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?