Last year when I heard that there was an artist in residence at Gallery Lane Cove I had to see her. Tilly was working on an art project to scratch beneath the surface to reveal what’s hidden. I too had tried and irritated many people, mainly family members, in pursuing a similar process. Was there a tactful way to get people to open up and reveal a little bit of themselves?
So, I did what any thoughtless fool would do. One day when the spirit moved me, I dropped in on Tilly’s studio with my toddler and baby. Since then I’ve learnt that one needs to gain permission to enter others’ spaces and the way we do that is by setting appointments. In her studio, my toddler did what any toddler does, ran around and tried to put her filthy hands on the artist’s canvases. Tilly was very patient with us. I asked her a few questions about the project and how she came to be an artist. Then I must’ve told her that I’m working on writing a book or producing some sort of artwork that’s based on my family and specifically our inability to see each other’s gifts and that we annoy each other without fail. One of my earliest memories of this was Dad bringing back a little porcelain bunny from his extended US trip.
When Mum saw the bunny she was furious. Of all the things the promised land–the USA–offered all that he thought to bring her was this thing?
That one memory forever sealed Mum’s role in my life. An ungrateful woman who will never be satisfied, so I stopped talking to her. I stopped talking to Dad too because I couldn’t live up to his expectations of living his unlived life as a physician. He thought doctors had the best jobs, not because they healed people, but because their salaries were among the highest.
In Tilly’s studio, I confided in her.
“I feel my mother didn’t do a good job raising me. I didn’t feel supported by her to develop my artistic abilities,” I’d said,“How could I tell this to Mum in a way that she’d become a better mother and support me when I needed her?”
Tilly had said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t think your mother would take kindly to hearing that you’re critical of her mothering’. I thought to myself, well, yes. Duh! I don’t enjoy it when other people tell me how to raise my kids so why would my mother enjoy hearing all the things she’d done wrong with me?
Soon after I called Mum and I stopped trying to tell her all the things she’d done wrong–in raising me, and in her relationship with Dad–and her shortcomings in expressing herself and managing her own emotions. I just shut up and listened to what she had to say and that’s when the magic happened.
Mum confided this to me and that she’d wanted to pursue a university degree but her parents didn’t see the value in it and decided not to fund it. They had three other daughters and one of them was the model daughter, literally, a model, clearly, grandma’s favourite child who met all her hopes and expectations in a daughter.
For the first time in my life, I could see myself as the black hole sucking the life out of my mother when I talk about all the un-met expectations I had of her. I realised that she was a person, and the only person who could mother and nourish the gift in me.
These days Mum and I have tea every day around 5 PM. I haven’t made her angry in a while but I want her to understand what I see when I think about the cursed bunny. I will always see dad’s childish side when I look at it. Here was a grown man in Macy’s at the height of American fashion, in the 80s, and all he could think to buy his wife was a damn porcelain bunny.
I understand that she may never see the beauty in it as I do and that’s OK too.
Over to you…
When was a time you opened up to someone who was totally honest with you? Did you feel they were an accurate mirror reflecting back the essence of how you were behaving? What difference did that make in your life?