A Birthday Wish


Six hours of labor and here it is. Yet, it is not enough. I could make a thousand adjustments to render my mother’s birthday picture perfect. Yet, it is not enough.

I remember the final project for my eighth grade Home Economics class. We had to sew a novelty pillow. I chose the roller-skate pattern, since I fancied myself a skater on par with Olivia Newton John (Xanadu!).

Mom took me to Surplus City, the biggest fabric store in town.   The silent warehouse smelled of cotton and dust.  Expanses of colors, patterns and textures called for long and deliberate perusal.  Mom understood this would be a good start to a difficult project.

We spent an eternity at the store searching through bolts and bins. I chose a soft white flannel with bright red polka-dots. Mom wisely purchased double the fabric. This came in handy after my first pillow turned out puckered and misshapen.

Each iteration found a new way to be disagreeable and un-roller skate like. I complained about the noise in the school sewing room. The other girls were too chatty and I could not concentrate.  I never got to use the same machine twice.  Mom suggested I take my project home to work on.

Even at home I had trouble. I tried so hard, but by brain seemed unable to communicate with my hands.  My pillow contrasted poorly with the plump and pretty model roller skate.

Anxious and overwrought, I didn’t sleep the night before my pillow was due. Mom let me take the day off of school to rework my project. Even with her help, my roller skate drooped unevenly.  We lamented that home economics was a mandatory class for girls. We further lamented that we were not a family of sewers.

Later, we laughed when the teacher barely glanced at my project and gave me an “A.” The teacher appreciated my frustration.  She said, “The roller skate is the hardest one. Next year, we will take it off the project list.” Next year, girls could take shop, too.

Late in the eve of my mother’s birthday, I found myself maniacally toiling over her birthday greeting. I stopped and asked myself if the perfect application of light and shadow mattered so much. My mom does not grade me, she knows I love her.

I still feel the need to craft Mom some perfect thing. I need to express my gratitude for her never-ending patience and wisdom. But Mom, like the teacher, will see the love behind the work and accept me, imperfect me.

I love you Mom, Happy Birthday.

Digital elements by Dawn Inkskip.

The Typewriter

Tuesday was day four in an All-Liev-All-Day Marathon. By then, the stomach flu that incapacitated him over the weekend had dissipated.

This left me with a bored, petulant and well-rested child. Filling such a day with activities can be a challenge.

When I ran out of good ideas, we went on a Basement Safari. Old things seem new after a few months in boxes. We searched through collections of aged balloons, abandoned craft supplies and strange building equipment.

Finally, we found an old typewriter. I would like to add a third floor to our house just to shelter the abandoned typewriters and outdated radios I find.

Anyway, Liev loves typewriters as much as I do. We hauled it upstairs and weighed it (32 pounds!). I set Liev up with a little station and he spent the next hour typing.

As he typed, I painted and drew with pen and ink nearby. I took a dozen trips to his station to show him how to work the typewriter and to keep him company when he became frustrated.

During that time, I saw my husband’s intensity reflected in Liev.

For years, certain issues have troubled my husband. He seeks to understand his need for perfection. Sometimes, he speculates that this need for perfection arose from the Russian school system or even his family.

As Liev obsessed over his typing, he ripped page after page out of the typewriter and discarded in frustration. His need to type the perfect letter consumed him. I watched as he walked around in circles between sheets, talking to himself about typing.

“His motivation is entirely internal,” I thought. “No one is putting pressure on this child to type the perfect letter to Hello Kitty.”

At that moment, I understood that the perfectionism that grips my son grips my husband.

This inner desire to work well is precious. Yet, in trying to align all the details, the whole can be lost—whether the purpose is play, work or artistic expression. People in our family become stuck in tiny corners and crevices when we really need to peek over the walls and survey the horizon.

My job as a mother is to mediate perfection seeking. If I can help my son build a plan, he will feel less frustration and attain more satisfaction from life.

We spent the rest of the afternoon problem solving and building tolerance for mistakes. Our stack of recycled art paper still grew, but it was more fun.

I saved and clipped some of his “not perfect” excerpts to a watercolor background (above). I also have his final letter to Hello, Kitty:

dear kitty