This little quilt started off very simple but took a turn for the inspiring. Let me explain…
When I first started getting together a booth to do craft fairs, I needed some demo quilts to help people see the options for t-shirt quilt blocks and styles. I went to the local thrift store and found several shirts from a couple of the local high schools. I was one block short for one of them when I found a shirt for the Amanda Riley Foundation. It was the same colors as the school, but I wasn’t sure if it was connected. I figured the shirt was cheap enough to take a gamble and I’d look it up when I got home.
Turns out it was connected to the school in a big way. Amanda had been a student there, very involved with the school, when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. She fought long and hard, but she passed away in 2010. Her parents set up this foundation to help support children and their families as they battle cancer.
To say I’m in awe of this couple is putting it lightly. They lost their child and resisted, what I imagine, is the urge to retreat inward. They saw their own experience and used it as motivation to reach out and support others in similar situations. To fall in love with them and their cause as well, check out their explanation of why they do what they do.
Back to the quilt….
So as I was putting this quilt together, I noticed one of the other shirts I’d grabbed was from the same year Amanda Riley was a student. It was an impulse that made me stop and scan the names to see, but, sure enough, her name was there as one of the school’s peer leaders. I couldn’t believe it!
To help raise funds for the foundation, her school has a Riley Run and Carnival FUN Day. I got a vendor booth at their show a couple of years ago. While there, I made sure to show her mother, Mrs. Barbara Riley, the demo quilt with the coincidental Amanda link. Then she pointed out something that gave me goosebumps. She mentioned I’d gotten her basketball number as well. You see, at the thrift store I’d found a #2 reversible basketball jersey and used both sides in the quilt. So the corners both have the number 2 in them. Turns out Amanda’s number was 22. I had no idea, guys, but her mother saw it immediately.
As I’ve done more shows with more ready made quilts on hand, I started only putting up one demo quilt. I knew what I had to do when I realized I could retire one of the demo quilts forever. I messaged the foundation through their Facebook page and got in contact with mom. I’m happy to say that I was able to finally gift her the quilt earlier this week. I hope it brings her comfort as she and her family continue their ministry to other families as they navigate childhood cancer.
Well I suppose it was bound to happen. All three of the craft fairs I was hoping to do this fall have been canceled. To say it’s a bummer is putting it nicely. I absolutely LOVE craft fairs. I love curating my little 10’x 10′ booth for maximum appeal. I love checking off items in my checklist app as I load my car. I love the adrenaline rush of leaving early in the morning,and I love the set up time when all the vendors are quiet and focused on perfecting their little plots. I love hearing people ohh and ahh over my products. And of course, I love the thrill that comes with the phrase,”Okay, I’ll take it.”
So now this fall is looking a lot more open and a lot more dismal at the same time. I still have my commissions, of course, and they are doing very well. But there’s something about the excitement of a craft fair that cannot be duplicated.
As organizers announce the cancellations and closures, their pain and regret is evident. But what is worse than canceling the craft fair you’ve spent months organizing? I’d say it is the vitriol that these good people have been met with as they make their sad announcements. I mean,seriously,people are being really mean towards event organizers over this. As said before, I love being a vendor at craft fairs, and I’ll miss them this fall dreadfully. But the choice to cancel them wasn’t easy, and it hurt the organizers a lot. I promise.
So as the announcements come in, please take a moment to thank your local event organizers for their work. They’re pretty heartbroken right now, too. They’re trying to look out for everyone, and people are going to be grumpy either way. If you’re really upset, please wear a mask and social distance to help ensure we can pick up where we left off as soon as may be.
Be these people!
Do NOT be these people!
And most certainly,do NOT be the random angry person in the comments yelling at everyone.
Like everyone else who owns and/or has touched a sewing machine in the last decade, I’ve been making masks for folks.
I’ll admit that a lot of times when I see Call-to-Arms posts circulating, I am very cynical. I’ve seen too many follow up posts where well-meaning people have made things worse instead of helping as intended. So when my sister, a talented paramedic, messaged me that, seriously, they were in need of masks to help extend the life of their n95s at the station, I got to work. I even called on my friends and other crafters to lend a hand if they hadn’t already. I’m so proud that, between us all, they were soon in good shape. The Walking Dead fabric was a huge hit, by the way, as was the Mario and blood splatter fabric. Gotta love that paramedic dark humor.
