“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” ~ Michelangelo
I took the girls to the dentist yesterday, and while Lexi was shuffling through an abundant sticker supply, wondering aloud where the princess stickers were, and while Caroline was meticulously comparing from the treasure chest the colors of two tiny superballs (whichever one picked destined to be lost forever beneath our refrigerator), the account manager from behind the desk sat staring at us. I figured I owed her money, but all she said as she looked at my girls was, “They are beautiful.”
When people say something nice about what my children look like, I don’t know whether to say, “Thank you” or “I agree.”
Besides the obvious initial part played in creating a child, the rest is accidental, arbitrary, crazily out of our hands.
As my girls grow, I see similarities between them and me. Lexi has my fine hair; they both have the blue eyes. I was helping out in Caroline’s art class yesterday and watched her get the giggles like I used to—the ones that bubble up, linger, sleep somewhat restlessly, then surface again. I remember the delight and desperation of those giggles. I was staring at me in Caroline’s art class. And Lexi (lordee!)–Youngest Sibling Sass swam directly from my gene pool to hers.
We are alike but of course different. Caroline’s chocolate hair is thick, curly when it’s short. She’s organized a folder full of plans for her 7th birthday party, key distinguishing feature there is the word, “organized.” And Lexi is a scrappy little athlete, unafraid of anything, it seems. Key distinguishing feature there is the word, “unafraid.” I will not argue—my children are beautiful. But I’ve got little to do with it. I didn’t craft them out of wood or sketch them in ink.
I saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence.
I remember learning what Michelangelo said about his process: that he could see the shape of the sculpture in a slab of marble, that he only needed to chip away the walls imprisoning the form. He set David free, as he set free centaurs, Hercules, Cupid, Brutus, and a half dozen Madonnas.
The thing about David is though eventually becoming Michelangelo’s project, he was begun 25 years earlier by Agostino—and then Rossellino. After being roughly sculpted, David stayed stagnant in his slab of rock until Michelangelo convinced the Board of Works for the Cathedral of Florence that he was their guy. Michelangelo never had kids of his own, but after over two years of work, finally, he brought David to life.
I’m attempting to knit again. My mom taught me when I was a kid, and I remember liking the therapy of it: steady motion, something to distract me, the satisfaction of seeing immediate progress. My patient friend Betsy is helping me relearn, and when I get it, I am relaxed. But when I drop a stitch, I am stopped in my tracks. There is no vision. I see no potential scarf in that ball of yarn. I cannot improvise and by doing so, set the scarf free. I call Betsy.
I marvel at her skill. I do. Just like I look with complete admiration at Dave when he skis down a mountain. It’s the same with any artist—Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, Cliff Lee from the pitcher’s mound, Marilynne Robinson as she sculpts her sentences. There’s vision and skill, and shaping and crafting. There’s so much involved, but to the artist it is natural.
A lot of parenting comes naturally but any vision I may have had about what my children would look like or be was just that–a vision, a rough sketch, an outline. As I see them now, what’s clear is that it’s not entirely my artist’s hand at work. There is a part of me that feels we were meant to be, that we came together after all of those years like Michelangelo and David. But I cannot predict what my children will do; I can hardly claim ownership even now that they are here with me. I do not think, They are mine, so Lexi will laugh like a machine gun while Caroline will speak extra slowly during nightly prayers in order to delay bedtime.
They are who they are, and much of my work is to sit back and appreciate them, like I would paintings on a museum wall. I have to just take them in, because eventually, I have to set them free. Much of my work is to spend this time, on a cushioned bench, gazing with good, long looks, as they stand before me.