The Irises and the Tulips

LizzieToday, on my way to work, I noticed a patch of beautiful blue irises growing next to the most brilliant crop of yellow tulips. The colors were so pronounced because it is going to storm today and the early morning light was that perfect shade of Payne’s grey, a color, I am sure, that is the catalyst for pretty much every love and longing song out there.

For some reason the spring flowers reminded me of my spring babies and the irises in particular made me think about how this is that last year of your teens. Blue irises symbolize faith and hope, while tulips represent a perfect love. No wonder they reminded me of you. Brilliant light, shining hope, impossible not to notice,  the full promise of spring ahead of you. . .

I suppose driving quickly past the flowers made me a little nostalgic about time and its passage, how just yesterday you were playing Go Fish! with your stuffed bunny on our porch and yet here we are, Spring, 2019, and you are officially nineteen years old. One year of college in the books, a tumultuous and challenging year, but not without its highlights, the most notable of which was kayaking in the bioluminescent ocean in Puerto Rico, the sky lit up like a birthday party for Zeus and the water alive with magic and possibility.

I didn’t even realize how much I missed you until you came home from the summer. I know you hate sleeping with the dog and with me, but I have never slept better. Knowing that your pulse is an arms length away, knowing that you are safe and dreaming. It’s a fleeting moment. I love falling to sleep listening to your stories or hearing you crawl in after watching yet another late night episode of Game of Thrones with Will. I love not worrying about you walking home from a frat late at night or having your wallet or keys or phone. I am in awe of your ambition, your confidence, your compassion. You are one of a kind, my girl. One of a kind.

According to the world wide web, “in Chinese art, the iris definition most often supported is ‘the dancing spirit of early summer.’ The petals of iris blooms easily move in the wind, mimicking the fluttering of butterfly wings.” I cannot think of a better way to describe you. Who knew the internet might be more poetic than your own mom? Flutter. That is the word everyone uses to describe the first time they feel their baby move. For me, with you, that feeling has never left me. May your nineteenth year be one where you also feel the dawning of your most true self. I wish you love and adventure, deep friendships and wonderful mentors. Happy Birthday to the girl who has been there for me since before time and who continues to fill my life with such absolute joy.

I love you baby girl,

Mom

 

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Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid. Happy 23

Luke, age 4

I remember my college graduation. My parents and Lolo crammed into my Brooklyn apartment and I stayed awake all night listening to the snores of my dad and my grandmother, so loud, so cyclical, that I was sure the building might levitate. I graduated at Lincoln center. My mom was three years younger than I am now and honest to God, Luke, it feels like yesterday.

Yet here were are. Three years after snores-a-palooza you were born. All two pounds of you. The week before your birth was a slew of hospital guests praying for you to at least make it to Mother’s Day. I guess you and I have that in common … we like to defy expectations, to do things in our own way and in our own time.

I just finished watching your thesis statement film, Equanimity (a word I had to Google). I cannot tell you how impressed I was or how in awe I am of your multitalented self. I teared up halfway through the Hamlet scene, not just because it was so damn good, but because of the comfort I found in knowing you have found your place in the world. Not many adults know what their calling is. You know. You have always known.

I don’t even really know what I would say to my twenty-three year old self that would be of any benefit to you. You already know way more than I did back then. You have become such an articulate, confidant, fun loving, high spirited, magical adult. You, and this has always, always been true of you, are a magnet. Light of the world …

Lizzie and I always marvel at the fact that you are one of the only persons we have ever encountered that holds no judgement. I have never heard you say a bad word about anyone. I have never heard you gossip. Ever. Do you know how amazing that is? Especially in your profession, that is amazing. It is annoying that you don’t let us make fun of the dresses at the Oscars, but if that is the worst thing that comes from being a beautiful soul, I will take it.

Happy twenty-three, my bartending by night, auditioning by day, boy. Congrats on your new contract and your new job, too. I cannot believe you are graduating from college in two weeks. I just cannot. You, my first born beautiful boy, the boy who made me a mom, is already a star. I hope that this new chapter of your life rewards you in the same energy that you use on the world: pure, blissful, open, surprising, and generous. Knock ’em dead kid. The world is ready for you.

I love you beyond measure.

Mom xoxo

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Eight and a Half

A faculty meeting about trauma sensitive schools today listed the words calm, alert, anxious, fear, and terror (or something like that) in chronological order and I joked with my colleague that they lined up with the months of the school year. January, exam week, for high school teachers, blows.

