Archive for May 2012

Mother’s Day Reflections

May 18, 2012

Mother’s Day has passed, flowers are wilting in vases, and colorfully witty or sentimental cards are still floating around in many households waiting to be stashed away as keepsakes. Most mothers are hopelessly sentimental. I am one of them.

This year my Mother’s Day was a mixed bag, some celebration and quite a bit of reminiscing. I looked back into the past and into the magic glass ball for answers to what the future will hold.

My motherhood has not been an easy one — probably none of them are, but on Mother’s Day we — mothers — want to and are expected to be full of smiles and happiness. But what if you are not that happy, what if you are disappointed, what if you are hurting? I guess we have to remember that joys and pains are part of motherhood, then smile again….

Here are some images I gathered on that theme, garnished with my words.

Sculpture of mother holding child

I cherish this small statuette symbolizing motherhood. I received it from my friend Pam, also a mother, several years ago for memories of our motherhood and friendship. The statuette sits comfortably on one of the bookshelves in our Tucson home, but ties me strongly to Cape Cod. So I took its picture using a beige and blue background representing the desert of Tucson and the cool waters around the Cape.

Framed portrait of Alicja Mann and her two sons

So here I am as a mother! This is a painting created from my very favorite photo of the three of us — me and my two sons — in the 1980s. It is from the time of my single motherhood and it will always represent for me our strong unity during those challenging, yet happy, times — regardless what our reality is today or in the future.

The portrait was painted by Doug Rugh, a well-known artist of Falmouth, Massachusetts.

The Migrant Mother photo by Dorothea Lange is so well known! Still, it is good to see it again and again as a reminder that bad times have been the reality for many among us, then and now.

Lange took this photo of Florence Owens and her children in 1938 in Nipomo, California. You can see more photos of Florence with her children and learn about the photographer’s encounter with them by clicking on the photo or this link.

Madonna and child

This is a piece of art I bought some time ago in one of the “antique” shops of Tucson. You know, one of those places where you can spend a lot of time looking at things, touching them, having a hard time deciding which ones to buy, because in reality you don’t need them. That was not the case this time! I thought I was buying this Madonna for a friend in Poland, but after bringing her home I could not part with her. For me, she is the best Madonna I have ever seen! I understand her worries and concerns, and I respect her strength and pride.

So this reproduction of someone’s art (the piece is not signed), mounted on a very sturdy piece of wood, is hanging in our bedroom. I never feel tired of it.

Marie Curie with her daughters

Marie (Sklodowska) Curie sitting on a garden bench with her two daughters does not look all that joyful in this 1905 photo. It is a very rare image of this extraordinary and hard working scientist (native of Poland, citizen of France), a recipient of two Nobel prices (1903 and 1911) for her work. She must have had plenty of concerns about how to combine the demands of her science with her motherhood!

Child being held by his cousin in Peru

When I saw this painting by Christine Lytwynczuk in one of the Tucson galleries, I jumped with excitement. “Here it is,” I thought, “a painting that represents the joy of motherhood!” The large size of the art with its vivid colors of Peruvian clothing, happy face of a mother…a perfect addition to our Tucson home. And so it is prominently displayed in our dining area.

However, there is one thing I have to add — while purchasing this piece I learned that there is no mother in it at all! How come? Well, the happy person holding the baby is a young Peruvian boy, a cousin of that baby. Wow, I was blown away for a while by that discovery.

After a while I settled with my feelings. Who cares if it is not a mother or not even a woman? Joy is joy! So I call this piece JOY. Once in a while I even see in it a young, happy Peruvian mother and say to her, “Hello!”.

Larger agave with smaller agave underneath

We are so accustomed to see cute photos of women with kids, or animals with their offspring, that plants are not considered as major players in motherhood images. For me, however, Agave plants are very motherly! Just look at this baby plant snuggled under its mother protective and feisty leaves. Don’t you agree?

Alicja with her baby Leo

Baby Alicja and her mother Krystyna

Baby Alicja and her mother Krystyna

Alicja with her toddler Taurus

Alicja with her toddler Taurus

Toddler Alicja with her mother Krystyna

Toddler Alicja with her mother Krystyna

These photos are of my mother and me when we became mothers. (I have placed captions for clarity.) These images are strikingly similar in their composition even though there is over thirty years difference in time, thousands of miles of space, and a huge color spectrum in photo technology between them.

Alicja and her mother

This is photo of my mom and me was taken in 2005 during one of my visits to Warsaw. Each visit was a happy time for us and always too short, of course. Two years later was my last time to be with her and celebrate her Mother’s Day — Mother’s Day in Poland is on May 26th. She died in July 2007 and I still have a hard time to accept it. The hardest thing is that I have no one to call and say, “Czesc Mamo!” — “Hi Mom!”

