Her mama held up traditions like trophies. Shiny? Sure. But they were hollow inside. Or so she thought.
They’d started on her 6th birthday, every March 9. Back then, they would dress up in matching pastels, probably to salute the first sprigs of spring. Snow or shine, just the two of them would drive to State Street Macy’s together. Some years the ride was chatty. Others, not so much.
She’d ditched the pastels by her 16th birthday.
Two decades later, she’d left home, finished grad school on a fancy New York City block, and now sat at a glossy glass desk overlooking the financial district.
Seemed silly to keep coming home for her birthday, but her mother would LITERALLY start talking about it from New Year’s. So she’d found a way to finesse an early flight out to Chicago, then back to NYC by early evening.
Sometimes they’d meet under the clock on State Street, but lately, her mama would greet her from their usual table in the Walnut Room. And every year she’d ask her about the giant mural opposite: what’s his name? It had to start with “M” because he wore a necklace with an “M”, right? Didn’t matter that he was a famous blues musician, didn’t matter that she told her the same name every year. Mama never remembered.
She pressed the elevator button to 7.
Truth was, she couldn't wait for that chicken pot pie. There was no equivalent anywhere… that first crunch of the crust, the aroma, the velvety yumminess- that was home to her.
“Darling! Come, sit, sit right here in your seat! I already ordered for the both of us.”
“We’re not in any hurry, are we mama? I just want to wind down a little.”
“Of course not, darling. But you are catching a flight this evening, and I wanted to extend our day.”
Wasn’t lunch enough?
Her mama’s charm bracelet jingle jangle jingled as she put down her glass. “I thought we might take a stroll to the Art Institute after lunch.”
“Do we really have time for that? I have to be at O Hare by 6.”
“Isn’t there always time for art?”
Outside, she buttoned her coat to the top. She’d forgotten the rhythm of Chicago at the first hint of spring, the bouncy joy, the crackling ratata-ratata of the plastic drum players. She held her mama’s arm under her own.
“Wait.” She snapped a pic. “Perfect for Instagram.”
“I don’t know why you young people care so much about the likes.”
“It’s not just the likes, mom.”
“Are you sure?”
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Today was a Thursday, and the museum was bustling with patrons who took advantage of the free ticket. “Let’s start with the miniatures. You used to LOVE those when you were little.”
“I don’t have that much time, mom.”
“All right then, let’s start with my rooms.”
She knew exactly what that meant. Years ago, her mama had kept a book from the Art Institute always open on the coffee table. When she was a wee thing she’d loved flipping through the thick, sleek pages, making up stories about the paintings. “Is that you and me, mama?” she’d asked.
“No, darling. That’s Two Sisters. By Auguste Renoir.”
“Is it advisable to carry too many oranges on stage, mama?”
“Advisable is an awfully big word for such a young lady.”
Her mother’s arm was tucked under her own as they walked up the gallery stairs.
“Did I used to complain about coming here?”
“Of course you did. But every kid complains when they think they are forced to do stuff. It’s part of being a kid.”
“Did you force me to come to the art museum?”
“Well, you didn’t have much choice, did you? But I wanted you to see the world… I couldn’t take you to Paris, but I could take you to see THIS.”
It was the largest painting in the room.
They zigzagged through the crowd. “What do you see?”
So much. “It’s raining.”
“And everyone’s prepared for the rain, apparently. I never remember my umbrella.”
“Is there any ONE thing you focus on?”
She unraveled herself for a moment, studying.
And there it was.
“Exactly. So much going on, so many faces, raindrops falling from the sky, umbrellas everywhere, slick streets… but the painter decided to add a tiny something to draw our attention- just ONE little dot on the side of a beautiful profile.”
Her mother turned to face her. She cupped her hands in hers.
“Remember this, my daughter, my child, my love. So much whirls around us, it’s so easy for us to be taken away. Please remember to give yourself a moment to step back, allow time to notice the tiny things. Sometimes the tiny things are put in front of you deliberately, like the earring in this painting. Sometimes you have to look for them. But always, I promise, they are worth pondering. Pay attention to the tiny things, for those tiny things can bring you the most joy.”
She folded her mother’s arm back under her own.
She decided to miss her flight.