From there, I made some more and messaged a couple of former students who are now nurses. They said that they could use them in the ER at Egleston – a large children’s hospital in Atlanta. I’m familiar with this hospital for a couple of reasons. More recently, we took my daughter there a couple of years ago for some tests, but it goes even further back. My dad had leukemia when he was young, and Egleston helped him survive that. So I was happy for a chance to give back to them. And they did NOT get the scary zombie or blood fabric if you were wondering. Nothing but cute and simple fabric patterns for the children’s nurses.
After that, I made some and offered them to the other teachers in my school language arts department. And then my mom messaged me asking for a large order, over 40, to donate to her veterans group. I’m happy that those were finished up earlier tonight.
All this being said, the making masks adventure continues to be both exhilarating and draining. It’s exciting because it’s an active role in an otherwise helpless situation, so I’m happy to have some sort of control in that regard. It’s also draining because the need is so high that I can’t possibly keep up, and there’s so many conflicting articles out there about effectiveness, need, etc that one wonders why even try. Of course, this is nowhere near the amount of stress on those receiving the masks: ER nurses, paramedics, veterans. So I’ll hush on that note.
This is an article I wrote a while back for our community magazine last fall. I wanted to share it on the blog as well.
The holiday season is upon us, and people are already beginning to buy gifts to give – if they haven’t started already. Gift-giving is an art form in and of itself, and it takes many factors into consideration: age, cost, usefulness, etc. The best gifts can also remind the recipient about the giver as well, and this is where a unique group of gift-givers excel – the handmade gifts.
It’s a common misconception that handmade gifts are low cost or even “cheap.” But nothing could be further from the truth. When someone takes the time to buy/collect supplies and craft an item specifically for a loved one, that takes a personal investment that simply cannot be duplicated in an item purchased from a store. Not to say that bought items aren’t special because, of course, they can also be cherished. But there is something about a handmade gift that endures beyond its time and even beyond the item itself. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture, while not the most attractive, are special to me simply because my great-grandfather made them. And as of the last several years, they are also a lasting memory as the man himself is no longer with me. So what is it about a handmade item that gives it that lasting power? The explanation is more profound than one might first think.
In 1992 Gary Chapman released his book The Five Love Languages. He identifies five areas where people express their love for others as well as how they feel the most loved. These areas include Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch. As a quick review, Acts of Service translate to doing nice things for a person, like washing their dishes or mowing the lawn. Words of Affirmation simply mean a person likes to be told how much they matter. Quality time can mean a date or any one-on-one time. My eight-year-old daughter feels most loved when we spend time together, so a trip alone with her to the grocery store can help her feel connected and loved. Receiving Gifts doesn’t mean that a person is greedy – just that a gift, no matter how small, is a gesture that means more than just the item itself. My sister showed her love to her friends every year as a child by spending her birthday money on Christmas gifts for them. And she is so very proud when she knows she has found THE perfect gift for someone. And Physical Touch doesn’t have to be overly dramatic. It could be as simple as hand holding. My six year old son feels loved if we are sitting beside one another while watching a movie. As long as some knee or foot is touching me, he feels loved. And while it is possible that some gestures can fall across multiple areas, I can only think of one thing that combines all five.
A handmade gift is unique in that it covers multiple Love Languages. The act of making it with a specific person in mind, the time spent on designing and crafting it, and even a sweet note accompanying it all touch on multiple routes wherein people feel loved. It says over and over again, “I love you.” A person made this item specifically for that person, spent time on it, made it with their own touch, gave it freely to that person, and it often includes an explanation or sweet note with it. A handmade gift has the potential to say “I love you” in all five Love Languages. And in that, it is no small feat.
So if you are lucky enough to receive a handmade gift this holiday season, take a moment and realize exactly what you have been given. It isn’t a mere item or token. It certainly isn’t cheap. It is the ultimate expression of what it means to love another person from every conceivable angle. Honor the handmade gift for it was made with love.
