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I’ve been wanting to write a Mother’s Day post about my sweet mom for a couple months now. The more I think about it, however, the more my thinking has turned to fretting. I want to say so many things and make this tribute to my mother the most beautiful, insightful, ground-breaking thing she has ever read that now...now I’m pretty sure it’s going to fall short. I’m 99% positive that this rainbow of love bursting out of my chest is going to smack against my computer monitor and come out the other side as a disjointed and clichéd Hallmark card.
So, what follows is definitely not the best, and probably not the second best, but it’s my valiant effort to share a few reasons why my mother is special and how through her strengths and weaknesses she has had a solid hand in shaping the best parts of me.
(She let me play dress up one more time by giving me her wedding dress to wear on my own special day. We're not going to mention that I had to let out most of the seams...)
My mom’s name is Jane. And yes, she is very sweet. But even though I desperately wanted to reference The Velvet Underground, “sweet” isn’t the word I would use for my momma. She’s an energetic, hard-working, go-getter. And that’s absolutely one of my favorite things about her. I like to joke that my spirit animal is a bumble bee because I’m always buzzing around and love to be productive.
But if I am a bumble bee, my mom is queen bee. She can organize a troop of volunteers in the amount of time it takes me to fully wake up and pour a cup of coffee. She can write a grant proposal while organizing a donor luncheon and at the same time listen to me cry about how my bathroom scale is plotting against me to overthrow my entire self-esteem (that scale took a trip to the dumpster and will never be heard of again). She can multi-task and still sincerely listen like no one I’ve ever known.
After reading that paragraph, one thing you may have guessed about my mom is that she is a social worker who founded a nonprofit organization that aids and supports community growth in our hometown of Columbia, Missouri. One thing you probably didn’t guess, however, is that she is completely blind.
After saying that or typing that or even reading that, I always have to pause and take a deep breath. ••• She wasn’t always blind. And sometimes it still feels very new and raw. Two and a half years ago, through two failed surgeries, my Sweet Jane lost her vision.
I can’t sugarcoat this one. It really sucked. It still really sucks. Aside from the hundreds of ways it has impacted her daily life, my mom has always been my biggest fan and loudest cheerleader. For most of my life I have found a significant part of my identity in the visual art that I create. I LOVED drawing a picture, then running to my mom knowing she would gasp and say, “Oh, Suzy! How do you do it?? This is BEAUTIFUL! How did I get such a talented daughter?”
When my mom lost her sight, our relationship lost a huge part of its foundation as well. I needed her to stroke my fragile artist’s ego and she wanted to partake in all that I was creating. We were in unknown territory and needed to find common ground again.
As a full-time graphic designer, I struggled to describe logos, books and websites I was designing. I began avoiding the subject because of the obvious frustration we both felt over my shockingly small vocabulary and terrible use of descriptive adjectives, “So the background is gray-ish, and there is a roundish thing in the middle and a leafy-bubble on top and some text running through all of it.” She would still say, “Sounds beautiful! I can tell it’s so amazing!”
Trust me, she tried to pick up what I was putting down, but I wasn’t put’n it down very well. About this time I began quilting again after a long absence from sewing. Then one day, while I was home visiting, something pretty magical happened. I brought a quilt to my mom’s house after getting it freshly longarm quilted. Thinking I would just run it upstairs and out of the way, my mom stopped me to ask if she could feel it.
Watching my mom run her hands over my quilt, feeling the stitching and participating in my art again brought me such a sudden bolt of joy, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I was making something again that we could both enjoy and experience.
I still struggle to describe patterns and designs, but now that I’m creating a work of art that is tactile and full of movement, I have some leeway. Now I can say things like, “Here, move your hand over this part. Can you feel the hand stitching? Those are blue and make the shape of a wonky triangle type thing. Can you feel that?”
Jane The Writer
Another reason I was fretting over writing this blog post is because my Sweet Jane is a very, VERY good writer. Much better than me. I was even tempted to just ask her to write this whole thing herself guised as a Q&A. But, I thought, if I’m going to at all attempt a personal tribute, I should probably write most of it myself.
However, because she is such a good writer and a doer, she couldn’t help herself and wrote something anyway. This is from my amazing mom:
“Mrs. Williams, you have a beautiful daughter.” I still thrill as I recall these words spoken to me by my obstetrician at Suzy’s birth. In 1985, expectant parents rarely learned the gender of their child and I had been secretly hoping for a girl. We already had a wonderful son and this was going to be my last pregnancy. After a long history of retinal detachments and one occurring earlier in this pregnancy, my doctor said I should probably avoid getting pregnant again. I took his advice and got to have 29 sighted years with my son and 27 years with Suzy. Not as much as what I would have liked but I am eternally grateful for what I was given.
Suzy always had a distinctive flair. As she began writing her full name, Suzanne, she always ended it with a giant E. We never knew exactly why. It was just part of who she was. From a young age, I knew Suzy had a calling to make the world more beautiful. Whether it was using her crayons to make a “mural” on the living room wall or pick flowers she shouldn’t have to decorate the house, she was always up to beauty. Suzy learned to French braid her hair almost as soon as she learned to tie her shoes and experimented with hair color to the point of near disaster (orange was not in vogue in the 90’s). Then came her first high school art teacher and her “quilt mother” Brenda Winkelmeyer. And the panorama began.
You name the art form and Suzy tried it but her heart always came back to quilting. I still have dozens of her early quilts etched in my mind. Now I “see” them through her verbal descriptions and “hand-guided” tours of the textures and shapes. I am totally taking credit for launching her into quilt pattern making. She spent so much time describing the details to me, I think, at some point, she decided she might as well describe them to everyone else too.
Now my eyes can only truly see into Suzy’s heart and what I see is a beauty crusader. I am pretty sure she is determined to blanket the whole earth with new combinations of shapes and colors. Her message is: the possibilities (for all of us) are Endless. Maybe that is what the big E was all about.