In her book, Letter to my Daughter, Maya Angelou writes about a dinner party she attended on her first visit to Sengal at the home of a famous actress. As Angelou observed her opulent surroundings and the elegant guests milling about, she noted they were all—every single one of them—carefully avoiding the luxurious Persian rug so beautifully laid out in the middle of the floor. Not one person walked or stood on it.
Angelou became appalled for her fellow guests. She could not believe her hostess could be so discourteous as to place an object above her guests’ comfort and convenience. Angelou (never the wallflower) acted. She stepped right onto that rug and proudly “walked back and forth several times.” The guests, who were “bunched up on the sidelines, smiled at her weakly.” Angelou confidently smiled back, chin held high, hoping they might also be “encouraged to admit that rugs were to be walked on.”
Angelou engaged in a conversation with a fellow writer and barely noticed the servants who quickly came out and quietly removed the rug from the floor, replacing it with yet another exquisite floor covering. The maids then covered this new rug with a sparkling array of place settings and a dazzling display of food and wine.
A sick realization crashed down on Angelou. She had been proudly strutting all over their hostess’ table cloth!
Angelou was so horrified she could barely eat. But out of this embarrassment was born a bit of wisdom that she graciously imparts to us:
"In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons.”
This got me thinking. My sons are twelve-year-old boys. I am a 42-year-old woman. If ever two cultures are separated by a vast divide, it is ours. I can tell you with great certainty that not much is familiar as I attempt to navigate their tween world.
Have I ever assumed their table cloth was a rug, and walked all over it to show them what I knew to be right?
We are all busy weaving our own, unique creations to be laid out and viewed, admired and judged, appreciated and enjoyed. My own fabric contains parts that are simply glorious and sections that are sloppy and unsightly. Those areas have threads sticking out and ragged edges and great big gaping holes. They were rushed, fumbled, lazily constructed. But it’s not finished yet, so I don’t worry.
I know my boys are busy working their own looms. I watch them and I see when stitches are crooked or colors are bleeding. I know when patterns are all wrong, turned askew, applied with incorrect proportions. And I know they’ll have to go back and fix them at some point. As a parent I want to step in with corrections, and many times I must … that is my job, right? But if I hang back a minute to see what’s trailing behind them, I see a beautiful, glittering work of art that has somehow come together perfectly. Just the way it was meant to, I suspect.
I think maybe I shouldn’t fret so much when my boys drop a stitch or two. (Are we getting tired of this analogy yet?) Now that they’re getting older, I know I should give them more freedom. What I see as mistakes could be expressions of who they are, or at the very least a documentation of their journey, all of it, the fabulous and the flawed, in full Technicolor triumph. Who am I to stomp across their designs?