So it has been a day. A day followed my crash cart grocery shopping and a dinner that will suffice and now it’s time for you to do your homework and I am sitting here, at a dining room table in desperate need of refinishing, waiting for you. As I wait, I play the I Can’t Stay Quiet anthem from the women’s march via a text message that I received early today and didn’t have time to play. You come downstairs, mid-song, wearing only your underwear, and you start to dance alone in the kitchen,

I glance up and catch a glimpse of how tall you suddenly seem. You dance to the backdoor, unprompted, to let the dog out, and dance your way back to the lyrics, “but no one knows me, no one ever will.” You are oblivious to my observations, smiling, singing, dancing. It makes me tear up, the contrast of the lyrics with the innocence of age eight, an age (for you) uninterrupted by trauma or shame.

You are on the edge. The edge of when everything changes. I look at you and try to imagine feeling that way and I really cannot remember ever feeling it. It’s funny those lyrics … no one knows me. Right now I know you. I know you like black olives in your lunch and that you don’t ever use toothpaste. I know you don’t like juice. I know you want toys in your Easter basket instead of candy (which, if you aren’t gonna use toothpaste, is probably a good bet). I have no idea who you will be though.

Not yet do you have to grapple with identity or sexuality or harassment or insults. Not yet do we have to look at college applications and wonder which way to go. Not yet has a teacher torn your work apart at critique. Not yet has everyone on your college dorm floor made a group chat that includes everyone but you. Not yet do you need to decide which post college job to take. I don’t know if you are straight or gay or bi or rich or happy or depressed or even if you are interested in science. Right now, the only care you have in the entire world is to dance along to the rhythm of a song you don’t even know the words to.

I envy you and long to keep you just this way for as long as I can. I cannot yet even imagine what it might be like to send you, my last born, off in an airplane after Christmas break, back to, what for you, feels like home. I know for me, that you and your brothers and sister are my home, and that for the rest of my life I will be able to close my eyes and see your slim Old Navy underwear hips dancing, joyfully, freely, and with no other purpose than to just be. “And in my hour of darkness [he] is standing right in front of me speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

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Great Eight

You just woke up and screamed, joyfully, “I AM EIGHT,” and ran down the stairs to grab a surprise pumpkin chocolate chip bread (your favorite) from dad, who left to say a prayer for you at the river. I asked you what the first thing you wanted to say about eight was and you replied, “I miss being seven.”

I guess all of us spend our lives balancing the difference between anticipation and letting go. There is a lot of that ahead for you. Eight will be the last year that you officially live full time with a sibling. Left here for now with just William, it already feels weird to only have four of us pile in the car (we all fit!) and plan menus for just two boys.

This year you compiled a visual list of birthday wishes and received just about all of them: https://www.instagram.com/p/BmXMSMqFxer/?taken-by=mightyquinnart. You are an amazing, amazing drawer of all things. You pause television to draw its many scences and spend every night before bed with a flashlight under your covers, drawing. I am in awe of your raw talent. You are our first kid that isn’t so much interested in sports. I asked you what your favorite sport was and you said, “air hockey,” but I will say that you became one heck of a swimmer this summer. When your wee little preemie lungs made it the full length of Hoyt pool this summer, I cried a little bit. Hard work beats talent every time, doesn’t it? Or maybe they are just cool partners.

At eight you like to eat Mac and cheese, dragon tail (pork tenderloin, grilled), tuna noodle salad from Outpost, all things pumpkin, Chinese dumplings (fried and in wonton soup), beef lo mein, gnocchi, cheese, watermelon, and peas. Most of all you like the fresh fish that Mr. Flood catches and fries for you. You are still a stuffed animal lover, though we did downsize this summer. We are now down to half a room full of stuffed friends and said individual farewells to the other half who made the walk of shame to Goodwill.

Much to the rest of the family’s chagrin, you have fallen in love with watching youtube videos and you make fun of me for not liking that Ryan kid or his mom. You have started to engage in the things that will define your generation and make your parents shake their heads in mock curiosity. All traces of little boy are gone and now you are simply BOY, a stage that is as short-lived as high school. You even went on an overnight school camping trip without dad, without me… just you and your backpack, pillowcase stuffed with flashlight, sketchbook, and a good ballpoint pen.

