67: Magic Hands

67: Magic Hands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Magic Hands

If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?

~Milton Berle

My mother creates magic with her hands. Her fingers can coax slippery rose and lavender silk into a proper Princess Aurora dress for a dreaming four-year-old. She can embroider a hanging for my daughter’s nursery, spending hours stitching tiny x’s to fill in a smiling pink giraffe and his elephant friend. The next project might involve sewing and installing new curtains for my sister. Those magic hands hammer nails one moment and bead intricate necklaces the next.

Without her, I probably would have failed dozens of school assignments. Now, I can write stories all day long, and I can paint, but when it comes to anything remotely crafty, my fingers muddle up and my brain freezes.

My mother, bless her, never criticized or sighed when I asked for help with assignments. Even when given the task of a handmade book during grad school, she remained positive.

“All we have to do is measure the binding,” my mother tried to explain. “You see, you sketch out what you want to do and where you want the pages to go like this.” She demonstrated, drawing tiny neat squares across the page. “Then we find paper to back the text that matches the canvas paper you’ll do the illustrations on. Of course, you’ll need a border.”

“For what?” I interrupted. My right eye was beginning to twitch.

“For the binding of course,” she said patiently. Placing her hands together, she opened and closed them like a seam. “Then we’ll need fillers and an inside cover as well before we drill holes through the backing to wind the ribbon through.”

I blinked. “Can’t we just glue some fabric on cardboard and staple it together?”

She opened her mouth, and closed it. “No.”

I groaned.

“Don’t worry.” Her smile lit up the already sunny room. “It’s easy.”

“I just don’t think this way,” I told her.

“I know. But I do.”

So my mother drove down from Austin once a week for a month to help me create a book to finish a master’s degree she and my father were paying for. Not even a power outage one Sunday night could stop her. Under the pale glow of flashlights, my mother carefully taped the fifty pages of text I’d typed onto heavier, larger paper to match the dimensions of the paintings I’d done.

Of course, I got an A.

Without my mother, however, my academic career would have been a disaster. It was her hands that helped hot glue the puppets I needed for French class, her fingers that sewed the Little Red Riding Hood costume I wore as the lead in the first grade spring play. When my physics teacher decided the only way we were going to learn about circuits was to build a miniature house with working lighted rooms, my mom managed to not only wire the rooms, but decorate them so well Good Housekeeping could have done a photo shoot there. She used dollhouse furniture, of course.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I sat in the doorway far enough from the fumes that she couldn’t scold me as I watched her help my husband paint the nursery walls a pale pink.

“I wish I could do this stuff,” I sighed.

“You’re pregnant,” my mother reminded me.

“No, I mean that I’m just not good at any of this,” I whined. “I can’t applique stockings like you can or make Halloween costumes like you did for me. I just have no patience. I get frustrated.” I gestured to the careful detailing of a pillowcase she had embroidered for me in the guest bedroom next to the nursery. “I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I get no joy out of sewing or decorating.”

“You can cook,” my husband said helpfully.

“You can’t cook up a princess dress for Halloween,” I wailed. “What if she wants to be a princess? I’ll have to order something off Etsy!”

My mom stopped rolling paint and brushed a pink-stained hand across her cheek. “Honey, we do what we do out of love. I love to sew. I love to make arts and crafts. I love to decorate. For me, it was a joy to make the Christmas tree skirt under your tree, little dresses for you girls to wear, and pillows and dolls.”

I blanched, imagining my own daughter coming to me with such requests.

“We all have our own talents,” my mom continued. “You write, and you paint. You got a 4.0 in grad school, so you can easily help her with papers. I could never help you.”

“She even helps me with business memos,” my husband admitted. “And she helps the kids next door.”

“We’ll hang all the canvases you painted on her walls,” my mom added helpfully. “So when she goes to sleep, she’ll fall asleep looking at what you created for her.”

“You can write her stories,” my husband added. “Make little books for her.”

“Not out of cloth,” my mother chimed in quickly. “Don’t try to recreate your childhood for her. Do what you can do to give her the best childhood you can. If you’re happy, she’ll be happy too.” She gave me a playful swat. “Now get away from these fumes and go order us some dinner.”

After calling in dinner, I lumbered up the stairs to my laptop. My mom was right. I might not be able to sew my daughter a Halloween costume, but I could do something just as nice. Opening up a new page, I began to type, “Dear Baby Girl…”

At twenty weeks, I started writing a letter to my daughter. Every month, I write her another letter and put it in a pink folder. Until she can read them, they’ll wait for her. My paintings adorn her walls, and I’ve got plans to paint mermaids for her bathroom.

I may not be able to make her a costume like my mom did, but I can still give her the magical childhood my mom gave me.

I just need to use my hands.

~Miranda Koerner

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