Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bronze Tablets and the Golden Corral

A few years after I got canned and started drawing full time, my mother retired and offered to help me with my business.  Other than one brief nasty, wretched teenage stage, my mom and I have always been very, very close.  Remember, she's the one who told me to sleep with my future husband.

My mother has a killer mind that she can laser focus on learning or analyzing anything.  She majored in Spanish and when I was growing up, she took French and Russian and Japanese classes just for fun.  She graduated in the top 1% of her class and her name is engraved on a Bronze Tablet in the University of Illinois library.  I used to trace my fingers along her name for strength on my way to an algebra torture chamber in the library basement.  And what do you know, she did help.  Because my name ended up on the Bronze Tablet too.

My mommy is smart and I am not that much of a dumb ass.

All my life, my mother has been beyond supportive, enthusiastically appreciating us, always putting us first. My father is a complex, intense person and my mother just might have been the one and only person alive on the planet who was absolutely perfect for him.  She lifted us up when we were down, she laughed her HEAD off at our jokes and stories.  She sits in her chair at the end of her dining room table with a book, her face alight with complete interest at almost everything we have to say.  The rest of us have a scorching case of verbal diarrhea in my family and that poor woman has had A LOT to listen to. 

My mother is half intelligentsia and half Ed McMahon, often content to listen and encourage.  She's my cheerleader, my friend, my careful critic; the one who wraps me in a long hug that makes me feel loved to my very core.  I rest my head on her shoulder and sigh... her hugs drain a bit of my tension.

Families are complicated and I've got a big ole Golden Corral buffet of that going on, much of which begins and ends in my screwed up stew of a head.

Allow me to scoop up some more weird shit and big fat hurt feelings. 
I can't get enough!

No matter how twisted or sad things can occasionally get, my mom is right there to promise that all will be well.  Life just doesn't get under her skin the way it does for me.  I sulk at my half empty glass of wine while my mom happily sips her half full manhattan.  Let's drink to being more like my mom.  If only.

Before my mom retired, I spent every spare stolen moment at my parents' house, which is 2.6 miles from mine.  Once the kids were fed, I couldn't get there fast enough to talk to my mom and tell her every random thing I did or thought or heard or saw.  She'll let me prattle on endlessly.

Once she started coming over to help me with my work, things changed a little.  As much as I find joy in drawing something that is precious to someone, my work can be stressful.  There is so much detail involved in finding the work, preparing the layout (which can combine more elements than you'd think), adjusting the final drawing to the client's satisfaction and managing to get paid for it.  I can pretty much throw a fit and lose my shit at any point during the process.  God freaking forbid something goes wrong with my computer or printer, it's full metal jacket panic spiral time.  I used to have my little mental breakdowns on my own, but once my mommy was here regularly, I had an audience.  On one hand, she can be wonderfully soothing, stroking my shoulder and making sympathetic noises.  On the other hand, she's a mom.  And no matter how glorious your mom is, there are stressful times in your life when the LAST thing you want is your MOM "helping". 

That's okay, really, I've got it, Mom.
Over the last four or five years, I've tried to work through some of my crap, trying to adjust my own stubborn negativity and protectiveness of my nest and routine.  Sometimes I've had to outright ask my mom to give me space, like when she used to chime in when I dealt with a crabby kid's attitude.  She used to keep me company in the morning while I put layouts together, watching over my shoulder and occasionally pointing things out.  This was not my favorite.  But I know she really, really wants to help.  And if she saw something that needed adjustment, was she supposed to just sit there and say nothing?  Unfortunately for her, I had to say yes.  And she really tries.  We've never had to filter ourselves when we are together, but I needed to protect our relationship.  Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, but it can make me testy.  Most, if not all of my mother's suggestions are helpful in theory; they just aren't helpful to my variable mental health.  I have watched just about every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and I know I'm not alone in this.

When my mom arrives at my house each day, it is my cue to quit farting around on the computer.  At first, it was because she would take over and work on a list of stuff I'd compiled.  Later, it was because it was time to go watch a movie together while I draw.  In some ways, it was helpful with my schedule as otherwise, I wouldn't have one.  I am never done with the computer, because I have ADD and I am constantly distracted, which is inconvenient due to the invention of the internet.  I should be doing real work, but instead, I'm probably sniffing around your Facebook vacation photos or writing long emails to my college friends.  When my mom would arrive, I'd get a jolt of work-guilt that I started to associate with her.  Now she calls before she comes and I can tell her to give me a little more time to work, or stalk people or add songs to my ipod shuffle (you know I'm too cheap for a real one.)  My goal is to force myself to stop in time to have lunch with her, at the latest.