For the most part, my quilting hobby is fun, especially the t-shirt quilt commissions. I love the look on someone’s face (usually a sneaky mom who smuggled shirts to me) when they see those shirts made into a quilt their senior will take to college. But sometimes the quilt commissions can take a more somber tone. Sometimes I’m tasked with a commission to make a memory quilt from clothes from a loved one that has passed on. I’ve made memory quilts from clothes of both deceased younger and older folks, and it’s a profound task, preserving memories of someone else’s loved one.
My first t-shirt quilts were from my father’s clothes, and they showed me the healing power of a memory quilt. My father died unexpectedly, and I had a lot of anger mixed in with my grief. It was an anger that I didn’t know what to do with, and I felt powerless to confront. And then my grandmother told me I’d be making four t-shirt quilts for myself, her, and my two other sisters. And it was in the making of these that I found a degree of peace and finally felt like I could say goodbye. Clothes are probably the hardest part of a loved one to reliquish. We remember what they looked like in them, which ones they favored, and they even smell like that person for a long time afterwards.
I was nervous when I made a memory quilt for someone outside of my own family. It was for a young man who had passed away from cancer. I remember gulping a bit as I finished up the design process and was ready to make those initial cuts into the shirts. Again, the idea of preserving those memories for someone else is daunting. So I prayed. I placed my hand on the bags of clothes and prayed for guidance, peace for the grieving family, and the ability to do that person’s memory justice. Whenever I have a quilt that has a similar back story, I take the time to pray beforehand, asking for the same guidance.
I thought I would share that prayer with you all in case you find yourself faced with a similar challenge. Feel free to use, adjust, or change as needed.
“Heavenly Father, I pray your guidance as I make this quilt. Please guide my hands that I may do justice to this person’s memory. May this quilt bring their family comfort in their grief and remind them of more joyful times. In your name I pray, amen.”
When making quilts, you always have fabric scraps left over, and for the nice fabric quilters will always find a way to use every crumb of fabric. In fact, there are even quilts called “crumb quilts” that feature all the little tidbits of fabric. I’m not much of a crumb quilt person, and I certainly don’t have the storage room for them. I do have a small 2 1/2″ square collection building up, though.
When it comes to t-shirt quilts, though, the scraps issue takes on a whole other meaning. Most t-shirt quilt blocks feature less than half of the fabric actually used in the shirt, and jersey knit doesn’t make for a nice scrap collection. So what to do with all those fabric scraps?!
I cannot begin to gush enough about this organization or the tireless people who dedicate their time and energy to these precious animals. Every Saturday you can find them, as well as other groups, stationed outside or inside Petco and PetSmart, trying to find families to adopt animals. And they are so patient and sweet. If the dog/cat damages their home, the costs come out of their own pockets. The time they spend trying to socialize and rehabilitate some of the more traumatized animals is positively angelic. Not to mention they’re always on hand to attend to the medical needs of neglected and injured animals. And they aren’t just trying to find any home for these animals. They’re trying to find the RIGHT home. They list the ideal circumstances for each animal to make sure both animal and owner are happy.
I sent out a call a while back asking friends if they had any thicker/non-quilting fabric that they wished to get rid of. The thicker fabric does better in the long run as beds – more durable. I’m proud to say several answered the call, and I have a ridiculous amount of fabric on hand specifically for dog/cat beds.
I tear the leftover t-shirt fabric into smaller pieces. There’s also leftover batting strips too small to salvage as well as quilting fabric way too small to use (for me, anyway). Then I’ll turn on a movie and stuff those scraps into the squares I’ve prepped, sewing the opening shut by hand. I can’t stuff them too full, though, or they won’t fit inside the crates.
It’s a small effort on my part, but the knowledge that maybe I’ve helped out the foster parents in some way makes me happy. They do so much and deserve so much more. We have two cats and a dog. All three are connected to this organization in some way.
Eleanor was part of a box of cats that was abandoned in front of PetCo one Saturday morning before adoptions started. Apparently a hearse drove up, dumped off a box of black and white cats, and drove off. The adoption folks couldn’t take them with their own animals because the cats weren’t vetted up, etc. But because they are the loving people that they are, they promised that anyone who took home one of the hearse cats would have the cat’s first round of shots and the spay/neuter paid for.
