Great expectations, birthday edition

A few months ago G. realized he'd be on a business trip over my birthday, accompanied by Maddy who was going along as an early birthday gift of her own to tour some universities and visit friends. He offered to try to juggle it around better to be home but I shrugged it off. "Nah, we'll just do it another day instead," I said. "No big deal." And I really meant it at the time, too. After all, I'm a big girl, a grown woman, right?  

You'd think.

Sadly I forgot to inform my inner 10-year-old about my mature response. That Annie was raised in a celebrating household, conditioned to anticipate birthdays and expect kind of a big deal. She had great expectations, that birthday girl.

My 10th birthday party

My 10th birthday party

October 15 rolled around. Poor Sam. Suffice it to say that 15-year-old sons (no matter how kind and great they really are--and he is)  are not really equipped to carry the burden of their mothers' unspoken birthday expectations on their shoulders. To his credit, he remembered it was my birthday a couple of blocks before we got to his school drop off and gave me a chagrined/apologetic/cheerful "happy birthday" when we were almost at school. 

[As a side note, birthdays for Americans living in Australia are kind of out of sync, where our calendar is a day ahead of the US. On the bright side, having most of my family and many of my friends in the States means a two-day birthday-wishing fest. On the Aussie day, a few kind local souls left lovely, much-appreciated Facebook birthday messages. G, knowing me well, sent flowers.]

But it was a tough day, you guys. The mature Annie was willing but the inner youngster was weak. When it came down to it, no presents, no cake, no calls, and no birthday dinner meant that my inner birthday child felt kind of mopey and prone to pity partying instead.

Here's the rub: this was entirely avoidable! It's a lesson I keep learning, to either lower my expectations (and not expect mind reading) or speak up about them. Otherwise I'm just left with a cranky heart and bewildered loved ones. The naughty, told-you-so gremlin who lives in a little tarnished corner of our hearts is fed by the disappointment when people forget/fall short of our inner hopes. He makes us feel strangely virtuous and puritanical to have our wishes denied or withheld, as though it feels better to have our fears confirmed than our dreams fulfilled.

At our house we call this unnecessary martyrdom chicken-neck mom syndrome, our tendency to say--even when there's plenty to go around--"oh, no. Don't worry about me. You guys go ahead and take all the good meat. I'll gnaw on this chicken neck instead" with an air of ascetic self-righteousness. I could have spoken up when G offered to postpone. I could have told new local friends it was my birthday and scheduled a lunch out. I could have reminded and spelled it out for Sam and he surely would have risen to the challenge. But I settled for the chicken neck and a pity party instead. That's on me.

. . . 

p.s. We ended up having a lovely birthday do-over the next week when everyone was home. My inner birthday gal did a happy dance. All's well that ends well.


Where am I?

The postcards tacked above my desk have been taunting me a little. They're kind of a strange little audience, this eclectic collection of images I've gathered over the years from museum visits here and there. I tend to look at them when I can't think of what to write (which is sadly and alarmingly often). Lately I've been seeing them with new eyes.

Realization #1: Apparently I really love depictions of motherhood in art. Go figure. I've unintentionally gathered a gang of mothers who look down and supervise my daily typing. Most of them are fairly idealized (which, on the wrong day can be admittedly a bit deflating...I mean, where's my halo and rosy-cheeked cherubs?) but there's something comforting about looking at paintings that give a nod to motherhood. I can see myself there.

Or I used to, anyway. Realization #2: I'm actually not up there at all, at least not anymore!  Last week I realized these art mamas are all mothers of infants and very young children--preoccupied with nursing, swaddling, cuddling littles on laps.  So I started searching for more seasoned motherhood in art turns out there really aren't many pieces of art showing motherhood past young childhood. Come on, artists of the ages, where's the art showing mothers with adolescents or older children? (Yep, adolescence is a relatively newfangled invention historically so it does make sense. But still. Scroll through the images in this book. See? Mostly babies.)

I was intrigued.  After scrolling through several more on-line collections of "mothers in art" to no avail, I decided to consult with my cousin-in-law, who's a professor of art history. I asked Monica if she could think of any good examples of art depicting scenes of mothering with older children (excluding portraits and besides the Pietas, which are in a category of their own). She suggested I start with these  (thanks, Monica!):

  • Alexander Roslin's "Before the Debutante Ball" seems relevant (assuming that it is, in fact, the debutante's mother and not a maid or sister): 
Before the Debutante Ball by Alexander Roslin

Before the Debutante Ball by Alexander Roslin

Simone Martini's "Christ Discovered by his Parents" was new to me but I really like the depiction of Christ and his parents. And his intransigent adolescent expression is a little familiar to me, how about you?

Christ Discovered in the Temple by Simone Martini

Christ Discovered in the Temple by Simone Martini

There's also this mother reading to a slightly older girl  in George Dunlop Leslie's "Alice in Wonderland." (And, Monica pointed out, George Dunlop Leslie does have some other domestic scenes that could qualify, too.) 

It's a good start. But I'm still curious: where am I, art-wise? 

As you can tell, I'm on a bit of a treasure hunt. Can you think of any other depictions of mid-stage motherhood in art? What do you think about being (mostly) left out of the whole shebang?