I draw my pencil portraits in the corner of my bedroom and my mom has a big comfy chair up there that my dad and my husband Joe bought her for Mother's Day. We have probably watched more movies together in a month than some people see in a year or more.  We love movies and take turns watching our respective Netflix arrivals.  This is the sweet spot of the day with my mom.  We pause the movie to tell each other things we forgot to say or to try and figure out where we've seen an actor or who would have been better for the role.  I almost always remember to put the captions on for her.  I did need to work it out with her that she should leave the room when Joe gets home so he doesn't have to change in the closet.  These things just took awhile to figure out.

In the very beginning, my mom was at my house up to five days a week, from mid morning until dinner time.  My friends would gasp in horror, shaking their heads at the thought.  That's just too much mom for most people.  Now it's more like three days.  I've been really busy with back to back art shows so the last couple weeks were less.

As much as I love having my dear mom's company, I miss the days when I couldn't wait to rush to her house.  I'd get away from the demands of my work and my family and my mom would be waiting there to throw her head back and laugh with me.  We'd talk and talk and drink wine together.  It was a break from the routine for me.  Plus I never felt more special than when I was with with my mom.  She listens with such love and pays me such amazing, personal compliments, I'd feel shy sharing most of them.  She thinks I'm a good mom.  I could never be the rock that she is.  Now I get so much time with her, I don't have much left to say when she's not here.  If I do, I call her and tell her.  Things feel different now since we're always at my house.  It never gets to be about just the two of us anymore, our time is also about running my business and being a mom myself and fighting my losing battle not to be a complete slob.

When we're not together, I feel my mom waiting for me to call her and tell her to come over. I feel like I let her down a little bit when I don't. She's given me her love and support so unconditionally, so wholeheartedly. She just wants to spend time with me. My mom has never been a needy person. She's very introspective and is content with a great book and my father to talk to. My parents keep to themselves and they don't socialize very much. Sometimes I feel a lot of pressure to make sure my mom is getting the attention from me she deserves.  I can't predict my own schedule and we're both at the mercy of my lack of discipline. When I hear the loving hope in her voice over the phone and I've got five hundred things to do, it's hard.

I'm ridiculously lucky to have such a great mom.  Someone commented about her on my last blog entry...

I wish I could get you a mom like mine, Karen Holtkamp.  I am spoiled rotten.  And yet I'm just not as patient with her as I should be.  I snap at her when she crosses one of my changing, shifting boundaries.  I don't want her to talk to me about certain things that most hurt my heart, and yet sometimes I need to talk to her about it.  I don't get the chance to miss my mom and sometimes I miss missing her.  Which is really an awfully greedy thing. 

Mommy, thank you for putting up with my emotional roller coasters and my short fuse.  Thank you for being there for everything and anything.  When you love someone so much, we're responsible for each other.  You handle your responsibilities with such grace, and I handle mine kicking and screaming and muttering and swearing.  I feel like before, when we weren't together so much, you didn't have to see the worst in me.  You just saw the daughter who was always so very eager to be with you.  I hope you can forgive the moments when I take you for granted or when I need some space or when you witness yet another childish panic fit.

I'd be lost without you. 


  1. wow...You took the words right from my heart. My mom and I also work together in the crazy art show world. It is our 12th year being partners in our business. I love her with all my heart and she is a huge part of why I am me, but it is hard. We are opposites. We work differently. We think different. I am fast, not so detailed, and a horrible speller. She is slow, methodic, fantastic writer (with great penmanship)...did I say slow.
    My husband and I talked about it yesterday. My disappointment in myself for sometimes treating my mom poorly out of frustration, worries about our business growing and each person’s individual responsibly and capabilities. I was meant to read your blog today. Your words (so well written) have reminded me of a very important point. Communication is key. Let’s face it. Our mothers have seen us (and our array of emotions) during our best and our worst, so why not share our thoughts, good or bad.
    Thank you for your post and many cheers to you and your mom!

    1. You MADE MY DAY with this post. Someone in my family is hurting and likes to write nasty comments about my blog, which happened again last night. Each time, I consider not writing anymore because it is so painful, angry and hateful. Being an artist, as you know, can be a lonely thing. Having your mom as a partner and having mine with me, helps me not be so isolated. But at the end of the day, we artists are solely responsible for the success of our endeavors. I am not a strong person, I'm very emotional and flawed. I'm so easily wounded... nasty words can pull the rug out from under my entire sense of well being. I've had to change comments to be moderated so somebody can review them first. The purpose of the blog is to reach out to people like you and share my experiences so I don't feel alone. And everyone who has commented has helped me so much. Thank you!!! I hope you have a great talk with your mom. This entry prompted a long, wonderful talk with my mom. We decided to have two scheduled days a week and if I have extra time, I'll invited her then too. We both felt really good about the connection. I wish that for you and your mom, too!!! Almost all grown women struggle from time to time with their mothers if they are lucky enough to have them near. The best to you.

  2. Love it! Your honesty makes your writing so refreshing.

    1. Thank you, Joellyn! My honesty also gets me in trouble, but as my 15 year old says,
      "That's how I DO!"


Tell me some stuff!