Thoughts on Perfection and Motherhood

“Turn the child over to love.  Turn yourself over to the idea that love and peace simply are.”

---Polly Berrien Berends, Whole Child/ Whole Parent

Yesterday, I painted this portrait of my sister nursing her new baby.  I was trying to capture the holiness, the other-worldliness, that is expressed in one of my favorite paintings, The Virgin Holding the Sleeping Child, With Saint John and Two Angels, by Bernardino Luini (1480-1532).  Of course, I failed completely.  With my eager, plodding brushstrokes, I piled the paint on too thickly, and made the figures heavy and crude.  And how did Luini get them to almost glow with light?  Oh, that's right, he knew and worked with Leonardo da Vinci himself!  I'm sure they painted together, and da Vinci must have taught him a few things.

  The Virgin Holding the Sleeping Child, With Saint John and Two Angels  by Bernardino Luini

The Virgin Holding the Sleeping Child, With Saint John and Two Angels by Bernardino Luini

 

Really take a look at this detail.  Is anything more perfect?

A small print of Luini’s painting hangs in my studio, where it continues to give me a sense of peace and comfort every time I look at it.  The Mother’s quiet love and the Baby’s complete trust are ideals for which I strive daily. 

 But let's be real.  We all know that motherhood is not always serene.  Children are not always blissfully sleeping.  Mothers are not always graceful, patient, and kind.  Motherhood is hard.  It's messy, stressful, and overwhelming.  It can bring out the worst in us. 

 a sketch of my sister nursing her new baby

a sketch of my sister nursing her new baby


I think most mothers look a little more like Madame Renoir: wrinkly clothes, disheveled hair, and a dazed look from not getting quite enough sleep.  But still, Renoir loves her and thinks she is beautiful.  Look how tenderly he has painted her, as she nurses their little son Pierre.

  Mme Renoir With Her Son Pierre

Mme Renoir With Her Son Pierre

 

And as for me, well, this whole parenthood thing has been a very humbling experience.  I'm so far from perfect.  As an example, here is an excerpt from my diary, August 7, 2010.  (Morgan is 4 months old; Nell is 3 and a half.  And you will need to know that Liza is my good friend and neighbor.)

Blah!  Hard day...Everyone is sick but me...I was terribly cranky all day, and had almost as many emotional meltdowns as my 3-year-old daughter.  I feel really stressed...I MISS art...I feel drained...It all caught up with me today, despite a walk to the farmer's market with Morgan, where I got fresh basil, peaches, and nectarines, and a bouquet of flowers.  I fell in a heap on the floor of the kitchen, crying at the Goliath-load of housework looming over me.  Nell was sweet and hugged me.  "That's okay, mommy," she said.  "Just get a broom"

Liza came over and brought me a gift, a bottle of her favorite Portuguese white wine.  Also, she presented me with a little bound notebook, pocket-sized, in which to write all of my ideas for paintings, etc.  It's wonderful to have such a delightful, understanding friend.

 

I hit a low point a few months later, when  I wrote this in my diary: 

Two days ago I really LOST IT at Nell.  I was really angry.  She was really scared and crying...I feel like the very worst awful mother I could be...I am like a wretched, hideous, putrid, disgusting worm.

But then, two weeks later, we get a moment like this:

Driving in the car today, Morgan asleep, Nell in the back seat asks me: "Mommy, how did you get so beautiful?"  On our left, the shining, ice-glazed river.  On our right, the steep, snow-white cliffs.  And the road before us.  And the road behind us.  Beauty all around.

 

 I think what I am trying to say is that you can hold the two ideas of motherhood at the same time; the miserable, stressed-out mother and the Holy mother are two sides to the same coin.  Perfection, like a golden thread, is inextricably woven into our woefully imperfect experiences: the tantrum on the kitchen floor, and  the bouquet of flowers on the counter.  And it doesn't hurt to have a good friend stop by, just when you need her.

 

And what became of the little notebook that Liza gave me?  I used it so much it practically disintegrated.  But it was a spark that kindled the flame that is burning in my heart today, the flame of artistic creativity.

    Disclaimer:  I know I'm being "mother-biased," because I happen to be a mother.  Sorry about that!  This sketch is my shout-out to all those great DADS out there, doing such a great job, and struggling with the same things.  Keep up the good work, dads!

 

Disclaimer:  I know I'm being "mother-biased," because I happen to be a mother.  Sorry about that!  This sketch is my shout-out to all those great DADS out there, doing such a great job, and struggling with the same things.  Keep up the good work, dads!

Thanks for reading my new blog!  Please post a comment below, and you will be entered into a raffle to win a free 5x7'' high-quality print of any of my paintings or drawings you choose.  The deadline is 9 pm next Thursday night, September 24, 2015.