I cannot tell you enough how much I love you or how connected I feel to your heart. You are a dawdler, a daydreamer, a storyteller, an animal lover (loving to look, but not touch). You asked me what my favorite emotion was to feel and I said joy and you replied, “My favorite is lazy.” You are funny and quiet and introspective and investigative. You have asked me one hundred times this summer, “Mom, what is that word again where animals do human things?” When I say “anthropomorphic,” you repeat the word over and over and then often, later, point out to me anthropomorphic things you notice.

We have celebrated your birthday twice already, once when Lizzie was still home and once with your buddies Tegan and Rocket, so I am not quite sure how to spend your Labor Day birthday with you. It’s the night before my first day of classes and I feel a little overwhelmed and preoccupied with that. I asked you what you wanted to do and you said, “visit Shuggy and Shelby,” so heads up, Shug, we might make a tomato run.

Have an eventful and peaceful, adventurous and healthy eighth year, sweet boy. Make it great. I love you, I love you,  I love you.

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Roots, Wings, and the Way Back Home

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My babies, home for the summer 2018

I have always been relatively ambivalent about rollercoasters except for this one time when I rode “Superman,” where one rides as if they are flying, facing the ground. I was legit terrified, a full on panic attack. I wanted it to stop immediately. I have felt that feeling only a few times before, once in an MRI and once at Cave of the Mounds, where the underground passage got too narrow and they turned off the lights. I was pretty sure we were all going to be buried alive.

It’s been a hard day. Luke was home for a few weeks and I was really used to him again. His laugh and his ease, his quirks and his stories … his generous willingness to give Quinn a bath and tuck him into bed with stories and blanket fort. He left at six this morning and that airport drop off never gets easier for me. I watch him standing in the check-in line, leather jacket in the middle of August because it is too heavy for his suitcase, his long hair draping him like a picture frame, staring off into the distance with the corners of his smile eternally turned upwards and I just ache. Two thousand miles is too far to go and yet it’s the only direction there is. I will miss him.

I drove home and picked up Lizzie for coffee. On our way there I ran over a squirrel who had been playing with his little squirrel friend. This flattened my heart completely until Lizzie assured me that I probably saved him from a falcon who would slowly eat him alive. I felt a little better until after her pause when she added, “or it was that other guy’s soulmate.”

This afternoon we started to pack up her stuff for Michigan. Off to college she goes, my freshman and my senior … I am not sure how a heart can feel so full and so empty at the same time, but it does. On the way back from picking up even more storage bins she played Coldplay’s The Scientist and I cried so hard that I turned on the windshield wipers by mistake. “Nobody said it was easy/It’s such a shame for us to part
/Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be this hard.”

We stood in the middle of her bedroom and as she ran garbage bag after garbage bag down the stairs, I stared at all of her little girl things. Polaroids of girlfriends being silly, volleyball medals, magazine posters of high fashion models, her record player, her album collection, her art supplies scattered across her drafting table, her beautiful mess and I just silently thought, “this is ending,” and I could not find the windshield wipers.

My brother simply texted, “roots and wings,” so I thought I would pause to remind all of you who are in the thick of it, planting roots, exhausted from playdates and back to school shopping, aching for your own shot at the remote or just wishing you could have a jar of pickles for dinner instead of having to once again cook for a crew and then clean up after them, that the roots part is easier than the wings part, especially if you have really good roots.

I have two more kids at home. Thank GOD. All of you brave people who chose to only have one child, God bless ya because that is gonna suck hard. I am inhaling deeply, staring at the next in line. He needs me still. So I am gonna go anchor those roots a little deeper and prep for a high school senior year full of highs and lows, a rollercoaster facing the ground, where the passages are often too narrow, and I am going to trust that somehow, somewhere, all those roots intertwine and we will all return home together, free at last.

 

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My Third Time Charm, a Birthday Letter

I love your summer birthday, nestled into the pulse of the loveliest three months. I love that you always want the same exact birthday meal (bombers, banana cream pie, and plain old vanilla ice cream cake). Predictable, exact, wonderful, you. As I began to think about your birthday I thought about your upcoming senior year and how you are the third kid of mine to take my AP Studio course and probably the last one as I don’t think I will still be there when Q is ready for high school. That entire sentence is hard for me to fathom. Raising teenagers has been pretty special for me in that all of you are artists in your own right, I get to be your teacher, and so I feel especially attached. Knowing how fast the school year flies and knowing you are the caboose, well, it just makes my heart sink a bit. If reminds me a bit of reading a really good book that you just don’t want to put down, but you also don’t want to end. You, dear William, are that part of the book where I really trying to savor my time, where the pages held in the right hand start to feel a bit too thin for comfort. I don’t want it to end.

