Blowin’ In: A Reciprocal Gift
By Susan Mangan
Before my daughter was old enough to fear bugs, we sat, she and I, on our front porch watching a spider weave its web. Filled with the fragrant aftermath of early summer rain, the sky held the dim colors closely, but the slightest sliver of light shone through the clouds, illuminating the spider and her intricate work of art. Perched next to the comfort of my side, I can still see the silhouette of my daughter’s pert, turned-up nose and the thickly feathered lashes that framed her blue-green eyes. I delighted in her momentary stillness and awestruck innocence, as we witnessed a moment of magic watching the spider create silk and spin a shared memory.
Artists view the world in shades of light and dark. They seek light to illuminate the darkness, but embrace the shadows to provide contour and depth to their subject. Without darkness, there would be no light. Without the ever-changing angles of the sun or the droplets of moisture that follow rain, the spider’s silken web would remain invisible, its luminescence hidden in the shadows. A mother’s vision is much like the light that follows rain; we need to peer through the shadows of life and the clarity of our children’s eyes to envision the gifts of our world and the newness of each day.
Our vision is hereditary. At times, I become stymied by anxiety and forget to breathe, to appreciate the moment, to remember the gift of perspective instilled in me by my mother and grandmothers before me. My grandmother Rose was an innocent. Her eyes were as wide as my daughter’s with a heart as pure. She loved dogs, cats, and trips to Lincoln Park Zoo.
The dogs on our Chicago block responded to her like animals flocked to St. Francis of Assisi, their patron saint. Grandma Rose would giggle at the colorful backsides of the baboons who frolicked around concrete lagoons at the zoo. She and I would hold hands and share grape soda. Grandma Rose taught me how to tell a story and laugh when the world became too filled with worry.
My grandmother Mim encouraged my creativity and love of literature. Together, Mim, my cousin Michael, and I would pretend that her grand mahogany staircase was Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod, and we the crew, ever watchful for the giant whale Moby-Dick.
The whale was never spied, but there was always a trip to the Dairy Queen for a mid-afternoon treat. All the years Mim spent balancing life as a teacher, scholar, farmer’s wife, and mother was repaid through the imaginative spirit of her grandchildren. Gifts are reciprocal.
Recently, I was reading through old journals and letters passed down from Mim. She always encouraged my writing. Somehow she likened my writing to the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Grandmothers are subject to loving exaggeration at times. Nonetheless, Mim wrote me a letter in March of 2002, two years before she died at age 101, applauding my creative efforts and urging me to hire a housekeeper so that I could “devote time to the babies and writing.” Children and academics, not housekeeping, were always at the forefront of Mim’s priorities. I am still writing, but have never found the need for a housekeeper. Pl
enty of creative ideas lie hidden behind the cobwebs that manifest on my old bookshelves.
Overall, my greatest creative act has been the gift of my children. Humbled by my calling to be a mother, I cherish the vision of life I see through their eyes: the spider resting in the center of its web, the owls we hoped to spy on nighttime nature walks through Huntington Woods, the sand crabs that tiptoe in the tide pools that dot Irish strands. I will never forget the soft breath of my infants and the birdlike fragility of their warm bodies nestled against the curve of my neck.
My mother taught me to love. She taught me how to be a mother. When I was a little girl, she would comfort me, easing the night terrors that grow from an overactive mind. My mother would sing soft lullabies and cradle me with stories of errant gingerbread men and beanstalks that reached to the sky. As I grew, she shared with me her
knowledge of birds and flowers. My mother showed me how to bake cookies and how to cook a proper pot of homemade soup.
When my mother became a grandmother, she once again saw light through the eyes of her grandchildren. She rocked them as babies and settled their toddler temperaments with stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. Together they shared adventures at home and even abroad on an Irish holiday. My mother cuddled with my daughter as the wind blew off the Atlantic over the sands of Keem Beach, and watched with delight as my boys ran blithely through Irish fields.
Throughout the years, my mother played endless games of Monopoly and Clue with the children, laughing at her inadequacy as they managed to win every time. As the children grew bigger, my mother grew smaller and smaller, until she could nestle beneath the warm curve of their strong arms. Now, I hope that they see her gentle spirit in the red of a cardinal and her joy in the freedom of the wind.
Motherhood is not without its shadows. Children grow – adolescence and early adulthood pulls them toward distractions. I hope that my children once again see the world through my eyes and the simple vision gifted to me by my grandmothers and mother. I hope that they notice the purple foxglove that grow wild in Irish fields, and the play of light on the bark of a leafless birch tree as dawn becomes day. I hope my children never lose their joyful vision, that it is only dormant for a time, until that moment when light balances the shadows and clarity is regained.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].