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A confession: I have always believed I have to be a star.


To be clear, I don’t mean I am destined to be a star; just that I am supposed to be one. Stardom feels like a responsibility, a debt I owe my parents, teachers, classmates, and anyone else who sees me as a writer who hasn’t done anything legitimate with her talent yet. It’s also a kind of unspoken, unwritten contract I entered into with my attorney mother when I decided to stay home with my kids instead of pursuing a Career-with-a-Capital-C:


She would allow me to choose this path, which she did not respect because she believed it made me dependent on my husband and because she considered it beneath the dignity of intelligent, modern women. In return, I would keep writing while I changed diapers and did the laundry and kept fevers down and made dinner. I would keep practicing and eventually, when my children were studying at their respectable colleges, looking gorgeous and being unimaginably charming (the least I could do if I wasn’t going to accomplish anything else in the years they were home with me), I would emerge from my drab domestic chrysalis in a shimmering caftan, expensive bifocals dangling on a golden chain around my neck, and rocket to the top of every list that mattered to her.


At some point, I must have agreed to this, I must have signed that contract. It might have been when I was 20, the day I told my mother I wanted to stay home with babies and bake lovely cakes and muffins and make quilts. We were in her kitchen and she gripped the counter, leaning forward with her shoulders up around her jaw, which couldn’t find the right position. “Okaaaaaayyyy,” she half-sang, half muttered to her gorgeous fingernails, which she still manicured herself each Sunday night while she watched Masterpiece Theater. She couldn’t relate to this.


Don’t be too hard on her. I was two and she was 35 when she started law school in 1974. There were few other women in her class and even fewer with young children. She had been a 5th-grade teacher for 11 years before having me and spent another year or so afterwards earning a Master’s degree in Pyschology from the University of Minnesota. She used to tell me that Watergate saved her from the punishing boredom of being home with a newborn. What can I say? It’s a good thing she didn’t want to write greeting cards.


She was a Grinnell graduate, a Wyonegonic camp counselor, and an Edina teacher. She played flute and sang beautifully, never met a kid she couldn’t somehow charm and discipline at the same time, and had an organizational system for everything. She was the first female partner at her enormous downtown law firm, which she eventually left to start her own practice. She wore power suits with shoulder pads, mentored young lawyers, held season tickets to the Guthrie Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra. She did the Sunday crossword and dabbled in Sudoku, sat on hospital credentialing boards, and knew the Minneapolis skyway system like the back of her hand. She was already the star she wanted me to be.


I am so proud of her. I have never aspired to what my mom dreamed for me, but I love what she dreamed for herself and reached for and achieved. I still brag about her all the time, but she’s gone now and the contract is null and void. I’m off the hook, I don’t have to succeed her way, so what next? What am I going to dream for myself?


I do want to write and publish a book in my lifetime, though I don’t know what kind. It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s useful to anyone who reads it. I want it to be the kind of book someone can melt into and maybe hide out in for a while. I don’t need critical acclaim or celebrity …or at least I’m trying not to need those things, which feel like part of the old contract.


Staying at home with my babies was a good decision for me, it turns out … not because kids always need their mothers at home –you will never hear this attorney’s daughter say something that reductive—but because I love being at home.  My work is a natural extension of who I am. I have tweaked the original vision: I expanded my baking repertoire beyond the original cakes and muffins and replaced the quilt-making, which involves too much geometry for me, with knitting, which is a better waiting room skill.


I am living the life I dreamed for myself, just like my mom did. Of course there are mistakes and detours and whatnot, but I love what I do and I’m proud of my work. Isn’t that dignified? Isn’t that intelligent? Isn’t that modern, even if my name isn’t on a paycheck? (It should be).


I think my mom saw my decision to be a hausfrau as a kind of betrayal, a refusal to acknowledge what she had to go through to achieve what she did in the ’70s and ’80s, but I absolutely acknowledge that and I am so grateful. Watching her bravely go to work when the “respectable mothers” were at home is precisely what has given me the courage to stay home when the “respectable women” go to work. The point of our striving for equality should never be what kind of work we do, the point should be fighting for the choice and granting each other the space, the respect to make that choice, even if we don’t understand it.


I will keep one part of the original contract: I will keep writing, though I write for my own reasons now. I write to reassure, to be a voice in the dark, not for approval or recognition. I will send these letters or essays or whatever they are out to You in hopes that they are useful, maybe a place to rest for a minute and let yourself off the hook.


And I will send them out to my brilliant, brave, inspiring mother, gone for almost four years now, in hopes that these reflections reach her through increasing time and space, through the darkness and silence that always seems to exist between two stars.


