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The Pottery Wheel of Parenting

Posted Apr 18 2013 7:00am

Hands Working on Ceramic Piece

Spring reminds me of the potter’s wheel.

 In my childhood neighborhood, one family built a potter’s studio.  Basement converted to artist’s space, part of the yard co-opted, grass removed, gravel laid down.  A kiln blossomed.

It all intrigued me.  Especially the exotic oven- building enough heat to transform clay and paint to art with glaze, then taking days to cool.  Waiting impatiently to see the glowing change- or the shattered shards.

It also transformed my vision of the family matriarch.  She was a formidable woman.  Clearly In Charge.  Yet with her hands she crafted elegant, delicate, even whimsical pieces.  Through her fingers we glimpsed the soul within.  Not everything, my elementary school mind recognized, is as straightforward as it seems on the surface.

One spring she allowed us in.  Not just to observe her world, but to create in it.  Running home from the school bus, haphazardly embracing my own mother, inhaling a snack, promising to behave, then skipping full tilt down the giant bended hill to her house I could hardly contain my excitement.

We began with snakes, pinched pots, coiled cups.

Then the wheel.

Simple bowls.  Crafted from clay.  Water on fingers to keep the work smooth and flowing.  Foot on the pedal to control spin and speed.

I was reminded of this mother and her clay poetry this morning while in the stillness I read Rumi:

                  “He gave me a bowl, and I saw.

                   The soul has this  shape.

                  …help me now,

                  being in the middle of being

                  partly in myself, and partly outside.”


Bowls.  Built to contain, to hold, and yet to be open.  To be in balance. 

An image for parenthood.  We are the walls of boundaries and the wide-open spaces for experiences.  We define hold and nurture, yet encourage flight.  We are solid base, open vase.  And we are dynamic in our construction.  Sometimes we need the height of the sides to be taller, the diameter of the base to be narrower- out children need to be held tighter with love, with expectations, with care to ensure critical learning.  Other times we relax, expanding the base and lowering the edges- all to encourage exploration.

We are the bowls.  And our children are their own clay.  Guide, but do not prescribe.  Teach, but do not punish.  Mentor, but do not force.  For if we parent with too heavy a hand on their wheel, we twist in a bubble or push a wall too thin.  And they emerge from the oven shattered, no longer a unique bowl of their own construction.

What shapes are your children forming?  What glaze colors do they adorn? I’d love to know.  Keep me posted. 

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