I will end these reflections with a quote from the Introduction to the book Letters to Mother, a hefty collection of letters from many famous artists, politicians, historians, philosophers and writers to their mothers — edited by Charles Van Doren.

“If there is anyone in the world whom we should not have to deceive, who is most likely to know us for what we are and love us anyway, who will never prefer complexity of thought and expression to simplicity and directness of feeling…that person is our mother.”

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Photo of migrant mother by Dorothea Lange in the public domain. Joy – copyright by Christina Lytwynczuk. Marie Curie with her daughters copyright by Association Curie Joliot-Curie; photographer unknown. Text and other photos copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann.

Vive la (Petite?) Difference!

May 4, 2012

May is here already—a colorful and busy month—saturated with flowers, celebrations, sunshine, and hope. A month pregnant with many desires—for love, for freedom, for new adventure, new challenges, new dreams…. Cupids are flying among the birds and sharpening their arrows. So I decided to write something “sexy” this time.

In one of the latest THE WEEK magazines (April 27, 2012) I stumbled on the article: “Sweden: Purging gender from the language”

It just so happens that quite a few years ago (1986), as an op-ed columnist for Cape Cod Times, I wrote a piece titled “Our language reflects our values.” I questioned the use of the title “selectman” for that position in Falmouth given that for eight long years Falmouth had had a woman as a selectman. Here it is what I wrote:

“Let’s say the title of selectman were to change to selectwoman, as logic would call for in the Falmouth situation. What would happen? Would the male candidates have to run for selectwoman? Here is the core of the issue. I am sure that men would object. But why? If a woman runs for selectman, why can’t a man run for selectwoman?”

“All of it starts early in childhood. When a little girl becomes a tomboy, it is cute; it is all right. When a boy is sensitive, open, and expresses his feelings with tears, he is called ‘sissy’; he is being ‘a girl.’ We as a society have yet to value masculinity and femininity as equal.”

You can see why I got intrigued about the Swedish society purging gender from its language.

First of all — to purge gender from some languages is simply not possible. In my native Polish for instance, every noun has a gender – it is always she, he or it. The adjectives and verbs are modified according to the noun gender, so Polish and other Slavic languages are heavily gender coded. They would have to be reconstructed totally from scratch!

On top of everything else the likable Swedes went very far in their political correctness.

Quoting from THE WEEK: “State-run preschools have been instructed to avoid referring to children as girls or boys, and many of them have hired ‘gender pedagogues’ who ‘help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes.’”

To not be addressed by your gender at all? It is one thing to try to be fair and to give both sexes the same chance to be treated as equally as possible, but is it necessary to go to such an extreme? What do you think about it?

Small gender differences (except anatomical of course!) in the appearance of very young children are not that small in their behavior, moods, and interests according to the What to Expect on line journal from which I copied this photo.

Let’s face it, we are different from the very start – genetically. Denying gender differences seems to be absurd to me. I will repeat what I wrote years ago: Recognition of sex is not sexism: the putting down of one sex by another is. We do not have to be the same to be equal.

Vive la petite difference, and not so petite after all!

This familiar Yin Yang symbol represents Taoism’s way of understanding opposites like light and darkness, masculine and feminine. There is equality there and interpreted as two sides of the same coin where one could not exist without the other. They in fact complement each other. There is an idea of balance. Growing acceptance in our culture for a wider variety of sexual orientation caused by nature or due to personal choice is comforting. It does not upset (in my opinion) any balance of nature, just like dawn and dusk do not upset the balance between day and night.

Many of you may be familiar with this book by John Grey. I purchased this 1992 edition a couple of years later and still have a mixed feeling about it, but can’t deny that the author’s goal was to improve communication between men and women. Here is a quote from his introduction:

“[The book] reveals new strategies for reducing tension in relationship and creating love by first recognizing in great detail how men and women are different…. Relationships do not have to be such a struggle. Only when we do not understand one another is there tension, resentment, or conflict.”

So here we have it – women and men, or men and women, how really different are we? There have been a huge number of researches, opinions, laws, and actions addressing this question. Frankly, it can be overwhelming, so today I propose that we just laugh a bit about our petite difference.

Please click on the photo (or this YouTube link) for a few minutes of humor and laughter. Enjoy it!

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Text copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann. Photo of laughing people by Yuri Arcurs (purchased from Yin Yang symbol by Petr Kratochvil (public domain).

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