If I have cash on me and pass by that store on a Saturday morning (which is a lot considering it’s right beside JoAnn’s), I always try to donate something. One morning I went and saw a little orange cat. He twisted, turned, and did the “buy me” dance, licked my finger, and won my heart. I went home and spoke with my husband and roommate, and we all agreed Eleanor needed a friend. So in comes Jordan!
The last family member to join us is Diana (the Wonder Dog). She came after a lot of thought and consideration. We went back and forth for about two weeks when I saw a sponsored ad for her asking why no one had adopted her yet. I put in an application about an hour later, and the foster mom met me on Monday to take her home for a week trial. She’s been a blessing ever since. An added bonus is that she likes to slide down playground slides!
If you’re considering getting a pet for your family, I cannot recommend adopting from the Society of Humane Friends enough!
The name comes from those times when you’re in the middle of a project and your bobbin runs out. You have to pause what you’re doing and reload. While you do that, you have a moment to just sit and reflect. This is a collection of musings and reflections on life’s moments. Some are quilting related, and some are not. This entry was featured on a previous blog of mine years ago.
So I grew up in the South, deep South, and one of the core understandings of Southern culture is to wave, nod, or otherwise gesture when passing someone or making eye contact. I had the pleasure of living briefly in Alexandria, VA. While I adored it there, there was no small amount of culture shock that I discovered the hard way.
I won’t forget my second day there when I made eye contact with someone, an older man at that, and before I even realized what I’d done, I’d given him a nod – otherwise known as the “Howdo?” nod. It’s a small thing, but the idea behind it is that you’re acknowledging that person. And that man, who back home would have smiled and maybe even chatted, scowled – actually scowled – at me. Well, that put my “Howdo?s” in check pretty fast. I remember feeling so awkward when I would pass someone who seemed, at least to me, to be going out of his/her way to ignore me.
So I returned after a year to see a friend after having moved back to the homeland, and I found myself being reminded of my roots while walking. I was alone on the sidewalk when I spied a man walking towards me a good ways off. Again, where I come from, it’s considered polite to make eye contact and smile or nod. Jeebus, do something to acknowledge that someone is taking up mass in the same vicinity as you! Anyhow, as I watched, the man seemed stiff, and his neck was so rigid that it left no doubt that he knew I was there, walking in his space, breathing in his air. And yet…and yet he was going out of his way to not look at me. It was clearly much more uncomfortable to him than me as I gazed at the scenario, amused. At least I waited until he passed before laughing out loud. Imagine, going through all that just to not look at me. It has gone down as one of the silliest moments I can remember from up there.
How often do we go out of our way to avoid the obvious?
The name comes from those times when you’re in the middle of a project and your bobbin runs out. You have to pause what you’re doing and reload. While you do that, you have a moment to just sit and reflect. This little commentary that follows was from my old blog and details a trip to DragonCon in 2014 when my daughter was 3, almost 4.
I’ve gone to DragonCon on and off over the years. I love it when I go, but I find I can tolerate crowds less and less as I get older. I just don’t want to deal with it much anymore unless I simply have to. If I go to DragonCon at all, it’s now on Sunday. That being said, this year my family is sitting it out, but many of my friends are going. It’s a blast to see what all they’re up to!
One year I met Nichelle Nichols!
Bruce Davidson was super nice.
Of course, the best part of DragonCon, or any Con, is the people-watching, and boy did it not disappoint. One of the first costumes I saw was a lady with a sizable Toothless the Dragon draped across her shoulder, her arm carefully hidden in the neck and operating the head. She was very nice and patient, too, as I held my 3 year old close. Toothless tried to nuzzle my girl, but she was having none of that; she was quite content admiring from afar. She’s her mother’s child after all. And this Toothless-wielding lady wasn’t the only person who took special time with my kid.
It’s easy to relegate cosplayers into a group of people vying for attention, usually in Anime getups, and on one level you’d be right. They do dress to get attention. But on another level you’d be completely wrong. They dress for attention not so much for themselves as for their craft, the costume. And in that craft, they act more like a model for their pride and joy – those costumes they spent weeks, and sometimes months, making and crafting, paying attention to minute details only a select few will truly appreciate. (I have a lot of friends who are in to cosplay, and sometimes I forget I’m not actually part of that subculture. I’m just privy to it.)
