Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mothers and Little Earthquakes

My childhood home smelled faintly of turpentine. In the living room were my mother’s easel and oil paints. Size-ordered brushes stuck out of inverted tin cans. On the walls were her paintings; their eyes followed me. The painting above now hangs in my house. It was the first one she painted after having children.

My mother, Cynthia Lamport, was the artistic figurehead of our family. My brother is now an architect, and I’m an artist and a novelist. Drawing was never a conscious choice anymore than picking up a ball and tossing it would have been in other households. There were always good drawing paper, squishy grey erasers and sharpened pencils in a marmalade jar.

Cynthia Lamport by Anthony Lamport

My father, Anthony Lamport, took beautiful photographs and helped me set up a darkroom with the enamel trays that had been his father’s. My mother paints portraits of my father and herself on Nantucket Island, where we spent part of many summers escaping the heat of NYC. The sea is a recurring image in both her art (below) and mine.

We should all be on the beach in Nantucket now, but my mother broke her leg biking into town. My parents had missed going on safari with us in Tanzania because she broke that same leg skiing in January, the day before her 73rd birthday. She’s been in physical therapy for months and was finally walking, swimming laps and biking again. It’s such a cruel fate for an active woman. Her art has suffered too.

My mother had to be flown off island to Mass General Hospital in Boston. Bad storms delayed her evacuation. She lay in the Nantucket Hospital hooked up to a morphine drip. Breaking a femur is extremely painful and requires surgery.

Car problems complicated my journey down to Boston. My husband summed it up, “We have one car that won’t start, and one that won’t stop. So on average we have one good car.” The ’99 Volvo failed inspection due to the brakes, and the ’02 Subaru needs a new battery and body work. The kids and I took the train from Maine.

You can’t really appreciate your mother until you become one. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, motherhood changes your life in ways you can’t imagine. My two children were both born in Boston, and my parents came to visit from NYC. Now it’s my turn to visit my mother in a Boston hospital.

My journey to motherhood was rocky. I developed high blood pressure and was induced 12 days past my due date. I labored for 19 hours, and then my son was born via an emergency c-section. There were well over 20 doctors, nurses and students welcoming his arrival. I was so exhausted and high on morphine that I didn’t remember my parents visiting me that first day. I do remember my joy at seeing my son’s face and holding him for the first time.

We stayed a week more at Brigham and Women’s Hospital due to complications from the c-section and my son developing jaundice. Children’s Hospital was conveniently next door. I spent another month recovering at home. Due to the c-section and pain, my breast milk was slow to come in, and my son failed to thrive. Nothing had gone the way I had planned.

Now that “failure to thrive” baby is 14-years-old. His feet (left) are bigger than his father’s (right.) Our roles have reversed as I ask my son to reach things too high for me. His questions about chemistry, physics and politics are hard to answer.

When did this happen? We left for England last summer with my son 2 inches shorter than me and returned home with him 2 inches taller than me. His voice is changing and so is our relationship. Motherhood is now second nature, but it hadn’t been at first.

I just read a book that expresses well the shock of early parenthood. Jennifer Weiner wrote Little Earthquakes in the months after her first child was born. Weiner captures the transformative experience, both the ups and downs. It’s not a parenting manual but a funny and engaging novel.

Weiner’s four expecting mothers start out in control of their lives. Lia is a B-list Hollywood actress married to an up-and-coming actor. Becky runs a trendy restaurant and loves her doctor husband. Kelly is a Barbie-alike perfectionist who intends to leave her event planning job to stay home with her baby. Glamorous Ayinde is married to a basketball superstar and wants to be the involved mother she never had. Of the four, Ayinde reads more like a People magazine figure, but that’s half the fun.

The ironic theme of Little Earthquakes is that you will get what you fear the most no matter how hard you prepare to avoid it. These sleep-deprived women are plagued by birthing complications, troubles balancing career and family and difficulties with sex and marriage. If that weren’t bad enough, their husbands fail their families through job loss, infidelity and mother-in-law issues. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome casts a dark shadow over the narrative.

Little Earthquakes is still not a depressing book. Weiner gets the humor of motherhood and the intense love parents have for their children. These families face challenges and discover what’s important. It’s real life, warts and all. Jennifer Weiner is also a blogger.

I hope to blog next week from Nantucket. My next post may be a day or two late. Life isn’t easy is it?


Les said...

That was a nice post. I hope your mother recovers soon and can enjoy her time at the beach, which is where I think the most successful recoveries occur.

We had a customer come into work yesterday with her 8 children. The oldest was about 12 and the youngest looked barely 2 months. She pulled up in a large van - just her and the kids. I kept saying to myself "My God, how does she do it". I know what a chore it is just to get one child ready to go somewhere.

tina said...

The resemblance between you and your mother is very obvious. Nice story about motherhood.

TBM said...

Sarah, sending your mother healing thoughts. I am sure she will be happy see you all next week!

Rose said...

Nothing can prepare for us for motherhood, other than perhaps the example set for us by our own mothers. I think back to when my first son was born and how little I knew about parenting or taking care of a baby--it's a wonder he survived!

Very enjoyable reading, Sarah; hope your mother recovers quickly.

Cosmo said...

Your mother's paintings are beautiful--I see where you get your talent. And it's true, I definitely appreciated my mom much more once I had my son (I have one child--she has SIX--like Les, I look back now and wonder how she did it!) My mom has always been helpful with my son, but there's a little bit of "turn about is fair play" sometimes--and she's right. I do wish your mom a speedy recovery--and I hope your cars get better, too. Best, Cosmo

Bee said...

