The light-grey clay I was so excited to be squeezing in my hands was cold. My momma sat next to me.
My hero, a true artist, taught me so many creative skills. Spread out supplies on the dining table and go to work creating. There was the Fimo clay, and I still have the tiny couch she made for my dolls. There was learning how to knit and wind a ball of yarn. Learning how to weave baskets from wet wood. How to arrange flowers in a vase. She made whole quilts. She made clothes for me and several times, she even made a matching outfit for my favorite doll.
She drew and drew. She painted in watercolor and oils and acrylic. We’d go to the zoo together to sketch the animals in colored pencils. Sit, observe and draw. From 8 year old me till I graduated high school, we spent hours doing parallel art. I later learned that when I was sketching Bengal tigers and giraffes, my mom was sketching me.
And in every art form that she taught me, she never once devalued the things I created. My creativity is reckless, and I’m sure that I made many errors. I always want to just pour everything out into the container of creation so that it can be dealt with and observed from outside of myself.
I told my mom I wanted to make a purse out of my clay. She said what I wanted was fabric, but I ignored her and insisted on shaping my clay so that there was a pouch of sorts.
When I was done working the clay, she praised my work. Then she poked two little holes so that she could give my “purse” a shoulder strap.
She took it to a kiln, and it baked into its permanent, solid form. She bought a strip of strong faux suede and made me a strap for my purse, which she secured with many tiny X-shaped stitches.
I painted it with many uncomplimentary shades of green, then peach, brown, grey, and black. And no, it did not look attractive.
But, as with every awkward creation I made in childhood, my mom praised it.
She never once made me feel like the things I created were bad. She taught me to be creatively fearless, reckless, and passionate. She taught me that in art, there is no such thing as a mistake.
She taught me to harmonize by singing her own harmonies to songs on country radio, always a 3rd above the melody. I could sing this simple harmony by the time I was 6 years old.
She taught me to have fewer scary nightmares when I was 3, and thus, how to control my dreams.
She taught me how to take photographs in middle school, with an old-fashioned Canon camera with a removable telephoto lens and film that needed to be wound forward after every shutter click.
From when I was only as tall as her knees, she began to teach me how to identify birdsongs. I learned that chickadees say “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” and the cardinals sing “where-where-where- whatwhatwhatwhat” and the wrens say “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle”!
She introduced me to the great importance of knowing my local plants and rocks. I learned how to find worked flint, the remnants of ancient Native tools. By 1st grade, I was finding petrified wood in every gravel playground.
I learned to work with plants. She’s still working on teaching me about the local versus invasive species.
Only an exceptional parent raises someone who, as an adult, still respects and cherishes their family. So many children are born to shitty parents.
The special love I have from my mother and father is an important part of being stable. It’s a precious resource. My support system would collapse without it.
A support system needs love and patience. I know that I’m often characterized by peers as being “too much”.
But she always listens. She always takes my side. She has been standing up for what she believes in for longer than I’ve been alive, teaching me that I, too, have a voice I can use to create change.
My mother is Superman to me. She saves people. She shares so much love with some, and where no love should be granted, she stands firm, fighting for human rights with fierce passion.
So Happy Mother’s Day to the best role model, my dearest friend, and my personal hero Sylvia Diane Krell Harrington! I love you so much.
I hope to always live a life that would make you proud of the way you parented me.
P.S. These are the lyrics to the Jann Arden song, “Good Mother”, that I have on repeat in my brain as I write this:
I’ve got money in my pockets
I like the color of my hair
I’ve got a friend who loves me
Got a house, I’ve got a car
I’ve got a good mother
And her voice is what keeps me here:
Feet on ground, heart in hand
Facing forward, be yourself
And I’ve never wanted anything so bad
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