Out of the Mouths of Babes

Suzi Banks Baum

This is a segment from my book “Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers”
I offer it here as the opening blog post on what is sure to be an exciting series of women writing about mothering and creativity.

Clear eyed Wonder at the arrival of spring and all things collaged.

There is not one act, not even doing the bloomin’ dishes that does not spread my eyes in wonder at the layers of texture in which we live. I must have been a dog at some point in my past because, well, I don’t follow scent like they do, but visuals? I am all over the visuals. Driving just now, seeing the sun illuminate the interior of the forest edge, which before long will be obscured by bodacious undergrowth, I nearly drove off the road so stunned I was by the beauty. I see things in layers of light.

Near my desk here, I have masking taped up pages of my coloring, grown-up lady coloring on big pieces of paper. These sheets lay under whatever I am working on, acting as a blotter here on my desk. They carry the reminders of a string of days, things crossed off or scratched out in my peculiar way of indicating things I really did versus the things I let go for reasons beyond my control. I color on these pages or let them catch whatever slops off my canvases. I find them more interesting to gaze at than the pieces I really plan and lay out. More layers, more texture and random acts of life showing up as masterful capturing of reality.

Then, there is my girl. She is 11 and so full of life. Her soft cheeks are just recently beginning to tip when she checks her hair in the mirror- no longer an innocent gaze, but a developing attitude of self evaluation. I love the direction she is going in; I love where she is right now. I have always been madly in love with her.

Our journey began well before her birth. I was pregnant, with a one and a half year old boy, just newly located in the Berkshires from New York City. Over Christmas, on some day that has blurred with time and sorrow, I lost that pregnancy. Jonathan was right with me, catching me and everything else there was to catch. I was immediately depressed. The ob-gyn I was working with at the time failed to mention the emotional impact of miscarriage until we were just leaving his office. I had already cried rivers of tears and sat slimy and wet in his office listening to him talk about future pregnancies. As I rose out of my chair, with my arms stuck back in to my winter jacket, he says, “Oh and you might experience a little depression”. Hell yeah.

In the following days, I spent time alone meditating and sleeping. I had not reconnected with my 12 step program since we’d moved. I was really alone in a way, surrounded by the love of my husband and the cares of my other child, but the grief of that loss just swept me under a veil of sorrow.

One afternoon I sat silently with my palms facing up, just sitting, done with praying, done with waiting, just sitting. With the most vivid clarity, I felt the presence of a tall graceful girl stand before me. This angel girl bent over me and placed her hands on my open palms. She said, “Don’t worry, I will be back”. I knew she would be, without a doubt. I was able to get up after that visit. I was able to take a stand for my health and all the bounty I had before me. I moved on with hope.

I did bear Catherine, about 11 months after that afternoon meditation. My pregnancy with her was easy and joyful. I met a new obstetrician, to whom I am dedicated to this day. I found myself at his hospital that November to give birth. When she emerged, Catherine was a beacon of light. She glowed. And I had an unassailable craving for a white bread and processed cheese sandwich with a smear of mayonnaise. I needed that sandwich as badly as I needed to nurse that effervescent newborn. JNB found the sandwich for me. I pressed it to my mouth and inhaled. Ahh, memories of third grade and lunch made by my Mom, carried in a slim brown paper sack and swallowed with generous gulps of tiny containered milk.

I flushed with the understanding that this kid, who is now a tall graceful girl, was planted here to help me call back the sweetness of my own girlhood and serve me all the nutrition that is borne in love.

I gave her this story the other day. I had let slip about the miscarriages I’d had before and after her birth and realized it was time to share some of this with her. Catherine is a schnauzer for details and does not miss a thing when she is in a conversation, even one slightly above her level of understanding. Car rides from parties are always filled with long explanations of mysterious adult allusions and interactions.

As I laid out the story of the vision I had before her birth, she shot out of her chair and said “I have this memory of your hands around mine like that!” We laid our hands together. I could no longer deny what I know is true, that she had come to lay a bigger kind of love on me than I have ever known.

So, I look upon her and see in the pores of her pre-adolescent skin all the layers of life we have already lived together.

Here near my desk is a felt scarf I made years ago. It is made with the “Nuno” process, with stripes of felt and silk sandwiched together forming the inner layers. The outer layer of this filmy creation is a brilliant orange. The lines of cheesecloth that web it all in place form a skin into which the felt sinks its tiny whorls, the fibers gripping to meld in to a luxurious span of my favorite colors, orange and Caribbean turquoise.

Then, just next to the altar where this scarf drapes, I taped up one of my scrap sheets yesterday. Same colors, made about 7 years apart- I cannot escape these etchings of my visual dictionary made early in my life. These colors are the same as a tent dress my Grandma Mimi made for my Mom in the mid sixties. I have the pattern envelope right here. It was a dress I thought my Mom looked so gorgeous in, tall and elegant bending over my new little sister. I sat through my Uncle’s, then my Grandfather’s funeral mesmerized by the pattern and the play of color in that linen dress. Obviously those whorls of visual delight sank deeply in to the cheesecloth of my memory because I am still playing with those hues.

My friend Sharon says “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Yes, the sensory vocabulary of my memory is so finely melded together that playing with a set of colors takes me right back to being 6, the sight of fiesta colored portulacas along a sidewalk sets me back on my roller skates, bloody knees and crawling along my neighbors sidewalk in agony in Chicago, or the soft strength of my daughter’s long fingers wrapped around mine fills me with a comfort beyond description. The clusters of scents, sounds and textures that impressed me in my early life blossom in the warmth of present day. I step in to their beauty when I take this time to make art, of any sort, in the plants I choose to put into my window boxes, in the things I select to place on my bulletin board next to the kitchen sink, I am constantly feeding this well of orange and blueness that nourished me long ago.
Now this banjo music is playing downstairs and my friend Daniel appears, filling my heart. I bet I could write a couple long books listing all the layers of association I have with the people who are important in my life.

All the days of my life, sunk in to the fibers of my memory and played with are my art work over and over again. I cannot catch back those patterns and colors of my Mom’s memory. Hers is fleeing with each breath. But, thankfully, my memory is rich and fertile, pushing up colors like the crocuses in my yard. They entice me on a daily basis, pulling forward images that have sunk their beauty in to me long ago.

Suzi Banks Baum March 20, 2009 ©

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