Back to my daughter. She didn’t appreciate the Tinkerbell cosplayer’s sewing, makeup, or hair. Her appreciation was of a much more sincere type, and the Tinkerbell cosplayer was worth every ounce of admiration. You see, my daughter didn’t see someone dressed as Tinkerbell. She saw the One, the Actual, The Tinkerbell. And that Tinkerbell was amazing. She squatted down to my daughter’s level, something dangerous considering how many people were rushing past, and spoke with her as Tinkerbell would. My daughter informed her of her own pink wings, and Tinkerbell, without missing a beat, says, “Of, course! Because you’re a flower fairy. I’m a tinker fairy….” My daughter was totally in the know of the world of Pixie Hollow, so she was just enthralled. And me? I was so happy that this lady understood how important this moment was for my daughter. She could have just paused for a quick picture and gone on with her day, and my daughter would have been happy at that. But no, she took the time to talk and make the moment real for a child she didn’t know. I don’t know how many times I mouthed “thank you” to her as she chatted, but I still think it wasn’t quite enough.
And most of the cosplayers my daughter was brave enough to approach were just like this. Even a younger girl, around 8 years old I guess, dressed as Princess Unikitty, was patient and returned the hug my daughter gave her. A group recreating the Pixie Hollow fairies actually came back to their spot when they saw my daughter standing timidly at the edge of the crowd, too shy to walk up. They waited and waved to her, and she finally drafted another friend of mine to take her to them. (What? Mom’s too lame to go with you to Pixie Hollow?) They all took their roles seriously in that they knew how much it would mean to the little ones there, wading through thousands of people, to see them.
So in a way, I suppose this is a thank you letter to the wonderful cosplayers at DragonCon. Thank you for your craft, thank you for your patience, and thank you for making my daughter’s favorite characters come to life for her.
**So this post is easily my most popular. I’m glad to see it. But, shameless plug here, if you guys appreciate my writing, check out the actual reason for this site – my quilt art. There’s a shop and link to my Etsy store. Just saying. Anyhow – enjoy the analysis!
As mentioned before, in my real life I’m a literature teacher at a high school. If you’ll permit me to exercise my non-quilting skills, I’ll demonstrate what I do on a daily basis in my classroom.
I recently took my kids to see Incredibles 2 (okay, let’s be honest – I took myself, the kids were just along for the ride!) Like many Pixar films, there was a short film prior. These are really cute and usually saturated with metaphors and rife with literary analysis, and this movie was no different. It had a little film titled “Bao”, directed by Domee Shi. Some friends of mine, and other rando folks on the internet, expressed confusion and concern over it. As a literature teacher, I “got it”, so I figured I’d share this little analysis with you all.
The Folklore Connection
So there are several things going on in the background of this little film that help with sorting it all out. For starters, this is a nice little nod to the Eastern folklore story of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” (It goes by other variations of that name as well.) Think about it as a sort of Eastern version of “Thumbelina” or even “Pinocchio”, and you’ll follow along just fine. At its heart, it’s the story about a lonely bamboo cutter and his wife who have no children and desperately wish for one. One day while out on the job, the bamboo cutter’s wish is granted in the form of a small, very small, baby who comes from a bamboo stalk. The story goes on from there, but it’s the origin of the baby that’s important for this connection. The baby was created out of a desperate wish for companionship, for a child specifically, to love and raise. At the opening of “Bao”, we see a couple, older, who are having a quiet dinner. The husband doesn’t say much/anything, and we’re led to believe that the woman’s wish is possibly the result of loneliness in marriage.
Yes, it’s a bit of a shock when she bites into that last dumpling/bao and it begins to cry like a baby. We watch in surprise along with the lady as the dumpling becomes sentient and acts just as a baby would. Where we part ways with the woman is that she accepts the presence of the dumpling child and basically rolls with it.
Now comes the second part of the background knowledge you’ll need. Congratulations! You’ve just been exposed to [possibly] your first experience of a genre known as “magical realism”. It’s a neat genre, one of my favorites actually, where the world seems normal and folks generally go by established social norms; except when something “magical” happens they just roll with it. Examples of this genre range from the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude, all the way to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. More popular cultural examples are found all throughout the films released by Studio Ghibli and its head, Hayao Miyazaki. Coincidentally, they also released Princess Kaguya, a version of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.”