Luke came home to visit this week. Isn’t that strange? To visit? I am still getting used to the change in dynamics. It’s not you guys changing that overwhelms me … it’s me having to change and to identify my new role. So for this year, just let me be your mom. I just want one more year where we are all entangled … where we share a toaster and the remote.

I looked back at these photos and it feels so bizarre … where is that kid? Where is that mom? I love that you are smiling in these because sometimes I feel like I only remember the hard parts.

 

Isn’t it crazy that in that first photo you are turning eight? Quinn is about to be eight! That is why I am certain time doesn’t exist. Yet here we are, kid. Seventeen. Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.35.25 PM.png

I am wishing you a year that is full of promise, happiness, and love. You amaze me, Will. I love, LOVE that you never need to be reminded of anything. You are reliable, consistent,  a constant heartbeat in my life. I also hope for you that you welcome the occasional surprise and interruption. I know you like to know what to expect, but somewhere in your teen years, learn to trust yourself to fail. I can hear you now, “I don’t fail, Kel.”

So in your perfection, then, I wish us the sweetest year ahead, especially as you begin your college search. May the exact right one fall in your lap and may it be the trigger that starts an adult life full of the same magic and awe that you have brought to mine. You are hands down the funniest person I have ever met in real life. Smart and beautiful to boot. Know that we are all proud of you. Next it’s your turn to learn to be proud of yourself … to allow that feeling, to own it. Seventeen seems to naturally extend itself to that opportunity.

When you were born, Dad and I used to sing the Malcolm Dalglish song, “Sweet Potato,” to you. One of the lyrics is “They must have grown you wild to make a grown man a child.” I do hope you always feel like a wild child at heart and that you leap into it with great joy. We are gonna love you up, kid. We cannot wait to hold witness to your glorious life. You have the divine right to be happy, healthy, and prosperous. Love it all, baby boy. Happy birthday. Here is your song. It has the exact amount of silliness and joy in it for you, but it’s mixed with brilliance and heart and exactness and depth … of course it’s your song. I love you, Will, so incredibly much. xoxo Mom

“The world is big,
So big;
It’s very big.
To you
It’s new;
It’s new to you.”

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Tsunami 18, Dear Firecracker

18

Big week for you, kiddo. A week that has so far left you crying in the driveway, overwhelmed by its massiveness. Eighteen is rolling in as a tsunami: scholarship ceremony, new kickboxing addiction, admission to the University of Michigan, and a musical theater showcase that you were born to sing. I am happy to ride that wave with you, but the bittersweet thing about eighteen is that I can only watch from the beach.

Sometimes the hardest part about parenting is having to stand witness to your kid’s life. The hurts, which have certainly blindsided you this past year, the highs, of which there have been many… none of it is my own journey and yet it feels like somehow it must be. Learning, for me, to let go, to trust that you will leap into your divine adult self with perfect grace has been such an emotional lesson. I am proud of you. So proud. I am madly in love with you. I cannot imagine what it will feel like to drop you off in Michigan and walk away alone, except to say that I am never alone when it comes to you. You are always there, the current of my own heart.

Happy eighteenth birthday, darling, magical girl. I don’t have many words of advice. Vote, I guess. Seriously. Vote. Continue to stand up for yourself, to participate in discussions even when everyone else in the room doesn’t care to. Create, always. I have plastered the art room with the words, “Confidence is a choice.” I hope that mantra shows up again and again for you as you head into college. Be brave, baby girl. Leap.

I am so excited to watch you sing this Friday. I know you are scared to death. I know that the lyrics will make me cry. She Used to be Mine is a relatively heart wrenching song to sing solo in the spotlight right before your mom has to officially cut the cord. “Growing stronger each day ’til it finally reminds her to fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes that’s been gone, but used to be mine.” Are you trying to kill me? Sigh. I hope you do kill me (metaphorically). I hope you find that deep, honest space that resides somewhere in your belly and that you choose confidence. Sing the fuck out of that song, Lizzie. The girl who used to be yours deserves it. She is waiting.

