17 September 2013

Work in Progress: Leaving a Mark

I've made some solid progress on a project that is near and dear to my heart, tentatively titled Tattooed Boy.  Here's where it stands so far, just finishing up with his "skin".  I still have more work to do on the pants and belt.  And maybe a bit more contrast in some of the shadows. Carol R Eaton and I have further plans for the background fabric as well.  But I'm really happy with the black and white tattoo/ink effect right now.


The Idea:

I've had the broad concept for this piece for almost a year, when I started thinking/ worrying/ panicking about my oldest son starting college next fall.  I'm sure I share this "milestone anxiety" with many other parents.  That weird sense of excitement and pride mixed with sadness and loss we feel as our kids become more independent.

My son is 17 years old.  I can remember the day he was born, vividly. I really can. Partly because the anesthesiologist was running late and I ended up doing an unplanned "natural" childbirth.  So I was more clear-headed than I really wanted to be. The elation I felt when Graeson was born was probably 80 per cent relief from pain plus 10 per cent gratitude just to be alive and 10 per cent stereotypically sweet, mother-child-bonding, inspiring musical score, Hollywood cuteness. 

I remember the crushing reality that this little baby was completely dependent on me for his life, and he only vaguely knew who I was.  He might not have even been aware that we were suddenly two separate people.  But from those very first days, I started preparing him to eventually NOT need me. My job was to teach him to survive on his own.  Even though it went against my primal instinct to keep him protected and connected to me forever.  From cutting the cord to weaning to potty training to college fairs…. those milestones felt like a series of small cuts to my heart.  The pain of "losing" him was only eased by my unconditional love for him and the joy at seeing him succeed and watching him become such a wonderful person.

He'll be out on his own soon. Maybe once he goes to college he will find a new home and never come back here. Does this mean I am done raising him? Have I given him the right tools to go and build a life of his own?  Or am I overestimating my impact on him, as a person?  I'm sure it can never be as profound as the effect he's had on me.  I wonder how much of what I said actually "stuck".


In Tattooed Boy, the black and white shapes and lines are metaphor for the boy's mind and spirit.  Things that left a mark – emotional, psychological or even physical scars – and the personal meaning he attached to those things, ultimately shaped him as a person.

But only he knows exactly what these marks mean.  I can remember more years of his life than he can.  But I can't look inside him to see how or why certain words or experiences affected him very deeply while other things rolled right off.  This of course triggers my sense of loss and separation, even as I celebrate (truly) his independence.

I don't know how other moms deal with this anxiety.  For me, I escape into my studio.  Focusing on art helps me channel that nervous energy; it gives me a way to deflect the constant questions plaguing my brain:
What if he forgot all the times I was right?  or loving and kind? or unusually wise?  What if all the hard-won experience and advice I shared with him was drowned out by the noise of everyday life?  Or worse, what if he remembers the words I wish I never said?  Words yelled in anger or impatience, or things I said that turned out to be all wrong?  Or the times, whether accidentally or as an act of tough love, I let him get hurt?

These questions are the demons that keep me up at night.  It takes some real effort to turn them off.  Sometimes I have to actually tell myself to just SHUT UP and let it be.  My son is a terrific person.  He is intelligent, strong, talented, not to mention clean and polite. Let that be enough to say "Job well done, Mom".   

For all the learning curves we both had to navigate, we ended up in a good place.  Now I have to trust him to make good decisions and good mistakes (the kind that build character but don't cause any serious permanent damage).

I will practice letting go, just like when he took his first steps or the day he started Kindergarten. And I will RESIST the urge to write his name and "I love you from Mom" in permanent marker on all his clothes, towels and sheets to take to school.

I'll resist.  Not promising.


  1. Kate, wonderful post! It is such a life changing adjustment to make between parenting in the same house and being a consultant from a distance. If we're lucky our kids realize we did the best we could and always love them. The quilt looks really interesting. I'm looking forward to the finished piece.

  2. Thanks Jeanne! I like that phrase "consultant from a distance". That's the heart of it!
    IF I'm lucky, someday he'll be a parent then all my weird behavior - the tears and hugs and hand wringing, checking him every night as he slept and making him bring a jacket when it's 60 degrees outside - it will suddenly make sense. I'll make sense.
    (That's kind of what it took for me to understand my mom). LOL

  3. I think you summed up how many parents feel about the conflict of raising an independent child and the challenge of letting go when you've done your job well! The piece will be cherished forever :)

  4. I admire your work and this resonates with me too.
    Tamar Drucker


Comments are reviewed by the administrator of this blog, so please keep the language civil and relevant to the article. Comments containing advertisements, profanity or hate speech will be removed.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas!