Musings on language, images and life

Month: June, 2011

A Good Home

My arms are fully extended, straining to reach the keyboard on my laptop. My ample 42-week (or 43-week, depending on which estimated due date you go by) pregnant abdomen has become the focal point of our lives this past month. On a physical level, it’s been a month of strong contractions (prompting several “false alarms”), shooting pains, aches and sleepless nights. It’s also been a month of feeling our daughter kick harder and stronger than ever, responding to our voices and our touch— which makes her parents both proud and relieved on a daily basis. On an emotional level, it’s been a month of mood swings, anxiety, and confusion.

It’s been a month of doubting my body one moment and having the utmost confidence in its abilities the next. There have been difficult decisions, hours spent weighing risks and benefits. I’ve had to redefine what this birth could actually look like, which at times has felt like a process of giving things up. It’s been a month of fears— some of them unfounded, but no less real.

During this transformational time, I’ve also experienced incredible support from friends and family. Words have been spoken that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Last night, slumped down on the couch, head and body aching, I turned to Michael and said “Well, at least we know we’ll have this kid by Friday. I’m nervous, though. I never thought I’d have to be induced. I’ve been so committed to the idea of a natural birth, knowing its the best thing for both the baby and me; I’ve prepared for it for nearly 10 months.”

He offered his usual encouraging words, assuring me that I’d done everything right, that we’d researched every option, that we had amazing medical care and doula support. He grabbed my hand and I turned to find two wet eyes staring into mine. “Thank you for providing such a good home for our daughter for so long. Such a good home.”


Vision and Humility

“OK, I have to tell you guys something,” Mom blurted out sheepishly during dinner the other night. “I was asked to be grand marshal of the Hopkins Raspberry Parade and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.” Her authentically humble announcement was met with a chorus of cheers from my dad, sister, husband and me.

“What do you mean you’re not quite sure what to do?” my sister asked.

“Well, I just don’t think I’m really grand marshal material. I mean, it’s a huge honor, and I’m not really sure why they asked me. There are so many better people for the job, like…” Typically, I would find this type of remark from a woman with a list of accomplishments and awards as long as hers to be nauseating, disingenuous at best. Coming from my mom, however, the statement is both touching and incredibly frustrating because of its purity. My mom’s humility makes her accomplishments even more impressive, and it certainly makes her easy to love, but at the same time I wish she could, just once, say “yes, I deserve this honor” without any caveats or diversion tactics.

My mom is proud of the work she has done for the community, to be sure. However, when asked to do an interview or accept an award or honor, she never fails to deflect attention away from herself and shine the spotlight on anyone else who worked on the project with her. I’ve seen her do this countless times over the years. Even while talking with her family in the privacy of her own home, she mostly focuses on the contributions and accomplishments of others and rarely on her own. She constantly argues that she’s “just doing her job.” Technically, my mom’s full-time job is Family Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator for Hopkins Schools, but over the years she has extended that job description to respond to a variety of social, educational and health needs within the community. In truth, she’s always done much more than “just her job”— and Hopkins is a much better place because of it.

I’ve spent years trying to figure out the source of her genuine humility, a quality that is rarely found in our narcissistic society. The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for my mom, it’s never been about the recognition— it’s always been about the direct outcome of the work. This is what gratifies her. Knowing that a grade school kid from a low-income family will be able to eat lunch at school, that an elderly lady will have her “need to be needed” met through a volunteer opportunity, that an immigrant mother will have the resources to create a better life for her children— these are the “rewards” my mom reaps, the ones she really cares about.

Along with other visionaries in her community, Mom has constructively combated the closed-mindedness and the “I’ve got mine” mentality that pervades suburban America through education and countless hours of philanthropic work. Her commitment to social justice has never waned, in fact it has only grown stronger over the years. It is for this reason that she has received some of the top honors and awards the city has to offer.

After several days, we were finally able to convince her to accept the grand marshal honor as well. She’s still up to her usual antics (Mom: “In the interview for the local paper I’m going to mention that you were Junior Raspberry Princess in 1985-86.” Me: “Really, there’s no need for that, Mom. Keep it focused on you, that’s what people want to hear about.” Mom: “No! And I’m going to talk about when my uncle was the grand marshal and all of the wonderful things he did for the community… oh! And of course I’m going to mention that my baby granddaughter, the first member of the next generation, will be riding in the parade with me!” Me: *sigh*), but she’s already getting into the spirit and has started applying her unique brand of vision and creativity to this scenario as well — let’s just say this afternoon we’re going shopping for props to use during the parade. After all, we’ve got to put on a good show for her many fans.


Thanks to my wonderfully generous family and friends, I’ve had two lovely baby showers as I prepare for the arrival of my first child. At one of the showers, I received a gift that moved me deeply. My mom’s cousin gave me a doll that my grandfather, at that time a young army doctor, brought back for her from France after WWII; a gift for his brother’s first child, his goddaughter. As her beautiful note articulated, the connection between the doll’s provenance, my lifelong interest in French, the fact that my soon-to-be-born daughter, Lyla, will be raised to be bilingual (and hopefully have an interest in “la Francophonie” like her parents), not to mention the fact that the doll had been gifted to her by my deceased grandfather when she was a baby… all signs indicated to her that this was the time to pass the doll along to a new generation.

Blake Family Doll © Jen Westmoreland Bouchard 2011

Lyla will be my beloved 85-year-old grandmother’s first great-grandchild. Likewise, if my grandfather were still alive, he would be excitedly welcoming her as his first great-grandchild. As I opened the doll at the shower and began to understand its significance, several things hit me. During my pregnancy, I’ve often reflected on how fortunate I am to have such an exceptional family— not only in terms of talent and vision, but also because of their bottomless reserve of love and ability to nurture and inspire. It’s easy to imagine what Lyla will learn from my parents, sister, grandmother, extended family and my in-laws. I’m beyond excited to discover what various family members’ traits and interests she will share— as well as some that are all her own, of course. However, until I opened that doll, I hadn’t really thought about the traits that she will inherit from those who have left this world; the lessons they have passed down through us that will, in turn, be passed down to her.

The term provenance is typically used to describe the origin or source of an object. It comes from the French verb provenir (“to come from”).  I first encountered this term in the French context twelve years ago was while I was waiting for a train at Gare Montparnasse in Paris. On the arrivals/departure board, the terminology used is en provenance de, describing where the train is coming from. Seeing this expression for the first time made me think of where the train had stopped before it got to me, and who it had picked up along the way. My imagination ran wild.

We are all on a journey, and, for most of us, our family members are the first people we encounter— if we are lucky, they become our nurturers, our teachers, our guides. They encourage us to be our own people, to strive for our own goals. However, whether we are conscious of it or not, their journeys no doubt impact and inspire our own. Whether living or deceased, they have much to give us. Remembering those who have gone before us and reveling in the presence of those who are still with us has given me much joy in these anticipatory days before I meet my next inspiration, my next teacher— for I know this child will be both of those things and much more.