You keep asking me why I am not crying all the time like I did when Luke was graduating. I get teary a bit now and then. I get sad when I know you won’t be around much longer to snuggle on the couch with me, drink wine, and watch stupid movies like Bad Moms Christmas. I know that I will feel your absence. Those feelings are being overshadowed by how excited I am for you. You are the kind of person that was born to have a big life. All fire. When you were little and playing volleyball I would sit on the bleachers and shout, “Be the spark, Lizzie.” You are indeed the spark. I am so looking forward to the fireworks display that the rest of your life holds.

I guess I do have more advice for your adult self. Never forget your worth. Don’t give into victim mentality. Be compassionate. Learn the difference early on between empathy and compassion early on. Have both, but know the difference. Don’t let empathy crush you. Never sacrifice your own vision for someone else. Be your own best friend. Trust your gut. Don’t leave a party alone. Look out for your girlfriends. Cover your drink with your hand and never take your eyes off of it. Drink water. Don’t leave your room so messy that you get bugs. I have so much advice I could fill a seven book series. I am trying to separate my advice from my fear. Most of those life lessons you will figure out all on your own, sometimes after making some really shitty decisions. Perfect. All of that is okay. If nothing else this year taught you to get back up again after getting all the wind knocked out of you.

Get up again, Lizzie. Again and again. Work with loving joy as you manifest a destiny that is your divine right. I am gonna miss you … your messes, your laugh, your firecracker self. When you miss me back, sink into your heart. I am there.

Cheers to the next four years, but mostly to the year ahead. May adulthood be kind.

xoxo  MOM

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22 Symmetry

Happy 22, Luke. Sometimes when I type your name I still hear the Montessori basketball parents shouting LUUUUUUKE each time scored. Your name is one I cheer often. Gosh I miss you. I am really excited that you are moving to LA this summer and curious to see what adventures that holds for you and your uncle Christopher. So many of your mannerisms remind me of his. I hope it feels like two peas in a pod. I hope it feels generous and warm and inviting and exciting. I hope it feels like your life is launching in the most delicious and delicate of ways.

My dad was twenty-two when I was born. Imagine that. I lived in New York at twenty-two. I had a cat named Ponch, named after Poncho Barnes when I thought the cat was a girl. I hate cats, but I loved that one. He kissed my eyelids when I slept. I remember twenty-two feeling kind of free. It has been exciting to see your newest paintings and to hear about the progression of your career as an actor. I sense you are irritated by my many questions, as if they are too prying, but really I just am trying to get a sense of your day … of your friends and teachers … trying, I  suppose, to get a pulse of your life. Your absence here … it’s just… hmm.. It’s like when you go to school everyday with your best friend and then one day they are sick and therefore absent and the whole day just ends up feeling a little off. So forgive my many questions, my stupid questions, the tone of my questions … I am just trying to find my way in the evolution of my role as mom. It’s harder to navigate than you might imagine.

I have a solo show coming up in November. My proposal for the show was all about the idea of identity as an artist and mother and how to cope with letting go. Lizzie keeps asking me why I am not crying all the time like I did your senior year. I cannot be certain of why. I am either in denial or I just have learned that all those tears didn’t stop the inevitability of life changing. I am reminded of Kathy’s Song by Simon and Garfunkel: “And as I watch the drops of rain weave their weary paths and die I know that I am like the rain. There but for the grace of you go I.”

The grace of you. “The free and unmerited favor of God.” I like that number. 22. The symmetry, harmonious balance, perfect proportions. I hope the year ahead holds that for you. I hope you feel loved. I hope you feel at home. I hope you feel that dreams are real and that imagination is a powerful creator. I hope you feel enough weathered .. toughened up just enough so that the unexpected doesn’t extinguish your desire to create.

Quinn thinks it is crazy and strange that you won’t be home on your birthday. He thinks we should pick you up. I wish we could do that too. I wish we could share a drink and blow out pie candles. I will imagine you instead, on stage, performing in Much Ado About Nothing, your lucky grandparents in the audience, and in my imagination, I will find the symmetry that ties you to me and along that fine line, I will find gratitude for all that we are.

