Sandle Candle Lessons from my Mother

While burning a candle today I had a flashback of my mother, my adoptive mother, that took me back to a happy time in my childhood—as I understood it.  Something else was going  on I was unaware of back then. As an adult and mother now, I experience déjà vu in how I handle the moments when I am in a funk—and my daughter picks up on it.

I have a choice as a parent to be honest or to masquerade differently that nothing is wrong—when in fact I am having a crisis of Self. I have a choice to be honest when asked, “Mom, is something wrong?” as well as the opportunity to choose true words wisely as I stay vulnerable and make the moment a teaching moment. My philosophy is to be gently truthful and assure her that this mood too shall pass. I tell her there is strength in vulnerability. She gets it and follows my model and I watch her sense of herself benefit in ways I know she doesn’t fully understand yet.

My primary goal as a parent, who loves her child, just because, is to support her becoming a fully independent and autonomous being herself—who has a solid sense of Self all her life. So far, so good, I am told by friends and loved ones who know us both well.

I could say my upbringing was challenging for so many reasons and my childhood was not my own. I wanted more than anything to make my parents happy, even though I never could.

In fact, it is only recently that I feel my life might “some day” be my own. The some day I see before me is the day my daughter is independent, fully autonomous and a creative and self-expressed individual. Until that day, I embrace my role as her mother and model as courageously as I can; that being to develop one’s sense of self and nurture it always. And though she may come home to roost, ask for counsel, or simply seek loving attention and affection, she will do so consciously and out of direct motivation and never out of obligation or a sense of she owes me. She owes me nothing as I see it but to become herself. She has taught me more than I ever imagined motherhood would and we are only 12 years into it.

The pleasant flashback of my own topsy turvy childhood was a memory of making sand candles at Carmel Beach in Carmel, CA. We’d come from Salinas where we lived with wax, coffee cans, colored wax, charcoal, kindling, and a fried chicken picnic to have on army blankets. Carmel Beach had sand that was white like sugar but not too fine. It was a childhood haunt of my sister and mother on the rare sunny days we experienced;  regardless of the season on those sunny days by end of day we’d have to bundle up more and huddled closer around a fire pit. The hot dogs roasted on wire hangers and the s’mores that followed for dessert are the comfort of comfort foods.

My adoptive mother herself had not had the easiest life. For all of her apparent strength and resolve to be independent, she felt constantly challenged. She had long periods of appearing to feel good about herself and then came the crashes that unbeknownst to us kids, put her in the psych wards at the nearby hospital. We’d be told we were going to spend time with relatives while mom got better–for she had gotten sick. We simply accepted what we were told at face value and would go to live temporarily with aunts and grandparents. It was during these times, I learned to be especially adjustable.

My flashback is playing out in 3-D as I am holding a sliver of purple wax over an orange flame and watching drips land back in my wish candle.

“I see my nine year old self, my seven year old sister and my mother with firelight in her big brown eyes. On this night as the sun set and the skyline became a blaze of tequila orange and peach and deep indigo, we were melting paraffin and colored wax in to Yuban Coffee cans saved especially for this craft-making adventure.

Three colors of hot wax were being prepared and sitting in hot coals that my mother was prepared to lift and pour at just the right moment. We dug and shaped bowls in the sand by pouring buckets of sea water into clean dry sand on the slope we occupied. We did this as the wax mixture was melted into a smooth and lump free liquid; ready to pour into the sand molds. We had wicks trimmed and tied to a metal base ready to hold in place as mom poured hot wax in the sand molds. We were told we would need to be patient and hold the wicks steady while the wax cooled enough for mom to then pour on the next layer of color.. My little sister and I squatted in the sand each with wicks in hand, ready and excited. It was growing chilly about us but we didn’t care. We knew we’d have to wait till the wax was cooled to the core to pull the candles out of the sand. We had all the patience in the world that night and mom was in a very good space. That night we got home as late as 11pm but we had tri-colored candles that were shaped like upside down clouds, and sticky fingers and marshmallow in our long blonde hair.”

Melting purple wax bits into a candle I use to make wishes triggered this memory in vivid detail but why? What am I to take away from this instant replay and apply to my own journey of self-discovery?

My mother, was a troubled woman who did her best to camouflage how uncertain of her self she was. She played her roles as well as she could for as long as she could–perhaps even feeling good about herself for it? At what cost? She always eventually crashed; like we all will do when we are motivated to perform for others.

Sometimes I get fed up with my own self and hit a wall of tears because I know if I am to truly be content I must live my life proactively. Ideally, I need nothing from others to feel good about myself. All the while knowing my life will be spent relating to the people in my life and the environment I interact with.

Most days I am confidently living a life of my choosing, with less and less attachment to my roots, my history, my early childhood decisions. On the days I stumble and trip again over my stories of origin, I do my best to remind myself that I determine what I feel independent of others. I remember my own mother on her best days and have gratitude that I have more happy days than anxious ones.

Living is an awfully big adventure when we can maintain a Sense of Self that honors all experience and learn from it. If there was one thing my mother did do well it was to try to live a life of her creation and while she may have not entirely succeeded, she instilled in me an aspiration to do so in my own life and with my daughter–that resembles making candles in the sand.

Patience to light a fire. Patience to watch the wax melt and mix in the color. Patience to dig the shape in the sand. Patience to hold the wick while the colored wax of choice is poured and then cools.

So much patience and awareness is necessary if the multi-layered final product is to be aesthetically pleasing, balanced and integrated from start to finish, so that the wick when trimmed burns even. It is in the course of making the candle I experience a strong and patient mother doing her best to create a sacred family moment. And for all her Achilles moments when she did not have a strong enough sense of self to stay buoyant emotionally, she managed somehow to pass on a strength that allows me to restore my sense of self in ways she never did or could. Parenting allows me to pass on the gift at an amplified level that is healing both the past and the present and undoubtedly the future.


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