Your poor mother! How discouraging for her to break her leg again. I'm sending her (and you) my very best thoughts and wishes. How long will she have to stay in the hospital?

(By the way, although it was a digressive way to get there, I really enjoyed your post on Tanzania.)

Deb Kellstedt said...

So sorry about your mother's fall. I hope she recuperates quickly and that your time on Nantucket is still restful. We'll call when you get home.

Alyson | New England Living said...

So sorry to hear of your mother's accident. It always kind of freaks me out when anything like that happens to my parents. I hope you're feeling some comfort.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll have to look that up.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, everyone! My mother is doing better and is already back home in NYC. I spent a couple days with her in Boston and am now on Nantucket Island with my kids.

Les, I wish my mother could be at the beach too, but she’ll be on crutches and in physical therapy for a while. She hopes to revisit the island this fall. As for your customer, eight children and still gardening – impressive mom!

Thanks, Tina. My mother and I do share much in common.

JAPRA, it looks like your healing thoughts worked. Thanks! It was a relief to see her this time since I missed her last injury by being in England.

Rose, thanks for your kind words.

Cosmo, it was stimulating growing up in an artistic household. Interesting that you came from a large family but chose a smaller one for yourself. My mother was one of 4 sisters, but I’ve replicated my family by having 2 kids, a boy and a girl.

Bee, my mother was at Mass General for 5 days. She’ll be in physical therapy for 2 more months at home. She’s expected to make a full recovery. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the Tanzania blog – it was the best vacation ever, despite the charging elephant.

Deb, I feel a bit guilty about it, but we had a wonderful first day in Nantucket. We went to the beach with my cousins and friends. The weather couldn’t have been better. Before dinner, I snuck off on my own to paint. My mother sounded happy on the phone to be home if sad to miss being with us here. Looking forward to catching up with you back home. England feels like so long ago, doesn’t it?

Alyson, it is scary to see your parents in pain but a relief to be able to be there and help a bit. I think you'll especially enjoy Weiner's writing. She totally gets the mom experience, and she's funny.

Jean Merriman said...

Little Earthquakes, what a great way to define motherhood!!

So sorry to read about your mother and I hope all goes well with recovery. Like you say, it is a terrible fate for someone so active but that will help with her recovery.

Like Tina, I also think you look like your mother and it sounds like you had a great childhood. I was lucky to also (even if I did'nt know it at the time) and thank God for that as many do not. Lucky us!!!

walk2write said...

Health, it seems, is like the weather here. It can change in an instant and whisk away your independence and security like a tornado. My children, though they never had serious problems in infancy, still seem to have matured and thrive in miraculous fashion despite all of my parenting mistakes. I love this post. I'm sure it was bittersweet for you to remember and write (sorry about your mom). It, as well as the comments it elicited, say a lot about the resiliency or just plain grit of the human spirit, especially a mother's.

Sarah Laurence said...

Jean, I loved Weiner’s title too. My mother does well in physical therapy because she actually does all the exercises and is fit. Thanks for your well wishes. My childhood had its ups and downs but nothing tragic.

W2W, being back in a hospital triggers memories. I’m so lucky to take good health for granted. I hope that’s more steady than the New England weather!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

No, life's not easy. I'm fond of the rather wry line from John Lennon..."life is what happens when you're making other plans".

I send good thoughts and a prayer for your mother. Lovely photo of her.

kate smudges said...

Oh my, it has been the quite the summer for you. I am so sorry to hear about your mum - what a beautiful and talented woman she is! I hope her recovery is fast and she will be painting and biking again soon.

Motherhood - there really isn't any way to prepare for it. All the helpful books in the world don't really let us know what we are in for ... thankfully, there are so many rewarding moments along the way.

It is a fascinating process watching one's child hit puberty. My son, at 15, is more than a head taller than me now. His voice is so deep and I can't quite believe he now has to shave daily. Sometimes I miss his child's voice, but his deep rumbling laughter makes up for that. I have so enjoyed the process of watching this mind develop and expand ... it is truly humbling.

I hope you enjoy the beach!! I'm glad that I've caught up with you again.

Cindy said...

Sarah - I'm so glad to hear your mother is out of the hospital and home, recovering. I hope it is a speedy one. I'm sure she is missing you and the rest of your vacationing family.
I love the simplicity and vibrancy of her art, it's beautiful.

Sarah Laurence said...

Pamela, thank you. That is just the right quotation too.

Kate, it has been a crazy summer for me and for my mother. It’s good to catch up with you. So you have a teenaged boy too and understand. It sounds like the changes just accelerate during these years. It’s odd how the pace seems different to a mother. Time seemed to drag when I was a teenager. I couldn’t wait to grow up.

Thanks Cindy, I’m sure it will cheer my mother to hear your praise. It isn't the same vacation without my parents here with us, sadly.

Rambling Woods said...

I came via Kelly's blog. I too grew up in a painter's home... My mother is also ill and her painting has been limited. I hope you Mother recovers soon... Michelle

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome Michelle! How fun to find another artist’s child blogger. I’m so sorry to hear that your mother isn’t doing well either. I can see from your blog that you inherited your mother’s artistic genes – lovely nature photos.

Rambling Woods said...

You posted on my blog. Luna moths are so beautiful. Have you read Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer? The protagonist studies luna moths. I think you'd love it.

It is time for a re-read of it, it was a great book. Thank you for visiting my blog. Michelle

Jan said...

Just discovered this wonderful blog Sarah and shall certainly be back!

Tess Kincaid said...

This was a lovely post and I enjoyed by visit to your beautiful blog!

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome, Jan and Willow! I enjoyed your blogs too.