Most Importantly, Love Your Mother

Claudia Pawlak

2018 - 2019

Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada

In December 2018, while at my childhood home in Kingston Ontario, I was searching through old belongings when I discovered an archive of my mother’s letters, photographs, and documents concealed in shoeboxes. I began searching through them and discovered a journal from when she was twelve living in 1981 Poland, illustrated with drawings from her childhood friends. Playful as it was, one page especially resonated with me, which read:

Kochaj róże, kochaj bratki, a najbardziej serce matki.

“Love your roses, love your pansies, but most importantly love your mother.”

I happened to uncover these documents at a very personal time for both of us. During this period, I was processing my changing relationship with my mother, acknowledging that our relationship had reached a critical shift. From the structured codependency of childhood, towards that of two self-sustaining women, we transformed as all relationships between mother and child eventually do. My mother’s newly uncovered archive served as a reminder that this is a woman who held, and continues to hold, an identity outside of motherhood.

I feel I have done my mother a disservice. Throughout my entire life, I’ve witnessed a woman choosing to place the needs of her children before her own, now living in and through them. I only know her through the role of motherhood, and seek to understand her identity as an immigrant and artist unconfined to the gender-based constructs of womanhood. These documents once concealed in a shoebox now resonate with me as I aim to explore her identity as Danuta Tońska Pawlak.

The message “love your roses, love your pansies, but most importantly love your mother”, unbeknownst to my mother’s childhood friend Beata, will come to hold power for me thirty seven years later. It is a call to action and the ultimate liberation, brought down through generations and generations of women. To validate the loss, guilt, and sacrifice of our mothers; in an effort to repay the unfathomable debt bestowed on us as daughters; the absolute least we can do is love her.

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  • A portrait of my mother in our home.

  • A picture of my mother and father.

  • My mother and my sister.

  • A portrait of my mother.

  • My mother's letters with her best friend.

  • My mother.

  • My mother and a rose.

  • The journal entry I reference throughout this body of work.

  • My mother and I.

  • My mother and I.

  • My mother's portrait overlayed on a wedding card.

  • My mother.