Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Empty Nests and Spider Mothers

This spring, a mother built a nest at my door. Today, it's empty.
I started this blog in 2009 to collect my crazy ramblings. Here, I record the thoughts that bubble up in my brain, while my hands are busy in my garden. Over the last two years, while my garden took shape (and a few gray hairs grew), young mothers would stop by and tell me how they yearned for time to putter in a garden. My kids, by then, were away from home more often than I cared to actually count. So even as I was a little envious of the children clinging at their knees, I would tell them that we go through phases in our life: childhood, our teens, young adulthood, then parenthood, and finally, gardener.

And the garden is rich with metaphor, fuel for this blog.

This spring, a wren built a nest in the hanging basket at my door and two chicks emerged from eggs carefully laid. If I took a peek, mother bird would sometimes angrily swat the back of my head in a perfectly executed dive bomb from her perch in the nearby crepe myrtle. Despite her warning, I routinely checked on them every time I went in or out my front door. And then one day they were gone. [Full stop, wipe tear here.]

The world has given me plenty of metaphor this past week. We had an earthquake, followed by a hurricane. Monumental events. My house and garden survived both, but they look look like a tsunami hit. All summer, I ignored them, as I sped from shopping mall to box store to specialty shop, spending until my credit card glowed warmly from overuse. Farewell parties. Last suppers. Long talks and long walks. Heartfelt conversations over tea and coffee. It was as if both girls, just like their mother, secretly had a need to shore up and stow away enough nurturing and sentiment to last them the many weeks of their individual journeys.

This morning, I went out to get the paper and a large spider had spun her web straight across my doorway.

Spider mother at my door
You can not ask for more metaphor than this.

"The Spider is an ode to my mother," the artist Louise Bourgeois has said. "She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."

One of Bourgeois's spider sculptures holds court in the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden on the Mall. I pass it every day on my way to work. Called simply "Maman," her bronz head and thorax hover high overhead and her eight legs drop down around her on the Earth, like pinpoints on a map. Where legs touch down, I've always thought, a child resides. Ever vigilant, spider mother watches over them from on high. When my kids were in school in Maryland and I was away all day at work in the District. I morphed into spider mother. Out there in the world, they were growing, learning, living without me. But I was close enough. (Spider mothers, unlike helicopter parents, are far more nuanced in deciding when they might swoop in.)

Maman's legs now pinpoint further locations on her map. One in St. Petersburg, Florida, the other in Quito, Ecuador, my girls are out there now. And me, I've got some gardening to do. The Putterer