Yarn and Grape Hyacinths

As a busy professional, I often struggle feeling connected to people in my private life. I admit that a lack of connection is one of the hardest parts about being a liberal Mormon in my family and ward. But after an amazing 18-hour car-ride and conversation with Amelia, Stella, and a few others, I have been thinking more about the holiness and godliness of human connection, and so I’ve decided to magnify the connections I have in my life, to see how I can improve them.

Around my wrist is a bracelet of simple white yarn wrapped three times: Once for my mother, once for my grandmother, and once for me. I wrapped this bracelet a couple of weeks ago at a Blessingway for two Exponent friends and their babies. While I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder by talking too much about this particular blessingway, I will say that at the beginning of a blessingway, we pass around this yarn, wrapping it around our wrists while saying our mothers’ names, simultaneously connecting each woman in the room to each other. When all the women are connected, we cut the yarn and tie them into individual bracelets with an admonishment to wear them until they fray or fall off, an umbilical cord connecting us to our communities of women.

Through this ritual, we honor the women who gave us life. But not everyone has a wonderful relationship with our mothers. At that point, we’re invited to think about our divine mothers, such as Mother Earth or our Heavenly Mother.

For me, these connections are intertwined.  The other night I came home from work to my mother who was babysitting my baby while my husband was away on a backpacking retreat. She was reading the most recent issue of the Exponent II publication I had left on the piano, and it was the one piece I was the most anxious about her finding. It was a beautiful but hard essay about the author’s difficult relationship with an all-consuming and often abusive mother. As my mom read this essay, she kept saying “The author’s mother sounds just like my mother. I really hope you don’t think this sounds like me.” And you know, parts of it did remind me of past moments between my mother and me. But I realized then that my mother did not act in isolation when she did things that hurt me, particularly the things she said to me as a teenager when I was left to feel like a horrible wayward child because of my stubborness and refusal to conform. She was responding both to me and to her painful memories of her mother. There’s a lot more connectedness there than meets the eye.

When I speak my mother’s or grandmother’s name at the beginning of a blessingway, I remember that I want to do my best to honor them, even though they weren’t perfect. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, and give a dose of forgiveness as I hope others will give me for my imperfections. Or if forgiveness is not something I’m ready for, at least I try to offer acceptance that it is what it is, they are who they are, and I am their daughter and granddaughter.

When my mom finished reading the Exponent II article, I walked her outside to her car. I showed her the beautiful pink blossoms on the crab apple tree. She then looked down at the grape hyacinths covering a large flower garden. She said, “My mother LOVED grape hyacinths.” I can’t say I have felt the same way. I have been on a four-year war against these little purple flowers that keep popping up everywhere in my yard, even at times in the lawn, no matter how many times I uproot each one and throw the bulbs away. But if there is one thing my grandmother knew, it was her flowers, and she delighted in keeping them coming back every year.

After my mom said this about my grandmother and the flowers, I  felt differently about these flowers I had been treating as weeds. Maybe it was the yarn reminder I’ve kept on my wrist these last weeks, tugging at me to think of my mother and grandmother, so that I would be more receptive to the message I saw coming from my garden. In that moment, I felt acceptance toward the grape hyacinths, that they were there in my yard because they were supposed to be there—that maybe my departed grandmother had a hand in putting them back in my garden year after year despite my best efforts to eliminate them. Maybe it was up to me to figure out how to deal with their existence: to see them for their beauty and heartiness, or to whirl to exhaustion in a futile effort to rid my soil of hundreds of bulbs each year. Those flowers were growing for decades before I arrived on the scene, perhaps it was time for me to learn that I play a part in their story, and not necessarily the other way around.

What objects or rituals keep you connected to loved ones, past and present?

Have you recently been able to change your mind about an important relationship that has brought you more peace?

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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30 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    “I remember that I want to do my best to honor them, even though they weren’t perfect. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, and give a dose of forgiveness as I hope others will give me for my imperfections”

    – I wish Mormon feminists would give this kind of leeway to general authorities.

    • Alisa says:

      Jenny, thanks for commenting. I figure it’s always best to start with myself when granting a little mercy, rather than pointing the finger at the changes others need to make.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Jenny- I’ve said it before and this will be the last time I say it.
      If all you have to offer are one line complaints that fail to engage the post then we don’t care to hear it. Knock it off.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Alisa,
    This was a beautiful and thoughtful message. You helped remind me of the importance of the yarn that is still on my wrist. I’ve been struggling with some issues regarding one of my female relatives and I’m trying to figure out how best to handle it and you have given me great ideas (and a great example, ahem).
    Forgiveness, patience, connection, love. These are a good start for a healthy relationship. I’m so glad you could have that moment with your mom. I’ve got to take my mom the Exponent as well. I tried to talk to her about it, but she didn’t seem that interested.

