My Mother who Art in New York, Lead me to the Museum and Deliver the Inspiration

Mother’s Day. It is not a day I like. Frankly it doesn’t matter that I am a mother. I just want to be a child on this day so badly, it hurts. For one day I want to be stripped of responsibilities, load them onto her to deal with the way you can only do to a mother, and that she would gladly take over relieving you of your troubles, and you would know that she would take care of it all, in a way you never can.

On this day I want to go back to a time to hear my mother’s laughter, see her getting up to dance upon hearing the second note of a tune, make uncanny impressions of people we know, be the life of the party, center of attention whom I so adored and at times was envious of. I miss her oh so much that this day makes me dwell on the longing even more so than any other day except perhaps her birthday.

It also means that I have to call my 96 year-old grandmother, not because I want to, but have to and I dread it greatly. We both end up crying because the woman we have in common is gone, and of course what good can come from a long distance call if each party on their end of the line is crying. So one of us who can manage to talk first, says something insignificant to change the subject as if we really care, and then in less than a minute we hang up. And don’t get me started on trying to understand the reasoning behind why she is alive at that age still, and lucid, when her daughter is gone. Because there is none.

When I look back on my life with my mother in it, what I remember mostly is not from our ordinary days, even though she was an extraordinary woman and we were quite different than anybody around us. I remember mostly days from our travels, as we did so often, because they also happened to be the times I got to spend real closeness with her. Those travels to different cities and the mementos, images and what I learned from those trips are what stay with me the most.

In fact my earliest memory ever is a trip to Paris when I was two years old and of visiting the Louvre and then feeding the pigeons outside Sacré-Coeur. I don’t remember everything about this trip though. If you ask me in all my trips to Paris if I’ve been up to the Eiffel Tower I’d say no, but turns out in films and photographs taken on this trip, I was up there. Apparently my maternal grandparents and uncle were there with us too but I don’t remember. I remember the museum and the basilica with the pigeons outside with my brother and mother.

My grandmother, my late-grandfather who even on an trip wore a suit and tie, my parents, my brother and I

with the Louvre to our Left

Traveling meant going to different cities, visiting art museums, being with my mother in quiet contemplation learning and enjoying art. I still travel a lot and take my child too, and we go to museums. I want him to continue to enjoy art and history and learning about them but I also want to create more memories for him to remember me by one day.

Turns out I’m not the only one who has these types of feelings for trips to the Museum: In his article Calling All Spiritual Pilgrims, Identity in the Museum Experience, John H. Falk, an expert in the study of learning in free-choice settings, museum research and science education, talks about how the museum visitor's own perceptions and reasons for visiting makes the experience of the visit enjoyable and a good learning experience.

Falk divides visitors, in terms of their reasons for visiting, into five:

1) Explorers, who are curiosity-driven, who come to find something that will grab their attention and fuel their love of learning.

2) Facilitators, who are socially motivated, to learn of others in their accompanying social group.

3) Professional/Hobbyists, who have a close connection between the museum content and their hobbies.

4) Experience Seekers, who see the museum as an important destination to say they've been there and done that.

5) Spiritual Pilgrims, who are looking to find a spiritual and restorative experience.

My last trip with my Mother was to New York. On our last day there, we got out of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and then we talked about how it would be like to live in New York. She said perhaps she should buy something there in which I could live and that she can come to stay with me part of the year. We dreamt of how nice that would be. As we moved towards 6th Avenue on W 53rd she wanted to send herself a postcard as she always did from all of her travels. On it she wrote “At age 53, from 53rd Street, with love”. We both left the next day, and it turned out to be the last time I saw her alive.

W 53rd Street with MoMA

Photo: Google Maps

Up until then when we were traveling, we were going to museums as a combination of Explorers—seeing and learning—and Experience Seekers—visiting museums for being important destinations. But from that moment on, with her passing, I also became a Spiritual Pilgrim. While I love all museums in general so much I went back to grad school to study them, I feel the strongest connection with New York and its museums. Each visit to the Met or MoMA takes me back to that last time with her: A time I want to relive and make me feel her essence and connect to her in a way I don’t in any of the places we really lived at.

And it is therefore, a city, neither she nor I lived in, with its museums, makes me feel my Mother close, and makes me want to visit in every chance that I can get. With Love.