The perfect card

Helen Baker, Red Rag

I’m a mom in the middle. I’m the between generation. My fingers touch both the hem of my mother’s skirt and the collar of my children’s shirt. This painting reminds me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and of motherhood.

At the temple wall, you’ll watch people writing little white prayers, rolling them up like cigarettes, and stuffing them into the chinks between the rocks. (for God to smoke, I suppose)

The blocks here are memory stones in a relationship wall, a Facebook timeline of our evolving experiences of “mother.” Inside these memories we are five, we are fifty, we are thirteen. Often in the course of one telephone conversation with her.      Or in the way our patchworked hands reach for our kids.

A boundary-marking wall, a door-opening wall.  Each block, a bit different in its materiality.  Some are fading, some are strong and demanding. A bright turquoise shines from behind, a flexing light-giving life.

The mistakes she made with me pop up now on the backs of my hands, in the lines of my mouth. I sometimes find them in my bones. My reflection in the mirror dissolves into mystery, translucent overlays of my mother and her mother. Am I conflicted? Absolutely. I’m a card carrying member of the “deeply conflicted moms club.”

Go ahead and search the shelves of Target or Walmart for that perfect card. Find a Hallmark card that says, “I love you Mom, for all your cawing red blocks and the ones of whispering lavender. I love you for your brilliant turquoise soul. The one whose fingers now lift me.”

My kids will visit their checkered-past wall, and roll up their own prayers there. Prayers that they can someday be like me, prayers that they can be better.

5 Comments on “The perfect card”

  1. SigO says:

    I look at the painting and after your thoughts would call it “checkered past”. I too am deeply conflicted. I’ve recently shared with my paid confidant my sorrow over my inability to let go of past ways. Ways that worked to protect when younger but now are outdated, obsolete and harmful. Oh, like with anything I try to do, I make progress and real noticeable progress for sure, but how hard is it to look at parts of you in the mirror and not like them, only to then resort to their ways when the pressure is on? It’s miserable if we’re honest.

    I know why people think they are perfect, why they deny their fallibility. It’s not that it’s easy, it’s damn near impossible to keep up that charade, but a clean and complete break from the past is more than damn near impossible, it IS impossible. That’s a miserable choice. Pretend to be perfect (and not be authentic) or acknowledge your mistakes and that more will be made, no matter how much we despise those ways. It is as sure as the sun rising tomorrow.

    Hmmmm. I look back at my checkered past and realize though that I’ve gotten better. So has my family, and maybe that’s it. Get better or get worse. I tell my son, I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, mistakes you will grow to hate. But when you get older and you start to see those mistakes in such an awful light, just remember, the only thing we can do is work hard to be better, otherwise our only option is to be perfect. I’ve tried hard, and seen good things happen. I feel bad about those that I’ve held to such a high standard, it’s not right.

    How does that relate to the painting? The reds hurt and are fresh. the purples are like bruises from an injury not too long ago. The greens are fun, ones we want to hold on to but alas they fade away if we’re not careful. The lavender and turquoise blocks and the widening gaps between some blocks is the progress made. There are no turquoise blocks actually, those are red ones and purple ones now gone. I imagine the lavender brush strokes to the right and at the top in the field of turquoise are actually other blocks nearly gone too. Maybe this painting is a snap shot, and years ago, all the blocks were red and purple and they covered the whole painting with only a few green ones here and there. Maybe there was no turquoise at all?

    Maybe I wouldn’t label it a “checkered past” after all. Maybe this painting is called, “real progress”. Change, how wonderful?

  2. you are a beautiful writer!

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