Twenty years ago I held my first born son, filling my eyes and heart with his tiny perfection. Since that moment I have been preparing myself to let him go. They say a dying man's life plays out before him, but immediately following the birth of each of our four sons I experienced an overwhelming sense of the rest of their lives: their future accomplishments and fears; the relationships that were waiting to frustrate, teach and delight them; the choices they would make in their unfolding lives and of course their burgeoning independence. This last one, their independence and my responsibility for encouraging it to grow, has brought me both excruciating fear and heart-swelling joy. It is a theme to which I often find myself returning when talking about the trials and pleasures of raising children.
The painting Holding On & Letting Go illustrates my feelings about being a parent, and a child for that matter. Each sphere represents a point in this relationship, time moves on in a clockwise direction, beginning with the orange sphere growing inside the pink one and ending with the pink one being contained inside the orange one. However it is not a simple timeline with one beginning and one ending: the cycle is repeated infinitely during the relationship, on miniscule and enormous scales.
As well as representing the obvious relationship of mother and unborn child, the first sphere refers to the notion of how we hold inside what is important to us and shape it so it can be passed on. When I first planned out the next three spheres showing the cradling, holding and supporting of something small and precious as it grows, I was thinking simply about the developing child. However as I worked on the piece more it also came to depict for me the process of becoming self reliant with the support of someone who has gone before you. Each time one of my children does something independently, be it choosing what to sprinkle on the fairy cakes as a toddler, disagreeing with a friend who has made a bad choice as a teenager or deciding which house to rent as a student, I feel myself letting go a little bit more.
At the bottom of the circle the spheres are of equal size and are holding on to each other. It wasn't until I had completed the painting that I realised that the orange one has the dominant hand position, maybe this is to reassure the pink one in preparation for the next stage - the orange one moves away and is only partly visible in the painting.
When the orange one returns the pink one has reduced in size: as we reach the end of our lives it is often the case that the relationship reverses, as our abilities diminish and we need more support. However, this point in the painting also expresses the idea that we are needed less by our children as they become more independent. After lots of practising together, they can tie their own shoelaces; negotiate confidently and come to agreements; and navigate their way through relationships.
In the last sphere of the cycle the orange one seems to be on its own, but look closely and you will see there is a small pink sphere held there inside. It would be too obvious to explain this last point as simply holding on to the memory of someone after they have died. It also represents the idea that even when we are physically absent from our children we leave our values and beliefs with them- they can keep what is important to them and shape it ready to hand on.
Holding On & Letting Go is currently for sale at the Bury Collective exhibition
(http://www.facebook.com/burycollective) in The Malt Bar at Automatic, Market Street, Bury