of pottery + parenthood
‘How did it go?’ my husband asks with a hopeful tone as I get into the passenger seat. ‘She says I need to work on my centering.’ I pause, distracted by some clay under my fingernails. ‘That I’m TOO impatient and want to move on before my clay is centered.` I finish my thought while flaking off more dried clay on my forearm. My husband gives me a compassionate glance, I appreciate his attempt to sympathize and although he is very supportive of my new passion for pottery, I know the process is lost on him. But he’s been encouraging me to go, to use that christmas gift my dad graciously gave me when he asked what I wanted. It was what I wanted, but it was also what I needed.
Pottery, for me, has become a new form of therapy, a creative outlet to keep me sane amidst a pandemic pandemonium and three littles. While it feels almost impossible between nursing an infant and chasing two toddlers full-time, I know if I can peel myself away for an hour every week when the stars align between nap time and lockdowns, it is worth its weight in gold.
In this season, pottery has been the one place that both the world and my brain stop - and all that exists is one. lump. of. clay. Having that cold slippery earth running through my fingers allows my thoughts to stop running through my mind. For a couple of moments, I am not anxious, I am not needed, I am not called upon, It’s just me and the clay- and it’s a beautiful thing.
“What’s centering exactly?” He asks, trying to navigate this new language of this passion of mine. I pause, I feel a soliloquy coming on. “Centering is the most fundamental part of pottery. It requires you to form the clay so it is aligned as the wheel spins. It takes the most physical force out of any other pottery stage.” I shift my weight to demonstrate my centering position best I can in a confined space. “ You’re basically hunched over, but have your arms even and raised slightly and pushing in and down until you create a perfectly circular form in the center.” My husband glances over as he’s driving. I can see the gears turning in his head. “But today I was trying to center and I didn’t realize one of my legs was lower and my elbows weren’t level, you see if you’re not centered - You’re clay won’t be centered either.'' He nods, then asks a question that reveals his confusion “But what are you trying to make?” “Nothing!” I add emphatically “ It’s just the start, to get it all ready, like pouring a foundation for a house, it needs to be level and if you mess up your centering EVERYTHING gets messed up.”
“That sounds like a metaphor for parenting toddlers.” he says. I pause, repeating my explanation in my head. “What part?” I ask. “ All of it. The physicality of it, the need for you to first be centered yourself, the fact that it is so crucial yet painstaking and you don’t often see the evidence of all the work until later.” I nod, and let his poetic genius sink in, he’s absolutely right.
‘These hands are for helping, not for hurting’ I say softly but firmly as I hold my daughters hands, palms facing up. She looks down at them while she’s sitting in her ‘reflection chair’. I had watched her hit her older sister square in the face, over a disagreement. The eldest by only fifteen months, breaks down in tears while I try to discipline her sister. I take a deep breath, trying to draw from the well of gentleness I encourage them to drink from. I feel in over my head most days with their sibling conflict. Having been an only child myself, I am just in awe of how much love and malicious intent can flow towards the same person. ‘That was not kind or loving, Willow. Please ask for forgiveness when you are ready.’ I look at the toddler whose eyes exude pure blissful rebellion. ‘You two are best friends!’ I remind them, hoping it will calibrate their little hearts.
It isn’t much longer until the tables are turned and the two are at it again.
‘Are you ready to ask for forgiveness ?’ I ask my eldest. She’s been having a streak of yelling at everyone within range.
‘No! I don’t want to!’ She yells once more. I let out a soft sigh, I know that the root of her pride is one that has and can infect my own heart as well, it’s a deep root that has infected humanity from the moment where rather than repentance we chose blame. I wait a few minutes longer while I help her sisters get ready to head up stairs. I ask again, this time she nods slowly, acknowledging that the actions she chose require a response. I bring her to her sisters and watch a toddler reconciliation. ‘Fo’give you!’ Her two year old sister says cheerfully and she runs and continues to play.
I feel like a broken tape recorder some days but I know these big truths are slowly shaping their little hearts and through their constant repetition their mama’s heart as well.
I throw a two pound lump of clay on to the wheel. My hands surround it, cupping over and down, sticking it to my wheel. I slowly press the pedal, bringing my clay to spin at the right speed to shape. I check my posture, wet my hands, and caress the clay to form a small hump form before bringing it back down with force to level. I use both my hands in unison, using enough force to mold yet not enough to throw it off balance. I feel the wet clay running under my fingers. My hand rests flat as the clay spins, my fingers no longer wobble as they meet the even sides. I release my hands gently and slowly so as not to throw the clay off-center again.
I stare at the spinning even form on the wheel, it is centered.
‘ You’ve gotten much better.’ my instructor tells me. ‘ You were not so patient at first.’ I smile, knowing that's not just true of my pottery.