Day 5: Portrait of an Artist as a Mommy

I have three quilts that my grandmother, Katie Mae Reasonover, made long before I was born. Wyatt rolls around on one; Logan and Lucas sometimes sleep under, other times build forts with, the other two.

When my grandmother made these quilts, she was raising 11 children in the 1930s and 1940s in a Jim Crow Nashville, Tennessee. She was earning $1.20 for washing a load of laundry by hand. She was cooking multiple homemade meals every day, cleaning her own house. Yet, somehow, she still found a bit of time every evening to hand stitch pieces of fabric into quilts large enough to cover a full sized bed.

I often look at these quilts in awe. I’m sure that part of what compelled my grandmother to create them was that her family needed blankets to keep warm. Knowing what I know about her, she also would’ve felt a need to put these scraps from worn out clothing or sheets to a new use. To, in our modern lingo, “upcycle” them into something functionally new. In these quilts, I also witness a playfulness I don’t remember seeing in her in my visits Down South when I was little. Her juxtapositions of colors, patterns, and textures are inventive and fun. She was an artist. That she was able to practice her homespun art in what little quiet moments she had is nothing short of a domestic miracle.

I wonder, though, if my grandmother sometimes felt like her life lacked creativity. If she saw her quilting as art. In the busyness of my life, I sometimes become frustrated because I don’t have enough time and energy to be creative. I don’t have time to grab solitary moments whenever an idea hits me. I can’t write for hours at a time. I don’t have time to learn a new craft. I feel all these things often. (Ironically, getting worked up about not having, ideally, large chunks of time also squelches my creativity.)

I’m trying to recognize more and more the value of seizing the small pieces of time that present themselves for creative play. Like the moments I now use to write every evening. When I think about it, I actually have channels of creativity open to me that I could have never imagined before having kids. Would I ever have thought of writing a lullaby if I didn’t have a baby to sing one to? Would I think about how to include kids in cooking meals if I didn’t have my little chefs beside me? Would I sing songs in silly voices, read as much children’s literature as I do, see puppets in stray socks and empty toilet paper rolls, actually play and witness wonder as much as I do if I weren’t a parent? Probably not.

If I allow myself to listen, I know that I am most creative — and renewed by the creative process — when I am most open to tapping into and absorbing the creativity of life. Wherever it takes me daily.

How do you create?

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One Response to Day 5: Portrait of an Artist as a Mommy

  1. Sedef Piker says:

    Oh Nicole,
    This is so precious♥
    Reading about your grandmother made me misty eyed but also a little ashamed of all the times, all those years of despairing that I did not have the time for “making my unknown known,” of not being able to pursue my dreams of becoming an artist…
    Like you, I too was a mother who tried to invent a magical world for my sons to grow up in… but I never had the capacity to see it the way you do, it is so easy to get caught up in definitions and concepts and not see the forest for the trees. Luckily I am older and wiser now. The advantages of age I guess 🙂
    I just found a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, that I posted on my blog http://mysymphonie.wordpress.com/ – that resonated within me about having the right perspective, about living a life full of creativity and love. But you seem to be on the right track… just follow your heart and I am sure you will keep on finding many more opportunities to realize your dreams.

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