I miss you. I love you. More and more. Happy Seattle Birthday. xo Mom

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For My Mom, Forty Years

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This week we are celebrating my mom’s 40th year teaching at Pius XI High School. Forty. My earliest memories of my mom include her as teacher, long before she officially started her work at Pius. When we lived in Springfield, Missouri, she had a ceramic “studio” in our garage. My mom didn’t call herself a teacher yet, but she was teaching me anyway … always creating (macrame wall hangings from found objects, thrown coffee cups, dandelion wine with accompanying hand thrown goblets, homemade cinnamon rolls, molasses cookies). We didn’t have a TV. She was always making. She was twenty-three. I was her sidekick. Maybe a silent sidekick. I sewed on my pink sewing machine, painted my first stretched canvas, finger painted next to the kick wheel. She even allowed me, after relentless begging and against all of her own beliefs, to go to a Baptist Sunday school once with the neighbor girl where I got to make noodle art about Jesus on burlap. When another girl down the street sprayed my long hair with an entire gallon of Aqua Net and then cut inches of it off with a plastic left handed scissors, my mom washed it all out, over the sink, and taught me how to not let others take advantage of me and also that no one should use hairspray shortly before they attend a bonfire.

She started at Pius when my younger brother was old enough to attend a Montessori pre-school (where the teacher at the time told my mom, “He is a nice boy, but he will bite sometimes,” about which my mom fretted about when really she should have just replied, “He is a Virgo, you will get used to it”). She taught art in a single room on the third floor next to her colleague, Keith Beutin. I used to wait in the large supply room before it was time for me to catch the bus to my elementary school. I learned a lot about high school in that room. Once my mom’s TAC (homeroom) student came in dressed as a giant Reindeer (spirit week) and she was a girl who wanted to fit in, but just didn’t and she was the only one in costume. My mom was trying to reason with her and care for her, but the six foot tall Rudolph girl grabbed my mom by the collar, lifted her up off the ground and held her fist inches away from her face, ready to punch her. She didn’t go through with it and I like to credit that to the fact that I was in the room. This whole memory makes me giggle.

There were other things I remember from that room. Mostly that there was this Greek athletic senior there that smelled of cologne and spent the morning chasing his girlfriend around the tables. I loved him (insert mom eye roll). My mom began to have her first successes in that room. She started to connect with her students and I remember a few short years into her tenure that we took a road trip to Sun Valley, Idaho to visit her first art school kid. To know that trip was almost four decades ago is to really understand the lyric that “life is what happens to us when we are busy making other plans.”

Both my brother and I, my cousins, along with my best friend to this day, all took art classes with my mom when we got to high school. By that time her little third floor art room had expanded to take up the entire sixth floor of the building. I watched my mom fight the fights that need to happen to instill change and foster vision. I saw her bruised and broken hearted more than once, more than a dozen times, as others struggled to understand that vision. I watched, in my mom’s growth, her battle a lot of that, but at the heart of it was her commitment to students, to the arts, and to herself.

In celebrating those forty years, I find myself reflecting on her simpatic journey of artist, mother, teacher. They are so closely intertwined. She went from that clay studio in the garage to one in our basement on 49th and Concordia in Milwaukee (pretty sure that basement wasn’t suited for a kiln and it’s amazing we didn’t blow up) to her abandonment of clay altogether. She started sewing into rag paper on our dining room table, using film remover to make transfers from magazines, colored pencils to make patterns. All of those baby steps leading her to the artist and painter she is now. She simultaneously played the role of mom, something she has always naturally, effortlessly been good at. She set her artist self up on a high shelf as she cared for our hearts and those of her students. As a teacher myself, I will tell you that she would not be the painter she is today if it weren’t for those relationships. Those who can, teach, and that she has done. Brilliantly.

When I was a senior in high school, I was in a class of about ten art portfolio students (a number that has since more than quadrupled). As part of the college application process, I had to take a timed home test (something art colleges don’t do anymore). My mom ran this test for myself and others after school. I was so anxious and upset with my results that I walked out of the “exam,” and threw my drawings in the garbage. My mom took them out of the trash and mailed them into schools anyway. A few months later she picked me up from the darkroom, where I was developing film. There was an unopened letter from School of the Visual Arts on the front passenger seat of the car. She didn’t peek. We opened the news of my full presidential scholarship together. I met my husband at that college. If my mom hadn’t picked those drawings out of the trash, my whole life would be different.