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© 2015 Marta C Drew

I believe most of us understand by now — at least intellectually– that nobody is perfect. We know the brilliant fashion models-turned-artistic-city-revitalizing entrepreneurs with toned bodies and adorably-dressed-free-range-organically-fed children have problems too.  I know they do and anyway, I’m not comparing myself to them.


I’m comparing myself to a Super-Me, an Extreme Makeover Me, the one I would certainly be if I weren’t so lazy/superior/judgy/emotional.  The one I invent while I’m not exercising and not writing and not cleaning the house and not earning a paycheck and not making dinner and not staying on top of the laundry and not being on the PTO and not dressing particularly well and not keeping up on the news and not washing my hair all that often and not kicking my VERY serious Candy Crush Saga habit and not being at all chill.


Even if I could pull off the transformation and be the exact opposite of everything I berate myself for, I still wouldn’t be Perfect. You know how when they take the sugar out of food, they just add more salt or fat to compensate? We humans are the same way — subtract one set of  flaws and another set replaces it. We remain imperfect.  Take away my laziness for a while (not forever — I need it to be creative) and judgy fills in the empty spaces. Take away superior and I just get more emotional. I remain imperfect.


We humans are the same way — subtract one set of  flaws and another set replaces it. We remain imperfect.


Perfection is not possible in me. I have to accept that because even if I could somehow become a balanced Marion Cotillard lookalike with NASA-grade math skills and an understanding of how football works (I’m pretty sure I can’t), I would lose more than all my bad habits. I would lose my essential self, the self God Himself wrote for me before I got here. Perfect isn’t something we can be in this life …we aren’t even qualified to define it.


I don’t have perfection in my character, but I do have it in my life. Once in a while, when I stop peering at my sorry self in the mirror and gaze instead out at my singular, mysterious life, I see perfection — not everywhere and not all the time, but enough to believe it’s really there.


When I was a teenager and spending my fifth or sixth summer at Camp Lake Hubert,  I was allowed to swim with the horses one time off of Senior Beach. I still don’t have any idea why I was given that opportunity– I had virtually no experience with horses, either at camp or anywhere else.  I was nervous being at the mercy of such an enormous, powerful animal, I felt out of control without a saddle or reins and I’m sure I wanted to cry. Maybe I did cry; I have always hated being inexperienced. Yet whenever I read stories about characters who can fly, I remember half-riding, half-floating on that horse’s back, holding his long neck as he galloped in slow motion through the water. I bet he thought he was dreaming. We both could have been dreaming. That was perfection.


When my oldest daughter was two years old, she started having seizures after her bath one December night. In the first of what would be several methods to try and stop them, she had a massive steroid shot every evening –right thigh the first night, left the second, then right, then left, alternating this way seven days a week for twelve weeks.


I held her on my lap, my husband did the shot, her brother (five years old) blew bubbles in a noble effort to distract her, her baby sister sat in her bouncy seat with a furrowed brow, and most of us cried on most nights. The shots kind of worked some of the time.


When it was over, we popped Hershey’s kisses in each other’s mouths and piled on the couch with the lights off and the fire on, watching recordings of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman”  on t.v. That was also perfection.


Perfection, in my view, is something given, not achieved — a divine reassurance that there are still beautiful places, quiet and safe places we can find even within the chaos and brokenness of our human experience.


Once, sometimes twice a year, my dear friend Julie and I drive up to her cabin without our husbands and kids for a weekend. Sometimes we talk the whole time, sometimes we barely say a word to each other. There have been weekends when we cooked ourselves delicious breakfasts and dinners and weekends when we subsisted solely on jellybeans and popcorn. There was an “America’s Next Top Model” marathon weekend and one devoted almost exclusively to knitting, a writing therapy weekend for me and a reading therapy weekend for her. Sometimes we speak only in Eastern-European accents and sometimes we switch from Marilyn Monroe to Hermione Granger to Julia Child. Julie allows me my tears and I allow Julie her inexplicable silences. Those weekends are perfection.


Perfection, in my view, is something given, not achieved — a divine reassurance that there are still beautiful places, quiet and safe places we can find even within the chaos and brokenness of our human experience. When I slow down and calm down enough to inhabit one of those places, God is waiting there. He puts His hand on my shoulder and whispers “I am still here, swimming with you, grieving with you, sending you my best love in the form of family and friends. Just so you know.”


I do know. Take out my need to be perfect and Perfection fills in all the empty spaces.


Lake Hubert dock 2013
© 2015 Marta C Drew