By Sidney Elizabeth Dent
My mother’s finger precisely held the exacta-knife as she cut a straight line, meticulously planning out which piece would fit to match the one that was just plastered to the wall. The glue on the paper had a scent that lured me close as I shadowed my mother’s every move. I wanted the flowers on the wall to fit perfectly. I crept close enough to the wall that I was told to back away a bit. I was always overstepping personal space boundaries. I moved backward about 18 inches and resumed my close study like a young apprentice eager to learn her master’s craft.
My father is a builder. My mother is a creative. Needless to say, there were always home improvement projects happening around the house while growing up. I have vivid memories of my parents stripping wallpaper and applying fresh prints or paint to replace the old dated look. I wished to be the one hanging the paper. But I was too young for such an important task. Perhaps my dexterity would be better when I was ten. But at less than nine years old, I would have to leave it up to my parents to work that flowered print up the stairwell, below the chair-rail, and down the kitchen hallway.
I often think about wallpaper as an analogy for my relationship with my mother. She and I both have grand visions of how the world is supposed to look. Often times, our visions align. We fit together just like paisley on a wall, seamlessly. But if you look closely, the air bubbles start to show. I remember now the ugly part of hanging wallpaper. I remember the moments of frustration. The paper was cut, the glue was moist, but the roller against the wall gave way to a flaw beneath the surface. Exhalations of exasperation exited through my mother’s lungs and filled the room. It was like you could taste the disappointment in her breath as she cautiously began to remove the last piece of paper. She would have to start again.
I reflect on our current lives. We are often pealing back layers, wishing that we would align on the first try without any bubbles. But it doesn’t always work that way. Regardless of our best intentions, we are the paisley print on the flawed wall. We think that our patterns are perfectly matching only to find out that the stem of her flower print runs straight into the petals of mine. Our incongruent patterns can sometimes be painfully alarming. Emotionally, our differences can feel taxing. We long to see eye to eye and resolve any discrepancies before they become noticeable blemishes on the wall for all to see.
I recently found myself in the kitchen with my mom; not to hang wall paper, but to make cake pops for my baby shower. She had found an easy recipe on Pinterest and estimated that it would only take us about 30 minutes to prepare the treats. The instructions online simplified the task. However, as rookies to making the pops, we soon found ourselves wishing for tips on how to make our bumpy oblong pops into smooth creamy globes like the photos. At first, we disagreed on the best method to remedy the situation. Although I speak to my mom regularly on the phone, it isn’t often that we are together in person due to living in different states. But I feel that all the years of communicating verbally paid off in this baking conundrum. Unlike the days of me being a little girl watching my mom solve the problems of bumps under the wallpaper, she now communicated her trust in me to be a part of the solution. She listened and pitched in as I navigated the remedy of burnt white chocolate chips. She waited patiently as we tested my theory on chilling the pops in the freezer longer and perfecting the consistency of the frosting.
My mom was not exasperated by my experimentation. Instead, I felt like she was watching me like I used to watch her. She stayed close and we worked through our challenge together. We may not always have the same approach to our daily lives. We may not value the exact same things all the time. But what I have learned through working with my mom is that what gets us through every situation is the love that exists between us. It allows us to pause and take time to hear each others thoughts. Our love is what creates respect. Respect doesn’t always have to agree. Nevertheless, it encourages open-mindedness and fosters diplomatic processes. As an expectant first time mom, I can only hope to have a bond with my child like the one that I have with my own mother. I will do all that I can to kindle the relationship in a way that models ours. I will try to be an example when I can, and be open to my child to teach me when there is something to be learned.