to know what.

When I look back on my own childhood and think about how much my mom managed to do, I can't figure out how she did it.  She would sew us real clothes, not just Halloween costumes.  She kept the house much cleaner than I'm able to keep my own and certainly changed the sheets more often.  She tended the garden, did all the bookkeeping, did all the labor at the art gallery full time, and somehow also maintained her career as a successful artist.

And then there was the food.  My mom prepared us excellent homemade meals every day.  I don't remember us ever getting food delivery or take out when we were growing up.  Once my brothers and I were intrigued by the look of something called "pizza" on a Little Caesar's commercial, and we asked if we could try some, so the next night my mom served up homemade pizza in the same broad pan she made lasagna in.  It didn't look the same as in the commercials (shapes are strangely important to kids, and the ones in the adds were circles cut into triangles and this was a rectangle cut into squares, so that was distracting) but it was good.  I don't remember her making it again, though.  In our house (usually on a Wednesday when I leave work early to take Quinn across town to Latin after school then have to pick up Aden right afterward so the two of them can do violin lessons until 7:00) there is often actual Little Caesar's pizza on the table so that people coming and going can grab something to eat before getting shuttled to the next place.  It's fine, I don't really beat myself up about it, but I know my mom would have managed it differently somehow and I am awestruck.

The thing is, I know from talking to my mom as an adult many years beyond when we all shared a home, that she wondered if she were doing enough back then.  I can't imagine what more she could have done.  I can't manage half of what my mom did.  But the truth is I was problematic growing up, and often unhappy when I had no excuse to be, and that tears at a mom's psyche like nothing else.  There was nothing she could have done for me that would have helped.  She did the right thing by just leaving me alone to sort it out because I eventually did.  But that's painful, and I'm sorry I put her through that.

As much as I regret that I troubled my mom, at least now when I look back it gives me some perspective on my own kids and how we're doing.  During the moments where I agonize that I might not be the right mom for them, I remember that my mom wondered that about herself at times.  And that's ridiculous.  Of course she was the right mom for me, even when I couldn't appreciate it.  So I hold out hope that one day my kids will look past my flaws and see the effort I put in, despite not being able to do all the things I think I should.  We'll see.

In the meantime, I want to make sure my mom knows her efforts are currently appreciated by sharing a glimpse into one of the traditions she's made for us: the annual Valentine's box.

My mom sends packages to me and my brothers every year for Halloween and for Valentine's Day.  The Halloween box is always spectacular and usually leaves us feeling a bit mortified because it often arrives on her birthday, for which we are seldom organized enough to do anything.  The Valentine's box is always beautiful.  This year she outdid herself.  Let me walk you through it:

The box arrived yesterday, but we weren't going to wait to open it because we knew there were cookies in there.  Mom always makes us shortbread cookies cut into bats for Halloween and hearts for Valentine's.  No way were any of us going to leave a box on the table that had my mom's cookies in it.

The big treat this year was the hand-painted shirts.  My mom makes a different shirt every year and usually we get them at Christmas, but this year they were in the Valentine's box.  Often the image she paints is a kind of insect (we have shirts with butterflies, cicadas, wasps, ants...).  This time it was a bird.  (I plan to wear mine to work today.)

My mom also hand decorates postcards and other images into Valentines.  She adds glitter and little hearts and everyone gets something tailored just to them.  The cards this year were particularly beautiful.  We always save them.

The other remarkable thing in the box this year was her latest naturalist book.  She's been creating a series of small art books that highlight various figures in natural history.  They're beautiful, and usually about obscure people I've never heard of, but since the birthday of Charles Darwin falls on February 12th, he seemed a good addition to the box.  This particular book has a bit of text at the front and then the rest is entirely images.

All the books are good, but my favorites I think are the small group she did on songbirds that included musical transcriptions of what the birds actually sing.  You can check out more of my mom's work in progress on her blog.

Isn't that an amazing box of things to get for Valentine's Day?  I told Aden I hope when she goes off into the world that I am able to create something nice to send to her every February.  It may not be all homemade things like my mom does, but it's the box that counts.

(Thank you, mom!  I love you.)


  1. I share the same sentiments on the worried about not doing enough thing and remembering all my mom did. Intellectually I know I'm doing the best I can, but in my heart I still feel the guilt. Your mom is amazing...that is an incredible box. Love love the shirts.

  2. I particularly loved this post and would love to see what future boxes from your Mom contain if you're willing to share. Your mom sounds magical.

  3. Your mom sounds amazing! I too marvel at all my mom did (get up at 5:00am and do a load of laundry and exercise every day, for instance. If I get up at 5am now, it’s only because someone is crying). What a fun set of Valentine “treats”!