Wednesday, May 26, 2010

She's Not Me

Originally published in Connections ***************************************************** I’ve learnt something about Jayn. She’s not me.

Even in the places that we share fascinations, we are not the same.

One example. I will be contemplating making something – some jewelry, some ATC’s. I will then go and get out the fixings and materials and carry on with my idea.

Jayn needs her materials immediately accessible. When she sees the supplies, she is inspired to use them.

Conversely if she doesn’t see something in front of her she will not necessarily think of doing it. When we tried the experiment of putting Jayn’s art table and her materials in her alcove, the production of drawings, paintings and small sculptures dried up. The table became obscured by many other toys and games happening on the floor in front of it.

After a couple of months, I realized how rarely Jayn was drawing – which was only when we made an event out of it. I moved her table back out to the living room, with the supplies at hand, and her prolific flow of artistic commentary on her life resumed.

The ideal organizing method for Jayn is wide mouth, clear containers on open shelving. Even transparent drawers are of secondary utility. I use the silverware basket from our old discarded dishwasher to organize her markers by color. Visible, plentiful, portable.

Me, I like to keep my art and sewing supplies tidily in enclosed boxes (with written labels on them). Ordered, simplified, like a hidden treasure trove. I like small chests of drawers (with printed labels on them). I like hooks in cupboards.

Jayn likes hooks on the wall. On one hand this makes Jayn a wonderful “strewee”. I can rotate some toys or activities out that she literally hasn’t seen for a while and they will be grabbed with gusto and lead to many games and new combinations.

It is particularly interesting to see Jayn playing in more complex ways with toys that were originally obtained when she was much younger. Luckily, through mindful parenting, I am empowered to give Jayn full ownership of all her belongings.

Hearing stories of parents purging their children’s “excess” stuff, or insisting that they get rid of the “baby” toys, or worst of all removing toys punitively because they weren’t tidied up or some such reason, makes me very sad. I would never discard anything of Jayn’s, which experience shows me includes the packaging, without consulting her first.

This means that we have to be very creative about storage in terms of keeping stuff available, and accept a certain lack of elegance in our decor. Frankly our one bedroom apartment is now bulging at the seams.

Jayn is not disturbed by what I might see as clutter – she sees a cornucopia. She rarely considers anything done with.

Which is another way in which we are different. I find a great sense of freedom in relinquishing the obsolete in my life. A long time ago I ceased keeping gifts which I no longer enjoyed simply out of guilt or fear. I do keep certain books that are special to me, and that is no small number and many are in storage, but I am also happy to donate or sell those I am sure I am not going to need again.

I enjoy purging my wardrobe and sending things to Goodwill. I recycle magazines immediately after I have read them. If I have lost enthusiasm for a craft project, I donate the materials – now usually to Jayn.

Nor have I historically seen value in packaging, usefulness in bits of ephemera. My daughter is a natural collagist, an intuitive transformer, an art form I have felt I had to approach with deliberation. I do a lot of planning and preparatory design work, and probably have too much concern for the original image or material that I might be transforming in a work of collage art.

Jayn will treat the objects, photos or images with a complete freedom. She has a kind of positive disrespect. She is ready to impose her artistic will on her art media, without self consciousness, without seeing any need to remain literal. The result is that her altered art will have a much more vibrant energy and interest.

Jayn is fearless, where I am timid. If the idea comes to tell a story, Jayn will launch immediately into something. She will extemporize a song with no concern for anyone else’s assessments. She is free from any self-judging embarrassment – which I impute at least partly to her freedom from school. Some of our differences clearly come from being differently nurtured, with support and acceptance, rather than from inherent differences in temperament.

Jayn has a collector’s mentality. Multiple versions of one thing are endlessly fascinating to her. Where I see the broad sameness of five Ariel dolls, Jayn is intrigued by the minutia of the differences in the iterations. She will usually forgo a completely different doll of the same price, in favor of adding to her collection. I am usually satisfied with a single example. (Except when I find the perfect pair of bootcut pants – but that’s another story).

The lesson for me was in learning to accept that there is nothing indulgent or sinful about having more than one – especially when I see her joy in sharing what she has with her friends. Having multiples of something fills Jayn with a sense of abundance. She has expressed long term plans to pass on her collection to her own future children.

Becoming joyously aware of the differences between Jayn and myself has allowed me to begin some internal healing of the painful relationship between my mother and myself. My mother’s favorite phrase was “The apple never falls far from the tree.” It was very important to her that she be able to think that she and I were alike – more alike than in reality. I have come to hate that phrase. I felt burdened by her determination to see me as a kind of miniature reflection of herself. For one thing a seedling that sprouts in the shadow of the parent tree is unlikely to have the room or light to grow healthily and fully. The concept of being like her seemed to diminish my achievements, skills and abilities, especially in our crossover areas, and make them simply genetics or her dubious influence.

She appropriated what I wanted to consider my special contributions to the world. For example Mum sought to take credit for me being a seamstress, as if she had taught me. In fact I learnt to sew by myself using the instructions that come in paper patterns, during the time she was away working on cruise ships in my late teens.

It was so important to her that we be alike, that I never felt comfortable sharing those facets of my life that were different from hers. Her usual response to my ideas, such as other spiritual paths or political beliefs, was derision.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that Mum and I are more alike than I would wish. There is no doubt that I do have many of her character traits in me, and they are all those facets of myself that I most abhor, most consider as defects, and would most wish to change. Those tapes of her in my mind are those I most seek to renounce; her voice coming out of my mouth, the voice I most seek to change with mindful parenting and positive actions; her influence the one I most seek to disavow.

However when I observe my daughter Jayn, when I see her unencumbered authentic personality and unique characteristics, I realize that she is not a prisoner of either genetics or my past. Neither of us need be. In fact I have no particular desire or hope that she be like me at all; nor do I fear any commonalities we may have. 

Just as being free of schools allows us to be free of expectations about what and how and when Jayn will learn, being free of any attachment to the concept of our similarity allows me to look at Jayn without cognitive bias, but with genuine appreciative wonder. I am allowed to view our future as a great and wonderful unexplored wilderness. The landscape “behind”, the past, has some picturesque moments, but it is not a template for our future life together.

1 comment:

Sandra Dodd said...

Jayn's like me! Just yesterday I received a bunch of hooks I ordered. I'm planning to hang things on the outside of kitchen cabinet doors. And I tape things to walls. And I need visible storage, but it certainly does look messy to people who have no idea what all that stuff is!

I like "strewee." I'm an excellent strewee myself. "Ooooh, that's new!"