Spring Break has given me a week to tackle a project that has long been waiting in the wings. My once trendy, rag-rolled, Tuscan gold and brown bedroom wall is transitioning to a soothing Zen Pebble green and the ugly, old carpet is being yanked up and traded out for a pleasing laminate.
Transformation doesn’t come easy. Years of accumulated belongings hide in bookshelves and closets. Art supplies that have no other home, old cameras that I can’t bear to part with, books that don’t fit in the living room bookshelf, and twenty-five years of accumulated family photos in boxes and albums needed a temporary home. They currently clutter the living room for all to see. Then there’s the paint itself. Covering Tuscan gold and brown with a light color requires a good base of primer. Two coats of the sticky stuff later, I couldn’t see hints of gold peeking through. Two coats of smooth Zen Pebble slid on after that, all the way up the heavy ladder into high corners of our bedroom ceiling.
Painting gave me time to think, and my mind wandered to Sunshine, who is finishing up her final (extended) year of college halfway across the country. We are close. We talk on an almost daily basis, and though we have the normal mother-daughter disagreements, we both cherish the nature of our relationship.
Her decision to move from our insular small town to a big city upon graduation stunned me. I knew she had big dreams, but had hoped she would land within driving distance. I would miss her, but the once-young, adventurous me approved of her decision. Our lives became that of Skype and Visa points flights . Now as we come upon graduation, she tells me she’s not moving back to the Northwest. Her decision devastates me. I know there’s nothing in our town for her, but surely somewhere nearby she could find a great career.
A friend of mine once described her move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest as a chance to remake herself. She wasn’t escaping a bad home life. She saw something in herself that would require fresh eyes to extract. When you live your life in the same small community, you tend to get trapped in the box of the opinions and expectations of others.
Sunshine was a good student in high school, but she was quiet and didn’t have many good friends. She spent those years focused on academics, dance, and family. As a mom I was relieved. She wasn’t a wild child who would keep me up nights with worry.
She made a decision when she left to step outside her comfort zone. She opened herself to new people and new experiences. Layer upon layer, she began her transformation. Her new life was one of friends, of parties and outings, of wine tasting and art galleries. She traveled solo and survived. (So did I.) She volunteered and engaged in community building. She tutored underprivileged students. She got her first real job, her first apartment, and her first car. Brushstroke by brushstroke, she painted over her former self. She is still the Sunshine I know and love, but fresher and brighter somehow.
I thought of how her transformation was much like my project – careful and deliberate, with attention to the outcome. She layered on experiences. Some were pleasant. Some were painful. Some required reaching and stretching and finding her balance, much like me on that heavy ladder, reaching into corners that if left untouched would ruin the final project.
Transformation doesn’t come easily. It requires work. It means digging through neglected corners and cubbies. It requires attention to detail. Slapping on a fresh coat of paint without preparation will allow the former to glaringly show itself. Transition into a new phase of life without preparing, and the old ways begin to seep through. Transformation is necessary. I would not want to live the rest of my life with Tuscan gold and brown walls any more than Sunshine wants to live in the box of her small town, idyllic childhood.
As I step back and consider my handiwork, I see my walls glow with new life. Thanks to my attention to detail, no gold flecks peek through the new color. The new walls beg for a fresh vision, new artwork, rearrangement of furniture. My work is not yet over.
Soon I will watch my daughter graduate college, a culmination of years of growth and transformation. She will stand proudly in a sea of black caps and gowns, her new life a fresh canvas, and she the artist.