So here’s what I mean. In Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, a character actually, literally ascends to Heaven. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. She straight up GOES Straight Up. And while we normal folks in our realm would be confused and concerned about the logistics and get caught up in the details, the normal folks in the novel take careful note of the event and then go on with their day with a sort of “guess it figures” attitude. In Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro, the kids run to the dad, claiming the house is haunted. His only response is to comment something along the lines of “Neat! I’ve always wanted to live in a haunted house!” No one questions or dismisses the kids’ claims. They believe and embrace them.
So when the little dumpling turns sentient and the woman rolls with it instead of getting caught up in the “why” and “how” of it all, the story crosses over from the realm of the normal and is now operating by the magical realism rules.
Once the scenario is established and we’ve, hopefully, accepted the situation that this woman is now a “mother” to this little dumpling child, we follow her struggles. This isn’t a normal child. It’s easily damaged, and she’s fought long and hard to bring it up as best as she can. While strange, we can compare her joys and its growth and fears of the outside world to our own if we are parents. I’m a mother of two, and the idea of something happening to my two children is enough to change my breathing and blood pressure immediately.
So we learn to understand her concerns, but we also see the little dumpling child pulling away. We see it going through the typical “phases” of childhood and adolescence. Again, we can compare these scenes to our own experiences as either parent or child – or both!
Tugging through this all is the one thought “how long can she keep this up?”
Food as a love language symbolism
It’s where these struggles reach their peak that we see how big a role food actually plays in this film. It wasn’t a coincidence that the film begins with a meal. As Professor Thomas C. Foster points out in his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, meals are symbolic of relationships and indicative of how close people are. Want to see how healthy a family really is? Watch them when they sit down to a meal together. It’s very telling. For a quick reference examine EVERY DINNER SCENE IN THE INCREDIBLES MOVIES. BOTH OF THEM.
So the film opens with a meal between two people with no conversation or eye contact. It’s an easy sell for us as the audience that the woman probably feels lonely. As strange as the device of the dumpling child would be, it’s a nice symbolic tie-in that it comes after the husband has left the table and the last piece of food is being eaten by the woman that the dumpling child manifests. It arrives at the height of her loneliness and her “love language” being unrequited or appreciated. If the phrase “love language” is confusing, here’s what I mean.
We also see the big scene where, in a last effort to reach her grumpy, petulant dumpling child, she cooks the most delicious-looking meal that animation has EVER produced! I mean I wanted to go out to the nearest Chinese restaurant after that scene and dig in! You can see the love and care she takes to ensure this meal is “perfect”. And her dumpling child rejects it and leaves her alone in the room. She then proceeds to eat the entire meal by herself. On the surface, it looks like she’s being petty and doesn’t want to give her dumpling child the satisfaction of leftovers, but symbolically she’s taking back her love because it was rejected. She can’t take it anymore and tries to “self-love” as she consumes this perfect meal by herself. Notice that the husband is no longer shown in these parts because it has ceased to be about him a long time ago. This is about her and her need for affection.
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme
After that rejected food offering, the film reaches its climax. The dumpling child returns home with a girlfriend. In fact, he indicates he’s leaving the home to be with her. Here the woman reaches her most frantic state of mind. After all that she’s done to keep him safe. All that she’s provided. All the love she’s invested. She cannot bear to see him leave, so she pulls back – literally. She does physically what I can only guess every mother has done emotionally when seeing her son “replace” her in her mind. We know she can’t actually stop him. And she probably knows that, even if she were to miraculously manage to keep him with her physically, the emotional connection has changed. In her mind, it’s gone.
And here’s where most people, rightfully so, were “disturbed”. (I use the word I’ve seen used to describe this scene by others online.) She eats it. She eats the dumpling child in a final effort to keep it from leaving her. Of course her regret is immediate because she’s still lost the dumpling child. In her fervor to keep it from leaving her, she’s destroyed any chance of a relationship.
And it’s here that the story also reaches its zenith of symbolism.
Parents know that our kids aren’t ours to keep indefinitely. They will pull away and leave our care and safety at some point. And the harder we try to control that and fight it the harder the push back is. And in her efforts to put off that separation she destroyed everything, including the one she loved most. The story acts as a warning against that consuming love that won’t admit growth and separation. It is destructive and will only end in tears and further loneliness and alienation.
