Mondays are for dreaming: The Angel Tree

This post was originally published last December, before I started sharing Monday Dreaming links and well before my site redesign. Since much about it fit my mood this Monday,  I decided to update it for this year and share it again.  Hope you enjoy!

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We decorated our Christmas tree this weekend and before it tipped over leaving a pool of water and shattered glass in its wake (miraculously only two ornaments were irredeemably smashed) both of the boys remarked on the large number of angels that don its branches. And it’s true. I have an inordinate love of angels from fat naked cherubs to Victorian damsels dressed in red velvet and feathery wings to their more ethereal, shimmering cousins in gauze and sparkles.

I have of course seen many wonderful angels in my travels (the Uffizi alone is home to untold numbers), but a sentimental favorite place to visit them is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

My mother took me to the Metropolitan Museum a number of times, starting when I was about Tommy’s age. She would dangle a visit to the Egyptian wing in front of my nose while coaxing me to look at paintings. Once we were in a gallery she would ask me to look carefully at every picture. “What do you like about it?” she would ask. “What colors do you see? What shapes? Why do you think the artist painted the shadow here, the light there? What secrets is that woman hiding?” And she would tell me stories about the artists, explaining who was friends with whom and why he painted pictures of the same church over and over again.

I remember her laughing at paintings that struck her fancy, a laugh of such pure delight that I would laugh too as if I understood, while peering at a still life with a dead chicken at its center or a portrait of a woman holding a lapdog or a picture of a resigned-looking Mary receiving the word of her miracle from an angel. As a child I didn’t get what would possibly be funny in Mary’s expression (Who me? You’ve got to be kidding!) although now that I am a mother myself, and know the combination of joy and terror that accompanies a positive pregnancy test, her air of patient exasperation makes me smile too.

One of the last visits I paid to the museum with my mother before she died was at the holidays. We walked all the way up Fifth Avenue from Grand Central Station, a distance of about forty blocks. By the time we arrived we were windblown and tired and in need of refreshment (I’m sure I was also snappish and annoyed with her as I tended to get when she did things like insist that we walk all that way). I let her guide me and she pulled us in through the busy lobby, into the dim medieval sculpture gallery at the heart of the museum.

Ah yes, how could I have forgotten the angel tree? Any tiredness or irritation was instantly gone as I gazed up at the impossible beauty of those angels draped in satin. The tree was gorgeously illuminated against a delicate screen, the angels ready for flight. A huge nativity scene was spread out at the bottom. It was as if every Renaissance painting in the museum had come suddenly to life and converged on this one sacred space.

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This past weekend as we eventually righted and stabilized our tree and cleaned up the mess I thought about that visit and about my mother who loved Christmas and also tended to suffer from disasters big and small.  While we were completing our second, more successful round of tree trimming, Teddy said, “It’s OK that your mom isn’t here to help us Mommy. Because she’s an angel. She’s watching us from heaven.” It is of course my fondest hope that he is right. But I wish that she could be here to show them the earthly angels on their first visit to the Met, perhaps on her birthday. She would be turning 67 next Sunday.

Although she isn’t here, I do look forward to the day when I will walk into that hall with my boys and see that magical tree covered with angels, the nativity scene at the bottom like the true Christmas gift it is. Then, maybe, they will understand why I love angels so dearly.

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And maybe they will connect that love with the watercolor of an angel that their grandmother painted, a painting that watched over both of them while they slept as babies. Maybe they will see a bit of her, the woman they never knew.

If you’re looking for a way to be an angel for others this holiday season, please visit the Passports With Purpose site where we have surpassed our goal of $13,000 for a school in Cambodia and are now working to raise even more money to fund things like clean water and a school nurse. All funds raised go directly to American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), which is a non-profit 501(c)3 registered in the United States; this organization will oversee all aspects of building the school. Ten dollars buys you a chance to win $150 to spend on photographs at Shutterfly or one of many other wonderful prizes. Chance to win make wonderful holiday gifts.

What are you dreaming of on this Monday? Please feel free to share a link below, making sure you link directly to your post, not your site’s homepage and that you link back to this post. Questions? See About Monday Dreaming.

Photo of Angel Tree courtesy of kamalaboulhosn via Flickr.

Photo of nativity scene courtesy of Genista via Flickr.

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Reader Responses

9 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Mara, what a lovely tribute to your mother. She left you with such a gift — an appreciation of art which you are passing on to your own children. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I learned to love art from my own mother, too. She really knows very little about the academics of art, but she knows what is good and, like your mother, patiently taught me how to look, to see, and to love.

    I hope you get to take your children to the Met sometime soon!

  2. What a good mom you have, and what a good mom you are. I’m so aware of the lasting impact we have on our children. They listen to us, remember, and believe. That is the most breathtaking part of parenting to me.

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit the Met. I love getting their catalogs and end up with more of those shoe ornaments each year (I finally put them all on a separate “shoe tree” this year!).
    Thanks for the virtual visit.

  4. So moving to read about your treks to the Met with your mom! I worked at the Met for two years when I was in college and enjoyed visiting the tree on my lunch breaks during the holiday season!

    We’ve taken the boys to the Met a few times now and they really enjoy it. Amazingly, I can still very easily find my way around after 20 years. Eli wants to see a Jackson Pollock? No problem, head straight through the Rockefeller Wing. Temple of Dendur? This way, please!

    Children under 12 are free at the Met, by the way. And remember that the donation for grown ups is a “suggested” level, so if you are feeling broke, give what you can.

  5. Angela and Jamie – thank you so much for your kind words.

    Dominique, I’d love to see a photo of your “shoe tree”!

    Hillary – thank you for the excellent pointers. In my younger days I often did cheap out at the Met, although now that grad school is behind me I try to give the suggested amount – I’m sure they could use it!

  6. What a sweet post…I love the Met, and I’m sorry to hear your mom never got to meet your boys. She obviously died way too young. A good reminder to us all to cherish our relationships with loved ones.
    .-= Megan Regnerus´s last blog ..why frigid weather and turkey leftovers don’t mix =-.

  7. Lovely post, Mara. ;-)
    .-= Shelly (Travels with Baby)´s last blog ..FlyeBaby review and giveaway! =-.

  8. I like the way you describe how your mother interacted with you at the Met, engaging you by asking about colors, shapes, and stories behind the paintings. These sound like wonderful memories, thanks for sharing the photographs and story.
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Sea Turtles With Kids =-.

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