Remember the game Telephone? Someone starts with a quirky sentence and whispers the story to the person sitting next to them. Then that person, who likely messed up a word or two, whispers their recollection to the person sitting next to them, and on and on it goes until at the end, some new configuration of a previously silly sentence holds loose, small connections to how you began.
You giggle and shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Wait a minute? What did we start with exactly?” And what did she say that got us here?
I’ve been thinking of the messages I’m getting on womanhood, on mothering, on expectations of my complex and powerful sex and wondering, “What exactly, did I start with?”
My grandmother was born at home weeks premature. They wrapped her in cotton batting and covered her in olive oil, laying her to sleep in a shoe box. She was that tiny. Her resilience came on day one, and day two, and day three as she grew proving the odds wrong. I come from small but feisty stock.
Jump seventy years ahead and join me as I sat with my two girl cousins as late teenagers. Young women, as they say. Also present at the outdoor table are my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother who filled in my story as their relationships stitched together foundations for my formative years.
Stich-stich-stich- went the pink thread.
In unbalanced iron chairs my cousins and I rolled our eyes as we were told, we did not, like Grandma wished, inherit her bone structure, but rather my grandfather’s stocky German bones. We may have her strong spirit, but I got my grandfather’s thicker wrists.
And as we bounced along through time and I spent time with my now aging grandmother she’s started telling me stories. Of nights with martinis at fancy office parties, or the horrific boss who chased her around a desk. The things I watched on Mad Men were her life. I stand on tiny shoulders and work with the knowledge that when sexual harassment shows up at work, I can bravely do something about it. She raised four kids, made hundreds of hamburgers, worked, and always said, “You can pay the doctor or you can pay the grocer” so fresh vegetables were on the table every night.
Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread
And as we jump again and I’m standing on the cold clay tiles of our kitchen floor in the house where I lived until I was thirteen. I can hear myself groaning as the summer sun danced through the front window. “Gazpacho salad again?” I’d whine. Vegetables – fresh and seasoned – were present on my plate.
“Eat up” my mom would say as her working contributions to our household turned into nourishment for my growing body. I’d take a bite and with each crunch of cucumber ingest my grandmother’s values at the table.
Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread.
As a young girl I had so many evenings around a kitchen table with people who loved me. My mom took the best of her mother’s lessons and imparted them in me. How to make a pie crust is important. As is the presence of formal dishes and fancy settings at a holiday affair.
Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread.
Time jump again and I’m 24 years old, registering for wedding gifts. “No china?!” my mom proclaimed loudly in the very public restaurant we were sitting in.
“No.” I stubbornly said, “We don’t have room for china. And I’ll just inherit a bunch of plates later.” Our voices escalated to the point where our concerned waitress came over and asked if we were ok.
We toned it down.
Time jump again and I learned at the age of 27 that you don’t inherit china when your dad dies. Instead, you witness a weeping mother with hunched shoulders sitting next to the Christmas tree. It was the first round of holidays without him and I wished I had some fancier fucking plates.
I put out some cheese, cut up some pears, and put them on the only piece of Tiffany’s anything gifted to me as an engagement present. The platter would have to do. Then our sink broke leaving Mom and my husband washing dishes in our bath tub by hand because, as I’ve been told, real men know how to help out with dishes in whatever room they may need to be washed.
Stich-stich-stich went the pink thread.
This past weekend, at nine o’ clock pm, my mom kissed me on the cheek and said, “You must be tired. You planned two Mother’s Days this year.” Her statement caught me off guard and then I nodded.
I did. Yes, I did. Because my mother taught me to show people they matter. Showing up is important. Taking care of others is vital and making them feel special is an added bonus I’ve taken on. Nurturing comes easy to me because my mom nurtured me so very well. And I’m rather exhausted. For the family work of connection and celebration has now fallen to me.
Stich-stich-stich goes the pink thread.
And at the age of thirty, as everyone keeps asking me about children and babies and my aging ovaries I simmer and switch between maybe and no way, not yet. How does one know they are ready to become a mother? My grandmother didn’t have the choice to control all those blessings like I do. Many states now are trying to take that choice away.
So I pause and I jump back through time and I wonder:
Grandma – What sentence did you start with in our game of telephone? We’ve taken your words and your dreams and your vision and kept the stitches going, sewing new stories in our own ways.
I’m thankful for the pink threads connecting us all as we continue to love each other, no matter what words jumble up the sentences of where we started.
Mother’s Day weekend just passed and I’m thankful for beautiful and brave choice my grandma made to be a mother. For my own mom who knows the power of magic in thoughtful gifts and just the right words to bring comfort to my fears. I’m thankful for my mother-in-law who shaped my husband and accepted me with open arms at her table. These women. These stories. These sentences. Beautiful things that leave me here, stitching together sentences for you.