I am not the only life that Pat Frederick has had a hand in orchestrating. Hundreds, if not thousands of students, including my own children, have found their little artist selves because they have been lucky enough to be the recipient of my mom’s belief, confidence, and drive. Last weekend she showed me her latest painting and I said, “Oh, a wolf.” She said she didn’t paint a wolf, but she misunderstood me. She painted wolf energy, which according to various sources means, “Strength. Endurance. Giving Away Energy. Connecting With All to Connect to a Few. Solitude and Socialising. Teacher. Shepherd.” My brother commented that he saw a giant fox face in the painting. Fox. Foxes … small with a large presence.

I look forward to celebrating with many of you this weekend and grateful to those of you who are planning an event to honor a woman who has been my best friend and mentor since before time. I know she doesn’t see a wolf or a fox. My mom’s muse is the rabbit. Rabbits guide us to move through fear by trusting our instincts. In myths, the rabbit is seen as guides between heaven and earth. For me that is exactly right. I met my mom there, somewhere between heaven and earth on the wing of a prayer.

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Chain of Love, the 7th Link

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy” -Simon and Garfunkel

It is the eve of your seventh birthday, the seventh anniversary of one of my darkest nights. Earlier today I recalled overhearing the doctors and the anesthesiologist arguing about the epidural. The doctors were demanding it and the anesthesiologist was afraid that my platelets were too low to do so. The doctors won and I don’t think I will ever forget Dad and I signing the papers giving consent to save my legs instead of you, in case the needle should slip and somehow paralyze me. After your dad signed, he was told he had to wait in the hallway. One day he will tell you that wait was the longest of his life. By the time he came back, the needle was in, but I started to bleed out and was rushed to an emergency c-section. The doctors were right. If they hadn’t insisted, you would not be here.

Somewhere in that flurry of activity, your dad named you. He must have been keeping the name Quinn in his back pocket those first twenty-five weeks. He pulled it out when the only thing I cared about was not dying. It suits you, though, my mighty Quinn. Sometimes your dad is pretty smart. This week you two went to camp Minikani for your first grade overnight field trip. You came home exhausted, smelling like musky cabins and mud.

I cannot believe that you will be seven in the morning. You are at an age yet where most of life is pretty chill. You spent your summer drawing in your studio (the living room) in your underpants. Your Instagram gallery was born. You went to swimming lessons every day (never made it past level 1, but you had a ball). You are young enough that no one  has really hurt your heart yet.

The vulnerability of age 7 is fleeting. The change from year to year is so subtle and then, before you know it, you will start to feel the world in a way that gets further and further away from groovy. So, dearest boy, I hope you spend all of seven playing. Play and draw and cut up all that Amazon.com cardboard and turn it into TV’s and goggles and open concept birdhouses. Play out loud and alone, singing to each of your stuffed animals, animating the voices to your cars, cutting away at your sculptures with your extra sharp left handed scissors. If you can refrain from drawing characters on the remaining fleece sweatshirts in your drawers though, that would be fantastic, but even that, kid … if it brings you joy, go for it.

Play and imagine and anticipate the tooth fairy and Santa and the idea of a future new puppy (I know, I know, we promised that as soon as Will graduates, she is yours). We will spend seven snuggling in your bed, reading stories, building lego kits. Soak it all in so you know who you are at heart. I love seven. Too young for anyone to insult you on social media, offer you vodka, break your heart, insult you… ah, can you tell you are growing up with teenaged siblings?

It’s more than that, though. Today you told me that you had a bad dream. You dreamt that you and I were living in a lonely, empty house with one tree in the yard. There were ten kids outside and you were the eleventh kid. A raccoon walked into the house and you told it that you didn’t like him and he needed to go away. All the other kids liked him so you weren’t able to play with them until you made up with the raccoon. I guess that dream made me realize that you are starting to worry in a new way. There must be a sliver of yourself that feels like an outsider sometimes. On the other hand, you told me that you want a laser pointer and a remote control helicopter for your birthday, so it’s a relief to know that 98% of you is all kid.

I love you, Q. You always say, “I love you more,” and then I say, “not possible.” May your seventh year be wide open to possibility and joy. Happy birthday to my dreamer, my peacemaker, my lover of all things stuffed.  -Mom

happy7

From week 1 to year 7 (and all of your first days of school so far)

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