    Also, I’m glad that your ride to and from the Sophia Gathering was filled with good conversation. It makes me feel a little bit better that I planned it so far away from you!

    • Alisa says:

      I’m glad you still have your yarn too! It makes a big difference to be reminded of the connection we have. It makes me want to get together with people from this community more often! (Thank you for organizing this yearly event, and the HUGE amount of work you do!)

  3. Stella says:

    Alisa,

    It was an honor and a privilege to spend 18 hours in a car with you! I can’t do that with many people, but our little group was magical.

    I love the metaphor you have painted here. I had the realization last night, before reading this post, that there was something I’ve been really fighting against lately with a certain person and that it’s just time to stop fighting and allow the relationship to blossom in a way I haven’t yet allowed it. And that has taken a lot of open communication on my part and his. And open communication with people who aren’t my closest girlfriends is often hard for me to do.

    You are amazing and I hope we can keep fostering our friendship to!

    • Alisa says:

      I can’t wait to hear about where this blossoming relationship will take you, Stella. You have so much richness to offer the world, and I count myself lucky to be your friend.

  4. Kmillecam says:

    Alisa, what a beautiful post. It’s especially timely for me as I have been rebuilding my tie to my own mother, and thinking more about her mother who passed away last year. I have referred to that line before as a “hole” in my family chain. But now I see that my relationship with my mom was just something I couldn’t comprehend or appreciate for a while. Grape hyacinths might not be what you think after all…

    • Alisa says:

      Thank you, K! As you can tell, I am borrowing heavily from the lessons you have shared about what you’ve learned from your relationship with your mom. I am so glad you have shared these with me and the larger Exponent community.

  5. Corktree says:

    Beautiful Alisa, as always. It really was so powerful to share our matriarchal lines with everyone in that room. I remember feeling that I wanted to be a culmination of the best parts of my mother and grandmother and I saw all their strengths despite flaws in that moment that I wanted to cultivate in myself.

    Most of the elements of my life that I cherish have been practices that I emulate from my grandmother. Composting, gardening, healthy eating, appreciation of nature, and…chocolate making. I was just talking to my mom this morning about getting together to learn the art of chocolates with my grandmother again (something she learned from HER mother) and we talked about the ways that we can blend the tradition with what I’ve learned of even healthier options for enjoying treats. And it struck me how we can hold on to the traditions that are dear to us, and yet allow room for positive change within them that benefits everyone.

  6. Aimee says:

    Such a thoughtful and eloquent jewel of writing here. I love the image of you wonderful women bound together in yarn with the names of your matriarchs on your lips. I love the thought of your mother reading Exponent II and finding a way to open a dialogue with you that you needed to have. And I love the way you’ve reconsidered the relationships between yourself and those who came before you, “Those flowers were growing for decades before I arrived on the scene, perhaps it was time for me to learn that I play a part in their story, and not necessarily the other way around.” Beautifully done, dear.

  7. G says:

    this is very timely, as just the other day I had a breakfast with my mother, in which we just happened to stumble through every single topic we could possibly disagree on.

    I have a complicated relationship with my mother. thank you so very much, Alisa, for sharing this here, sharing your own path and ritual of healing with your mother.

    my mother has her own ritual; every time she goes for hike, she builds a cairn of rocks for her family, one rock for each of us. I need to do better and finding my own rituals of connection, especially since there is so much to dis-connect me from my family right now.

    thank you.

  8. Starfoxy says:

    I remember feeling disappointed when my yarn fell off that first night after the blessingway while I was sleeping.
    This is beautiful. My opinions of my mom have continued to soften as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve come to realize that while children would benefit from having perfect parents, so would parents benefit from having perfect children, and that neither party has a right to expect the other to be perfect.

    • Alisa says:

      I’ve been thinking of this all day: “I’ve come to realize that while children would benefit from having perfect parents, so would parents benefit from having perfect children, and that neither party has a right to expect the other to be perfect.”

      How true!

    • Kmillecam says:

      So wise, Starfoxy. I like to think of it as being “perfect the way it is” sometimes. Over time I have noticed that it really changes my perception of perfection.

      And how HUGE is it to realize that you can forgive your parents, your children, or yourself? Letting go of perfection = no mistakes is life-changing.

  9. Juliane says:

    Alisa,
    I love this post, and I am fortunate to have a few very inspiring women in my life. I feel a little isolated where I live, and whenever I hear about get togethers like the one you attended, I get a little jealous. I want to have a blessingway, and I don’t even really know what that is….anyway…many of my favorite people live far away, so certain holiday traditions for example make me feel connected when I know that loved ones are doing the same things thousands of miles away.

