45: Cracks in the Clay

45: Cracks in the Clay

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Cracks in the Clay

My mother is my root, my foundation. She planted the seed that I base my life on, and that is the belief that the ability to achieve starts in your mind.

~Michael Jordan

My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s shoes keep slipping off because they can’t contain her excitement. Her feet move too fast for the poor shoes to hold on. My eighteen-month-old son simply takes his off, but I can see the bare cement floor is cold for his toes. He lifts his arms for me to pick him up, and he too is squirming with eagerness. We’re visiting my parents in rural Alabama, and today we get to play in my mom’s pottery studio.

All the things they’re told not to touch on a regular basis are finally available to them: the sponges, the stamps, the wedges, the clay itself. Choosing the color of the glaze is a decision my daughter makes with the utmost gravity. Her eyes are shining with pride.

My mom shows my daughter how to roll out the clay, how to make it pliable and then flat. Her new interest is slab pottery, so today we’re making bowls.

“I can eat my cereal in my new bowl?” my daughter asks. We’ve told her yes already, but the idea of making something she gets to use is beyond exciting. She wants to be sure we won’t change our minds.

We both nod — my mom behind her, guiding the rolling pin, while I help her little brother pick out the stamps he’ll use. My daughter helps him choose the letters in his name to press into the clay. He picks out a dragonfly stamp and wonders what clay tastes like.

“All right, are y’all watching?” my mom asks as she scoots a mold the color and shape of a half-moon under the clay.

They crowd around her workstation as she shows them how to curl the sides, and how to use water to seal and smooth the edges. I step back to take a picture of the three heads bent together in this endeavor, my heart full to bursting at how they listen so attentively, the light catching on their baby curls.

When it’s my turn, I realize it’s harder than it looks. My bowl is misshapen and the kids giggle because theirs look better. I was paying attention to them more than my mom’s instructions.

“Well, you should’ve seen the fairy tea sets your aunt and I used to make when we were little,” I tell them. “Linlin would give us extra bits of clay; then we’d paint them with sparkly nail polish. Fairies loved ‘em.”

“I’m pretty sure I still have them,” my mom says.

My daughter’s eyes light up. My son is hungry, and since we’re not letting him eat clay, he wants something else — blueberries from the bush outside. My mom lets them run to it, their short legs pumping in the grass, scaring up tiny bugs that catch the morning sunlight like flakes of gold confetti celebrating their presence.

The pottery wheel in the corner catches my eye and I walk over to it, the room suddenly silent without all the noise of two little children. It’s a manual wheel. I give it a kick and it barely budges. My mom has a newer one now, but this is the one she used when my sister and I were little, when we’d make cups and saucers for fairies. It’s been through floods, too heavy to move when we had to evacuate. I loved when we were young and she’d let us practice kick, our short legs stretching to reach. Then when our muscles started burning or we fell off the bench seat, she’d take over and it was like a queen taking her throne.

I look again at the picture I took with my phone and realize what a gift it is.

And to think it almost didn’t happen.

The pottery wheel had stopped spinning for a while as her world turned to government-mandated testing and meetings and more paperwork that went along with her job. My sister and I were a handful, too, as we got older, trying to figure out who we wanted to be in the world. Sometimes we made bad decisions and that pain we caused diminished her creative spark.

She had to devote her time to molding and shaping us. She couldn’t dedicate the time she needed to her craft.

Having her artistic outlet cut off was suffocating her. Her fingers ached for clay, for the ability to create something beautiful out of a lump.

She was cracking but hid it so well. Until she finally had enough. Thankfully, she knew herself well enough to know the cracks that needed to be filled could only be patched with clay. So she ordered some and bought glazes. She took classes to reacquaint herself with her lost creative side. Now I bring my own children to experience the joy of allowing creative talents to flourish.

I choose the glaze for my bowl that I’ll never use. My art comes from my words, not from my hands. Then I join them outside by the blueberry bushes.

“Look at my tart face, Mommy!” My daughter grimaces comically. My son laughs so hard he falls down. I wrap my arm around my momma’s waist and lay my head on her shoulder.

“I’m so proud of you,” I whisper. “Thank you.”

She smiles. “For what?”

But I can’t put into words the fullness my heart feels, so I squeeze her tighter, then let go. I pop in a tart blueberry, a little pink on top near the stem, and scrunch my face in exaggeration as my kids laugh and laugh.

“For giving us this,” I should’ve said. “For being the best mom ever.”

~Candice Marley Conner

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