Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Parent Grows Up

This month all three of my daughters came for a visit.  I loved having them here one at a time.

I'm walking a fine balance with them though, between treating them like children and treating them like adults.  And that creates tension.  Over and over I heard versions of "I'm a grown-up now; you don't have to worry about that."

We talked some about this during our time together, and it made me start thinking about how things were with my own parents.  My mother died when I was thirty.  I had a baby, and she wanted to help me while I didn't think she (who had had five children!) knew a damn thing about how people took care of babies now.  We weren't friends or equals at all.  And that's how it ended:  she was my mother and I was her child.

With my father, things were different.  Over the years we developed a relationship of a more equal nature.  We talked about books and music, he gave advice when asked but never at any other time. I felt he respected me as an adult and approved of me.  He provided space where I could go for comfort.

I want to "help" my kids in the same way my mother helped me. I want to give them things, especially advice, that will keep them from making mistakes or getting hurt.  I want them to have everything they need and some things they want.  I want to suggest good books and music.  I want their boyfriends to treat them right. And of course I want that nebulous thing: for them to be happy.

Now that I've started thinking about it and talking about it, I can see that the relationship I had with my dad would be best.  I can give up the idea that I have any control over their lives, that for the most part my job now is to be there when they call or visit, to listen and not advise unless asked.  And finally, to provide for them what my dad provided for me, a place--whether physical or emotional--where they can come and recharge their batteries, be respected as an adult, and feel loved.

I've liked being needed in the old ways, but it's time to put that aside now.  There are new ways to relate to my adult children and I'm going to learn those new ways with their help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Power of Words

You've heard this all before on this blog, but I've been typing up some essays from Nancy Peacock's writing class at Meredith.  This was written from a prompt, "I believe in the power of words...."  How would you finish that sentence?

I believe in the power of words to heal.  When I write notes to people, I often sit and meditate for a few minutes about their illness, their dying loved one, their love for each other, the day they were born.  I put my pen to the paper as soon as I’m finished with the meditation; I want my words to matter.
            I choose a card carefully. Sometimes it is one of my photo cards. A photograph of a place we’ve been together, one of the sky or water for a somber message.  A photograph of a billboard with a funny saying for someone who needs cheering up.  A shop window with funky wigs for a friend undergoing chemo for cancer. 
            I might buy a card at the book store or a craft fair—one that is a collage with a meaningful quote.  Sometimes I go to my workroom and make a card using beautiful paper or stamps my daughter has carved.
            I know the power of words to heal because of the ones that come to my own mailbox when I need them.  Words from friends who let me know that they are thinking of me, that they remember my birthday or my anniversary.  I save the good ones and the ones from my children with their love scribbled across the page of a card they chose just for me.
            Yesterday I sent a card to a friend whose sister died last year.  Her sister’s birthday is the same day as my father’s.  “I will take a few minutes on Friday to think of you and your family.  I hope you will be remembering the happy times with your sister, and that those memories will comfort you.” 
            I wonder as I write this if anyone made a note when they read his obituary that Friday would be my father’s ninetieth birthday.  Are they right now thinking of me as they sort through their card collection or bend the corners of those at the store, looking for one that says just the right words, words that will bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye?
            Will a card come tomorrow as I remember his last birthday, how I went to the grocery store and ordered a cake—white with red roses—and had the woman write, “Happy 88th Birthday, Dad;” how my dad was in a coma from which he never woke up; how the five of us, his children, waited, watching his labored breath, tense, irritable, unbearably sad, trying to figure out if staying or leaving or whispering the right words in his ear would give him permission to die; how two days later he breathed a ragged breath and died with a tiny smile on his face?
            How comforting it would be to be remembered with words thoughtfully penned on a carefully chosen card.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Photo surprises

Last week we put up a new exhibit at the 1880 Gallery.  The theme was "Visions of Freedom" and for the first time I planned a couple of photographs.  

I am not an expert on cameras.  When instructors start talking about F-stops and shutter speed, my head starts swimming.  It all seems backwards and upside down to me.  Mostly I put my camera on the Program setting and shoot away.  The setting is forgiving in low light and I am usually very happy with my photographs.

Two of the shots for this exhibit had surprises in them.  The first, my daughter noticed.  Here's the photograph:

I got my neighbor's son to play around in his father's old (but very red and shiny) convertible.  He and his sister were the perfect subjects, fun and accommodating.  I chose this shot because he looks like he is on the road to somewhere and getting away with it.  My daughter though noticed a small detail that I had missed:  he has on what looks like a hospital bracelet!  He's not just driving; he's escaping!

The second planned shot was of my mother-in-law.  She is amazingly beautiful and very photogenic.  I handed her a book I had brought her and told her I wanted to take her picture looking at the book.  I chose this particular image because of the angle and background details:

But when I blew the photograph up to 11x14 for the exhibit, I noticed two details that I had missed.  First, the page she is looking at says, "Monet in Normandy."  Normandy, of course, being a decisive arena of World War II.  Then I noticed that the focus of the picture is on her hand, every detail of it crystal clear.

I love the way a photograph taken one way with one objective can have things that were unintended but add spice to the story it tells.  And there can be depth and art to a photograph taken without regard to the intricacies of the camera, only listening for the beep that signals the camera is ready to speak.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

god bless america

This Friday night we are changing out the 1880 Gallery at the Long View Center with a new exhibit, Visions of Freedom.  The group made a collective decision not to use this as our official poster because some felt the 'made in China' was too politically charged, but I'm posting it here because I think it says a lot of what I'm feeling about our country right now.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am grateful beyond measure that I live in the United States.  But I'm pretty darn disgusted with what promises to be a long and acrimonious political campaign.  I am disappointed in my state and my country for some poor decision-making that has taken place lately.  I want to see some politicians who are honest, dependable, and not in the pockets of big money.

I want to believe that we are a nation of people who care about all nations but that we aren't bossy or dogmatic about it, that we aren't selfish and greedy and smug in our comfort, that we take care of our own - our own for god sakes - and then take care of others in the same enveloping way.

I'm tired of everything I pick up in a store being made in China and seeing empty brick buildings in every small town I pass through.  I'm tired of sacrificing good men and women to useless wars.  I'm tired of politicians sticking their noses where they have no business being.  I'm tired of divisiveness and name-calling and finger-pointing.

We're the luckiest people in the world, in some ways, but we've forgotten our manners.  It's time to start using them again.