My mother is an artist. She wouldn't introduce herself that way. In fact, I'd bet some of her friends and relatives are oblivious to her talents. But she is an artist. The kind of artist that studied her craft in college; painting was her speciality. She once told me that she helped pay for school by finishing other students' still life assignments, selling her work to the kids who couldn't hack the job. That kind of artist.
But she's also the kind of artist that never stopped creating even after she left art school behind, started a career in business, married, gave birth to three exhausting girls and moved halfway across the country more than once. I grew up believing that everything my mom touched turned to art, because, frankly, it did. She covered our bedroom walls in murals of our choosing, sewed us matching Easter outfits (our teddy bears got them too), repurposed furniture with nothing but a feather duster and a can of Behr.
And then there were the crafts. My mom often instated No Television Weeks -- we were made to believe these were part of some sort of national initiative, which turned out to be very untrue -- peeling us away from the screen with popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. We screen printed our own Warholian T-shirts, we made Goya-esque monsters with felt and buttons, we pretended we were Play-Doh's answer to Calder. She was never one to wax poetic on the history of dead guys, though I'm sure she knew it all too well. I didn't know Andy from Francisco until much later. We didn't spend hours in museums either. She preferred dirty hands and happy kids. Kids who knew how to conquer a pencil until it poured forth something spectacular. Kids who sat at a sewing machine and stitched until pretty things happened.
She took pride in everything she did, too. My mother was endlessly clever with all her projects, whether she was hosting a Girl Scout camp, entertaining our birthday partiers, prepping neighborly gifts for the holidays. Speaking of, her festive decorations are still the stuff of beauty. She once used nylons and Christmas-hued fabric to make life-size elves that she lovingly displayed climbing up the columns of our old house in the Midwest. When one of my high school boyfriends stole the handcrafted wooden candy corn creations she featured for Halloween, it was Vincenzo Peruggia all over again. Everything was rightfully sacred. She's that kind of artist.
Back then, I thought this was all standard. That every kid grew up with a reserve of acrylic paints, an extensive knowledge of the merits of various glues, and, most importantly, a mom who could do anything. I thought everyone made their own birdhouses, hammering and painting until a tiny home just appeared, right there on the table. Like my belief in No Television Week, I was obviously ill informed. I became an adult and realized this wasn't everyone's reality, that my sisters and I, we were some of the lucky ones.
Now, I write and read stories about art for a living. And even though we live in different states, I feel close to my mom every day I sit down to work on a story. I cherish those moments when colleagues ask me how I got into it all, because I get to tell them about her. I tell them how, recently, my mom decided to give my father -- a rather rabid Boston sports fan, comically the perfect yin to her yang -- a gift. She recreated Fenway Park's Green Monster scoreboard in his basement sanctuary, gloriously memorializing a Sox win against the Yankees in a shade that envies SC-12. I beam with pride when I think about it.
If and when I have children, I want to be this kind of mom. I want to fill my house with finger paints and stained glass kits and modeling clay. I want to deviously proclaim No Television Week, and watch as my daughters' initial rage fades into this incredibly pure sense of wonder. I want my kids to experience that pride my mom feels when she makes, the pride I felt and feel now.
So yes, mom, I want to be just like you. Happy Mother's Day, to my favorite artist.