As I watched her, my mind flashed to another little girl. I saw the scene in slow motion, hazy, and sun-flared. I could see myself, only slightly older-- maybe six or seven years old. My mousy brown hair is a mess of tangles and wisps as I push it from my face. Particles of dust dance in the light from the window. I am reaching, tippy-toed and little arms stretching as far as they’ll go, for my mother’s jewelry box. What treasures she kept in the wondrous box! I find my two favorites: an ebony and ivory stretch bracelet, and a spiral twisted metal bangle, much like the one the little blonde girl was admiring on her mother’s wrist.
I always used to play with my mom’s jewelry. She had such beautiful pieces: a rhinestone necklace and earring set that frequently donned my small earlobes and neck—sometimes worn as a crown, catching my hair in its tiny joints. She also had this funny little brooch of a person with knobs of silver hair. At least, that’s how I remember it.
My mother’s jewelry was magical. It was something that she obviously loved and cared for, and yet, she allowed me, a child, to handle these precious items. When I wore them, I felt important. I felt the responsibility of caring for something that was meaningful and cherished.
I think this must be why children take such care in crafting the macaroni or big plastic beaded necklaces we get every year, gingerly wrapped by tiny fingers, in brown paper decorated with colorful handprints. They are giving us their hearts. They are telling us that they understand us. They are whispering to us, “Mom, this is for you. I created this for you to wear and to love and to cherish, for I will not always be this little, and I know you will always want to carry something of me with you.”
I have countless pieces of jewelry made by the chubby, fumbling, careful fingers of my two babies. I can imagine their faces while they made them: brows furrowed in concentration, tongue sticking out between lips, occasionally holding it up to see what more it needs. And though I don’t always wear these pieces, I do cherish them. Because even now, only a few years after receiving these colorful strands, I know that the days of receiving them have passed. And what a small window of time it was! Now the gifts are mostly store-bought---which I still appreciate because I know how hard-earned the money is. But today at church I saw a few moms wearing the misshapen, imperfect, clashing necklaces, and I felt a pang of sadness as I realized that my kids are growing up.
I keep their handmade jewelry in a special place, never to be thrown out, always to be cherished and loved, because I know that it’s not just jewelry. It is thought and care and work and love and memories and awe and accomplishment and life. It is a part of my kids’ hearts and their longing to want to leave a piece of themselves with me always.
A mother’s jewelry box is not something that can be seen. It hides in her chest, and is made of muscle and arteries and pumps life to her whole body. That’s where her true treasure lies. And wherever my sweet children go and whatever they do, I will echo the poet’s words: “I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).”
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)