Each night as my husband and I fall into bed we are literally out of breath but we don't know why. Life has us on some sort of frantic treadmill that is ironically only making me fatter. We are stressed and rushed. I always wonder what we are working so hard to rush for. Death? Retirement? If only we can get through this day, this week, this latest bout of sick or sleepless kids. At what point do we stop "getting through" and just start living?
Perhaps somewhat related and
perhaps not I am thinking about this as I stare at a photo I smuggled out of my
father's house during our vacation. Unlike many of the old family photos, I've
never seen this one. I can tell it predates me, and captures my father's
mother's birthday one year. His family is gathered around a carefully set table
in our living room. I can see that my mother has one of her good tablecloths on
the table that she definitely ironed. There is a pot of coffee in the middle
and carefully set place settings for everyone. Cups and saucers, the good dishes.
There are flowers in the middle of the table and she is presenting my
grandmother with a handmade cake as they both smile, not at the camera, but at
the pairs of loving eyes surrounding them at the table.
It is a portrait of a moment in
time. A carefully set, slow, deliberate moment in time. My grandmother does not
appear to be turning any special age. But she is clearly being made to feel
very special in that moment. That took work on my mother's part.
I think a lot about the slowness
and deliberateness with which my mother must have moved through that day. There
are no paper plates or plastic. Nothing was thrown out; everything was probably
hand washed. It is a simple understated scene of how to do something right and
enjoy that moment. I think about how often we forsake the importance of this in
an effort just to get it done, to move fast, to get through. There is no art in
that. It is what leaves us breathless each night. And suddenly it occurs to me
that perhaps the key is that we need to stop getting through and just get in.
That maybe my mother is teaching me everything I need to know about how to
parent, to mother, to truly live well right there in this picture:
1. Be Prepared.
Several months after my wedding, with the china we received still in boxes, my
mother came over to carefully wash, and put everything away. When we wanted to
use it to entertain in our new home together, we'd be ready. If we didn't
invest, organize, prepare now, we'd likely never use it. We spent hours
carefully washing and separating dishes and saucers, then rewrapping them with
plastic wrap and paper so they'd stay nice. The lesson was a valuable one and
not just about dishes either. Don't put off till tomorrow what can be done
today. Be prepared and anticipate what's ahead, because if you don't you'll
spend forever on that forever treadmill, just trying to get by, catch up.
2. Use the Good Dishes.
In the end, my mother had significantly less time left than any of us realized.
And if I had known then what I know now, I would've unwrapped that china and
put it right on the kitchen table and said something like, "Hey Mom.
Life's just too damn short. Let's sit here and eat our Milanos on these fancy
dishes just because we can, just because our time together is that special."
And we'd laugh at how frivolous and ridiculous we're being, which is more joy
than I've ever gotten out of those dishes. Six years later, I've only just
unwrapped them. They've never been used. In fact they've barely seen the light
of day. But I'm not sure what I'm waiting for. For as many things as she taught
me in life, her unexpected death taught me this: don't wait for an occasion.
Find a reason to celebrate each and every day. Use the good dishes.
3. Set Your Table (and live
your life) with Care
My mother knew how to set a beautiful table which by the way, is much harder
than it looks. It wasn't necessarily filled with the fanciest of things, but it
was filled with special things, beautiful things that she took very good care
of. Her nicest table cloth that she carefully ironed, each place setting laid
out, an old vase in the middle of the table with a few simple and beautiful
flowers. When you sat at her table, you felt the care she put in, and it made
you feel appreciated. It was a celebration in the art of slow, and it created
an environment in which her guests indeed felt like moving more deliberately,
truly enjoying each other's company. She gave care, and it showed. It stands in
such contrast to a life where everything seems to move very fast now. Sometimes
when I'm not accomplishing something, sending that email, making that dinner
fast, getting it all done quickly, I literally feel panicky. My mother's table
was the antithesis of all this. It took time to prepare. It took even more time
to take down. And in between you appreciated the artistry of its slowness.
4. Write it Down
It's not that I don't like Pinterest. I do. But it just doesn't match up with
an old faded recipe card well annotated with my mother's handwriting on what
worked, what needed to be tweaked. Long after she's gone, it is the closest
thing I have to cooking alongside her. Briskets and birthday cakes, Jell-o
Molds and trifles that she carefully prepared to dazzle "delicious!"
or subsequently disappoint "terrible, tasteless." I see her
scrawl, the spatter of ingredients added in haste or care, and it gives each
recipe history. That history is part of the love that flavors what I cook for
my family around the table now. Nothing on the Internet will taste like that.
5. Know Your Home (hint - it
isn't your house)
Each moment spent around our dining room table for birthdays and holidays were
filled with the family and friends in our lives that we loved. More than the
recipes or the china or the tablecloths, they are what made these moments
special. She was often fond of saying that a house is just a house, but a home
is wherever your family is. As I think about all those festive moments spent
together, my mother was careful to remind me that if you surround your table
with the people you love, no matter what, no matter where you are, you will
always be home.
This Mother's Day, the best way I
can honor her and my own children, is to not get through the day, but to get in
it. I will take care to move more slowly, live more deliberately, and surround
myself with the people I love.
From my table to yours, happy