Thankfully, my studio is a warm and inviting oasis on this rainy slushy, warmish but damp, dreary day in RI.
After a busy day of Mom-related errands on her only chance to go outside without ice this week, with job search work, Chamber of Commerce sales calls, time spent sorting through old paint tubes, and organizing my studio a bit, I finally settled in to paint this painting. I chose a VERY “sunny” palette today, probably to counter the dreariness of the day and youthful (to me). Brightness and cheery yellow is so NOT what the sky offers New Englanders this week, with the sun socked away behind rain clouds. I once wrote in a poem that “I want to shine before the final coat of varnish is applied” (referring, back then to my hormonal urges of the early 40’s, of course) and am reminded of that by these lively colors.
I painted this without a plan, as I always do. I like the playful colors, the graceful femininity of the mother, and the trace of a worried expression on her face. While I positioned the child in her arms, it brought back memories of my own children and the various ways a mother holds onto a squirmy child. Holding babies, my own, even when squirmy, is what I consider to be the best role I ever had (an odd choice of words, but they don’t give out manuals, so I played the part as best as I could). Was I a natural? Yes, in some ways, and in others I was challenged and am still, apparently (A is for ANXIOUS in my world, even when bad news comes by phone).
I was not exactly calm a lot of the time; much the opposite, I was high-strung and always worried that they would get hurt. One thing I was not, also, was strict or well-disciplined in keeping rules for them (I found them funny or was a total pushover when nagged) so our house was a fun house, too. We always had a lot of neighborhood children around, sometimes checking my fridge for snacks before my daughter made it off the bus (I could never understand the audacity of that one). Both of them were active and both had wild moments, like the baby I painted here –“Squirmy worms”.
When I painted the Blessed Mother’s hand (at center), I remembered my mother’s “vice grip” fingers that could hold our little fingers very still when we were getting our nails clipped my mother wasn’t tough in any other way, incidentally; she rarely got mad and her only corporal punishment was the threat of the wooden spoon; and we were all twice her size, so we giggled when she took it out, knowing it wouldn’t be painful if she ever used it.
I also saw that it really looked like the hand of my maternal grandmother, Maria Carolina d’Oliveira, who had a shrine of roses on her bureau for her “Santinos” and the Blessed Virgin. She was a lovely woman with long, soft, beautiful hands and she prayed non-stop with her rosary beads in hand much of the time. I inherited both sets of hands, I think, as well as my Vovo’s sharp wit and the ability to make a face that spoke a thousand words (both a blessing and curse). She used to call the elderly folks in her complex “Sheep” for their white hair… when she was 95 (and colored her hair until she was 96) and she could look disgusted with a person in a way (with the tilt of her head) that could make me cringe.
Some favorite memories of “Holding on” to sometimes squirmy babies:
My daughter Addy was always a sweet, cuddly baby, fairly calm, mostly well-behaved with a (very) quick wit and wild sense of humor. My youngest, she loved bath time and would race around the house after with undies on her head to be silly (with her still contagious laugh). She could lob her baby bottle high over the pews/heads at church, got into occasional scuffles with the “naughty” boy in pre-K at “Mount Caramel” (Mt. Carmel), played hide and seek under clothing racks in department stores (with her brother in the lead; scared me to death, and once refusing to play with a neighbor who was the same age but as she put it “Clearly a young three” (verbatim/best friends later). She is still a perfect daughter — beautiful, hysterically funny, an amazing artist and friend to those lucky enough to have her, smart and squirmy.
My son, Peter, terrorized adults with his unruliness got away with it because he had “Tweety-bird” eyes, and could wriggle out of any situation with break-neck speed to get to where HE wanted to be (he is still very direct and walks his own path well). He could outrun ANY adult to the dock at my folks’ (not funny), could breakaway to random neighbors’ doors to ring bells for popsicles (we made many a friend that way), or race to the church altar after communion when everyone was quietly praying. He acted out in church a lot: He’d also remove his pacifier to cry out (AUDIBLY WELL for age 2) a 4-letter word that starts with S and ends in T — during peaceful moments in mass (bobbing heads and gasps resulted). Raising children was stressful for me, honestly, and I was a screamer (and high-pitched at that), with my heart in my throat half of the time. He is and always will be a handful — alpha in every way, a totally unique, wise, music-making, loving son and father to my granddaughter.
For all my worrying, they had few calamities as youngsters (these come to mind): Addy broke her wrist at the bus stop from a fall off an icy boulder — then sprained her arm after shoeless ballerina twirling on the kitchen island (in leotards); and Pete stepped on a nail once that went all the way through and didn’t hit anything major; and broke his finger (at two) by throwing a brick up in the air to have it fall on his own hand. Most of the damage was to other things.
I recall “Miss Mouse’s” unintentional Barbie Car mishap during which it (the car) sped out of control and hit the cellar wall, leaving the hamster a goner after he was thrown from the vehicle (lots of crying neighbor kids; funeral procession/backyard gravesite). I recall her very brief “dachshund painting” phase, too, with a stencil I helped make (me: what a neat project/so glad to help) that she used on the sidewalk(!); and most shocking at the time, her intentional nose piercing and tattoos (she wears them well). She rarely got into trouble.
Pete, on the other hand, did off the charts damage to things like painting his entire bedroom carpet black while we were trying to sell the house, spray painting the Christmas tree and all of our heirloom ornaments gold, and (at age 3 or 4) spraying the garden hose into the family room window for five minutes or so (he had been in the sand box when I left to see his cousins shoot hoops in the front yard) leaving the carpet ruined, the plaster falling off the walls, electrical appliances became shock hazards, the pull-out couch very absorbent. Dumping a bucket of water off the deck and onto the play date and mother that were coming to play in the sandbox on a beautiful summer day was memorable, too. He was into water!
I may sound like I am complaining but I’m not. They are my children and I am as proud of their disobedience (when they are on their missions) as I am of their conformity (when it makes sense). I love shock value, anyway, (no surprise, to those who know me) and am just now (too tired, frankly) growing out of that. I am so relieved that they made it through, alive and well — and have grown up! Of course, I’d go back in time in a minute!
Living in my home town makes sense for now with my mom being 86 and before when my dad was sick (before he passed); and, while I am often envious of my ex, I am thankful that my children have their father near them (in Chapel Hill). I know that they are God’s, too, and I do believe that our parenting doesn’t always come from blood relatives. Friends, step-family, extended relatives, fathers, strangers — you name it; they’ve been there for me, so I am sure they are there for my children when I am not. That isn’t to say that I had (or have) an easy time with separation. I still worry and its sad, really, as they aren’t part of my physical world often; but Love is not lacking in either direction, a help.
“HOLDING ON” — holding onto babies, onto jobs, onto God, onto my best self, my sanity, my self-control, onto money (job search) holding onto sanity, friends in need, someone who gives you a hand when you need it; whatever it is, we have to do it when its something important to us. There is a time for letting go, too, I guess. I’m not ready to let go of the Madonna theme. Maybe 2014 will be the year, not sure.
Wow, I went on and on again. This last photo is the first Madonna I ever painted, “First Night”.