Isn’t This Just Empty Nest Syndrome?
I’ve seen some claim the film is simply about “empty nest syndrome”. Well, kinda. But that seems simplistic and doesn’t quite do justice to the complexity of this story. Empty Nest Syndrome focuses on the separation of the parent and child. “Bao” is much deeper than this. It’s about that love between a mother and her child and where the line gets crossed between love that is nurturing to love that is destructive. It’s about that fear parents have of no longer being relevant in their child’s life. It’s about being possibly replaced.
Wait, there’s a son?!
And here we see her, lying on her bed in the dark, crying continuously. She’s admittedly much worse off than she was at the beginning of the film. We see the long-absent husband looking in on her with concern. And then the big reveal happens. Her human son walks in, looking adorably like a little dumpling himself. This makes it easy to understand why we’re only just now seeing him. The woman was crying both over her dumpling child’s fate AND the fact that she’s repeated the same mistake again. Held on too hard again. Severed that bond because it couldn’t be all hers… again. Her loneliness that we saw in the opening scene wasn’t from her marriage but from her vacant role as mother.
Here’s where it gets sweet. The son gets pushed in by the dad in a final attempt at reconciliation. And what does the son do to shorten the distance between himself and his mother? He speaks her love language and offers her food. And he joins her in this little “communion” and eats as well. They sit on the bed, side-by-side, and just eat. No words are necessary; they’re already speaking. He understands her much better than she realized. He was listening after all.
From this small moment, they begin again. Only this time the significant other is invited in to the relationship, and the mother assumes the role of mentor instead of “mother.” After all, her motherly instincts before revolved around protection. As a mentor, her role changes, and so do the dynamics. The wife is welcomed and included. Not only that, but she excels!
The food symbolism changes from the sitting down and eating together to the preparation of the meal itself. The mother is no longer simply offering up her love language of food for others to consume. Now she is enabling others to also express themselves in that same medium, and they create the meal together. And as such, she is no longer in fear of being irrelevant or unnecessary in her son’s life. She is important and feels it. And the best part is now her child/children have a way to speak her own love language to her. She is now open to receiving love in addition to offering it.
Empty bobbins are moments in life where we pause and reflect. It’s like when your bobbin runs out in the middle of a project, and you have to pause everything you’re doing to reload. Here’s one such reflective moment. This is a moment from a couple of weeks ago when my son went to soccer camp.
So my son, five, played one season of soccer a couple of years ago he liked it but seemed distracted. Most of the time he just ran around the back part of the group and blended in with the herd. After that we didn’t hear about soccer again until this past school year. Well during the week there was just too much going on, so we agreed that a week soccer camp, blessedly at an indoor facility, would be a good start to get back into the game.
Well he loved it. He was tired, sweaty, and pleased as punch. I was happy to see he was running and keeping up with the other kids. As he walked back to the car with me, he was telling me about his friend whom he’d pointed out earlier. I asked, “What was her name?” He thought, shrugged, and casually said, “I don’t know.” And then he went on telling me the games they played in camp and such. I laughed at the fact that he didn’t even know the name of his so-called “friend”.
Well a couple of days later, as we were walking back to the car again, he pointed at a couple of little boys and said, “those are my friends, too!” They rolled down the window and waved to him. Once more I asked, “Well, what are their names?” He looked off and muttered, “I don’t know.” It didn’t even phase him.
My first impulse was to laugh, but I stopped short because his face was serious as his thoughts were elsewhere. And here I realized the biggest difference between myself and my little boy’s outlook – and as a result the outlooks of children versus adults. He didn’t need to know their names to determine they were friends.
As adults, we often ask all about a person to determine how good of a friend that person will be. We need to know how much we have in common, make connections, and be able to see part of ourselves in that person in order to bond. But for my son and his friends, they didn’t need to know all that. They only needed to know that this person wanted to be a friend. So much so that they forgot to ask about the most basic information – a name. That simple bond made me smile and consider how we, as adults, would be better off if we could remember that same rule.
What if the fact that we wanted to be friends was enough of a basis for a friendship?
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