A few weeks ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day, even though it feels like a lifetime ago. A few weeks ago we were still in winter’s crusty clutches, and now the crocuses are pushing their heads out of the warming earth. Change is so often like that: nothing happens and then everything happens.
To mark the occasion I was bound and determined to bake and decorate sugar cookies with Abra and a few of our friends. At eighteen-months-old I knew she was too young to get much out of cookie-making, but still I spent the morning coaxing sugared hearts from sheets of dough, swirling red food coloring into icing, and arranging sprinkles on the counter like a jewel box. Us mothers, with our children hoisted on one hip, used one hand to cradle the baby and the other to spread icing on the buttery heart. Then we let the children apply the sprinkles. Kolya, the oldest of the group, confidently perched on the edge of the counter, deftly shaking the bottle of sprinkles onto the icing. Estoria, the youngest, wildly shook the bottle in a glittery flurry, sending showers of sprinkles onto the floor; before the icing had a chance to set she took an enthusiastic bite, producing a pink backsplash on her face. Abra tentatively shook the sprinkles onto the cookie, and then proceeded to take mouse-like nibbles.
I have known all of these children since they were days old, and it struck me not only how their personalities were manifest in their approach to cookie-decorating but how they are essentially unchanged since birth. Of course they have grown and changed in the intervening months and will, undoubtedly, continue to change for the rest of their lives, but at their core they are who they have always been. And I can’t help but find that remarkable. I used to be a big believer in the all-encompassing power of change. While I still cling to the belief that we have enormous influence and potential to alter the shape and course of our lives, the older I get the less confident I am in the belief that we can change who we are. As an adult, I often feel as if my efforts to “change” are really an effort to get back to who I always was.
Recently I’ve been thinking of taking up sewing again. The last time I touched a sewing machine was 22 years ago. My mother was an accomplished seamstress and when I was 12 I asked her to teach me how to sew. The project was fraught from the start. From the phonebook-sized Butterick pattern book at Fabricland I selected a mermaid-like dress with three layers of jewel-toned fabric that was gathered into swishy, skirted layers. This was not a beginner-level dress and my mother warned me that it would be difficult. “It’s going to take a lot of time and patience to complete,” she said. We both knew that the latter wasn’t my strong suit but, puffed up with confidence, I dismissively told her that it would be fine. Six months later our dining room table was still littered with disassembled pieces, and by the time my mother resignedly finished the dress for me it didn’t fit anymore.
Remembering my history with sewing, it was with hesitation that I registered for a two-hour introduction to stitching class at a local sewing shop. This time would be different, I convinced myself as I sat down at the foreign machine. The instructor took me through the basic operation and guided me in some basic stitches. Then things got crazy. Rulers started flying around. Not just your average ruler, but rulers with infinitesimally small hatch marks and sliders that allow you to get a perfectly accurate measurement. The instructor gave me the option of using the super duper ruler or, if I had more joie de vivre, a run-of-the-mill ruler. I’m not one to use rulers period. I tend to eyeball things. And that’s when I realized that I’m not a seamstress at heart. Sure, I could train myself to be accurate, to get comfortable with measuring fractions of an inch, but I’m never going to be someone who uses a ruler with aplomb. It is simply not how I orient myself to the world.
Recently, Katrina Kenison, one of my favorite authors, wrote a beautiful post about how her son’s passion and path in life first revealed glimmers of itself at just about the age Abra is now. In her piece she asks, “How does anyone become who they are meant to be? How are life stories written, paths revealed, passions ignited? By what alchemy of genes and temperament and mystery are gifts bestowed, talents honed, and then offered to the world?” How, indeed? I study Abra, who is who she has always been, who know what she likes (being in the natural world, talking, books, birds, water) and what she doesn’t (big groups, loud noises, avocados). It may mean nothing – or everything. I am constantly scanning the environment for clues to who she is and who she will become, and wonder how those two might be linked. I know she is bound to change, but I can’t help wondering if she’ll always be the spacey klutz who routinely trips and runs head-long into walls. I wonder how her penchant for observation will manifest itself. I wonder a lot about the interests we will – and won’t – share. I wonder if she’ll be better with a ruler than I am.
Sometimes, when the light hits her face just right or a certain expression crosses her face, I capture a fleeting glimpse into what Abra might look like as an adult. It is always startling, as if I’ve gone through a wormhole into the future for a brief moment. People are forever trying to guess if Abra looks more like Maikael or I, and one day I realized that she increasingly looks like neither or us and more like her own person. It struck me that, even though I can’t see it, the same thing is happening on the inside, too. With each passing day she’s becoming less of a product of the two of us and more of an amalgamation of the parts that make her her. Part of the fun of being a mother – of being a human – is watching a personality develop and unfold. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle for which don’t know what the final image is supposed to look like. At first you have not a clue what you’re piecing together, but as time goes by each piece reveals a more complete picture, and when you snap the final piece into place you don’t know why you couldn’t see it before. Or maybe it’s like creating a painting: a series of rough strokes giving way to finer details. We are all works of art, each day revealing more facets, more details, more beauty.
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