When guests leave, I have a difficult time cleaning up after them. I like the presence of guests, at least most guests, to linger. My mother used to stop me from putting all the mess of toys in order before we would leave her house. She said the mess allowed her to see my kids playing on her floors, on the couches or in front of the fireplace long after we’d jetted off the Upper Peninsula towards the East Coast.
I know how she feels now.
Our beloved German family, a family we sprouted five years ago when the eldest son of this family of six children came to live with us, just spent a long set of sweet September days with us. They left the fourth child to live with us until December.
We spent warm days swimming at the river.
Cool days we toured MASS MoCA and Brooklyn.
We hiked and walked and strolled and went to yoga together.
We made many meals, much zucchini and melon employed.
And the mother, my dear Ursula, and I made art around the edges and for one and a half days, we worked plumb in the center of this swirl of teens and plums and a chard eating woodchuck.
This morning, I walked in to the room where she slept and without knowing what was happening, I was engulfed in the simple perfume of her presence. Like when you hug your partner’s neck after swimming and only the soft animal scent of skin fills your senses, an eager poetic soliloquy of scent surrounded me. The smell recalled her to me so fully I was sure she was near. But, only a pile of linens and the paper she’d wedged in to a rattling window frame on a windy Berkshire night were present.
We are both mothers. She has three times my children and just as much appetite to make things while in the midst of mothering. We first met in the airport in Florence, Italy near where her family vacationed in the summer. They’d invited us (inwhited, if you are a German speaking English, which is all I can hear in my head as I write. I recall her voice skipping over Vs when she was tired and letting them be Ws) to spend time with them there, before depositing our son with them for a semester at the Schaubing Waldorf High School.
We fell in step with each others mothering styles quickly. We found ease in each others presence through the affection our children spread and before long we were sketching together on a long table overlooking the valley towards Cortona. Ursula is a landscape architect with amazing drawing skills, so the vistas jump off the pages with just a few strokes of her pencil. That first summer of knowing one another had all the makings of a symphony with many parts yet to come, but each new phrase captivating.
Since that first visit, we have traveled together, spent time in each others homes, sat talking for long evenings and early mornings, picked blueberries, celebrated Full Moons, eaten meals prepared with the other in mind, sent gifts and notes and letters and many many hand made mail art postcards. We have fallen completely in love with each others children and included their friends in the circle of our care. Our husbands are equally eager and engaged and this symphony feels like it will be playing for many years to come.
So when I inhaled Ursula, the longing I felt for her real presence, her laughter, the way she orders a coffee, the endearments she uses for her children, the tone of her voice as she asks a question, her enthusiasm for leaping in to cold rivers or trying new art techniques mellowed from an ache to an exercised response. I have spent many hours with her painting and making books and drifting exotic neighborhoods, photographing laundry or hanging it, laughing over the singleton socks we each collect and seasonally seek to pair. Something about making art together has sewn our friendship, our sisterhood, our shared parenting in to a many-layered blanket that offers comfort beyond what I ever imagined. Now that I know that comfort, her scent, I require it.
There are many tales to tell about Ursula. We have made art with our combined children now for five summers. As we travel, we create. We formed the Darling Hill International Artist’s Club four years ago and have had four art showings since then, in Vermont, on Cape Cod, here in the Berkshires and at a cafe in Monte San Savino, Italy. We have weathered a hurricane, an earthquake, a car accident, and foreign borne illnesses of our children. We have earned ribbons for our skillet tossing. Our dumpster dive at a bookbinders last year in Munich is an oft repeated tale these days. This past week, while waiting for her daughter at dance class, we sketched the skyline of Housatonic with the iconic water tower on to up-cycled file folders. We cut the drawings in to stencils, and then transferred the images on to vintage book covers given to us by the boyfriend of another of her daughters. We built Coptic Stitch book covers together, filled the signatures with found, painted and plain papers then sewed them up smartly on a sunny September morning. We make books in the same way we make everything we do, in the midst of making breakfast and lunch and planning dinner, picking figs or berries or apples, and delivering kids to and fro, brushing off all but the most urgent pleas for help so that we can focus together for a few hours.
What we give each other is permission to want what we want.
What we give each other is permission to answer our soul’s calling in the midst of parenting.
What we give each other is the courage to stop waiting to do what calls us and to engage our families with our fullest selves, the selves that snort when laughing, that pick up random scraps of paper on the sidewalks and often bursts in to song.
What has happened is that our children, from 21 to 10, now, all know that this making art is what makes us happy and they too, in their own ways, have inhaled this brand of bravery in to their own lives, making choices that are much nearer to joy than to duty. They know that familial responsibility includes honoring what the other loves.
Ursula left this stone circled heart filled with acorns and a marigold for us on Saturday. The squirrels thanked her for it and ate most of the acorns, so I refreshed her heart and filled it with a rose and nasturtiums and more marigolds. We pass our mothering back and forth like this, pass our time together and apart with these young people in our arms, needing rides, needing counsel, needing lunch and together, we make it happen with room to doodle, to discover and to know each other deeply.
So I see you Ursula, across the table from me, I see your hands chopping tomatoes or parsley, I see you holding the nearest child’s cheeks in your hands and loving with that big heart of yours. I am so happy to know there is a spot for me there.
Who knew our hearts could grow this big?
I am blessed beyond measure.