  10. spunky says:

    This is beautiful, Alisa. I have to admit, I struggle to understand it. I don’t have children, and I do not have a relationship with my mother, by choice- I don’t feel as though I can, because of the pain she wills at me in ever communication I have with her even now. (A great therapist told me once that forgiveness does not include trust, hence, when we forgive, sometimes it is still necessary to not involve certain people in our lives.) So your post made me feel rather uncomfortable… like I was a bad person for not connecting with someone who continues to hurt me at every opportunity.

    But then, I took a breath, I re-read it, and opened my mind and heart. I thought of the women whom I love and who saved my soul in telling me that I was a daughter to them in spirit, who opened their homes and hearts to me, who made me feel like I was allowed to be a loved daughter. I believe that these women were placed in my life to teach me maternal love, compassion and kindness that I did not find in my birth family. For them, I am connected in a spiritual umbilical cord. It is stronger than a physical bond- it is eternal because of the strength and power of love, compassion and charity. If I had a blessingway, I would say these women’s names, and it is a very long list of women’s names–because each of them gave birth to the person I am now. These women wanted me to thrive and are infinitely valuable to me because they helped to heal me, strengthen me, and taught me charity.

    Your inclusion of Heavenly Mother helped me to see this. Thank you for teaching me. I needed to learn this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Alisa says:

      Thank you so much for your response to this, Spunky! I am glad that ultimately it did not offend. 🙂 Thank you for reading it with an open heart to give me the benefit of the doubt.

      My mom and I have both worked hard at our relationship since it was so troubled. I mean, here she was babysitting for me when there were a million other things she could be doing. And even though she has never apologized to me for the cruel things she said, I think that her comment that she hoped that she didn’t appear to be the abusive mother described in the essay shows that on some very real levels, she knows she was not a perfect mother. This humility helps our relationship as well. So, no, I don’t think you should blame yourself. Each mother-daughter relationship is different, and this is just a snapshot of where my relationship is now.

      I am so glad you have wonderful women in your life now, and I’m so glad you’re a part of this community!

    • Maureen says:

      As someone who has been just reading The Exponent for a little while, I really just had to say thank you Spunky. Thank you for validating those of us who have had similar experiences as you with the unmother. I too have felt the guilt for not connecting with the woman who is supposed to fill the ever worship worthy role of mother. Even when I have realized it is absolutely the right thing for ME to do to cut her off, I can’t help but ache when I see the instances where others have what I so long for.

      You are incredibly blessed to have had spiritual mothers in your life. And you may very well be greatly blessed to not have children. Because I can’t tell you how exceptionally hard it is having children without being able to turn to your own mother, without direct connection to the Mother, living in a culture wherein however physically grueling it can be motherhood still is (and “obviously” always should be) an emotionally and spiritually uplifting experience (because it’s “worth it”), and being perpetually plagued by the evil legacy of unmotherhood. Hopefully, should you ever have kids you will be miraculously spared that experience.

      Thanks again.

      • spunky says:

        Thanks, for commenting, Maureen. You are welcome here– the women here have helped to a degree to fill the void that I have in regard to the “unmother” (LOVE this term!). I hope that you feel comfortable in coming back, commenting, participating and teaching me the wisdom you gained as a women who survived parenthood without the support of your own mother. We need you and your comments. You are welcome, appreciated and WANTED here. I am sending you much love and admiration. 🙂

  11. Lori Pierce says:

    I am really relating to your post right now. My mother and I always had a difficult relationship, disagreeing on more than we agreed on. In her last years, my brothers and sisters and I had to take care of her and though we gladly did it and she and I managed to get along so long as we avoided certain subjects, it had started to become a burden.

    She died last month and I am finding that the way I think about her is almost totally changed. It would be long and complicated to explain why and I think at least part of it is that her spirit is now free of this life’s burdens and I am feeling her spirit and love in a way I never felt when she was alive, but I am able to think much more about the good things she did for me. I feel more connected to her now than I did when she was alive.

    Maybe it’s all the genealogy work where I learned about people without knowing all of their daily quirks. No objects or rituals yet, but certainly a changed relationship. I find it fascinating.

    • Alisa says:

      Lori, I am sorry for the loss of your mother. I am glad that you could resonate with this a bit. I wish you the best as you continue through the grieving process and sorting your memories of your mother.

  12. Kelly Ann says:

    Alisa, While I missed the active conversation on this post due to my conference, I just want to say thank you for sharing it. I sometimes struggle with the relationship with my mother and it is good to be reminded of the ways in which we can be connected to each other. I really admire your character and perspective.

  13. Rachel says:

    This is so beautiful, Alisa. Thank you.

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