Driving up the long, steep driveway, I see the gray, L-shaped ranch. The black shutters offer a poor attempt at color contrast in an attempt to brighten things up. Inside the house, the gray continues. Dark, dreary, almost lifeless. My mother’s antiques line the walls, fill the breakfront, occupy shelf space. Testimony to her love of collecting, they sit and collect dust as they hold prime space in our house.

On the kitchen counter, my mother’s prized possession sits. A set of ceramic containers. Each labeled with their purpose. Tea, sugar, coffee, flour, etc, all lined up, like twenty-five soldiers in a row. Milky white, with flecks of gold and green all over, stamped in gold with their intended ingredient. Found once at an antique show, we all knew how precious these dishes were to her.

My nervousness would be palpable Whenever I would help my mother cook, or attempt my own personal foray in the kitchen, my mother’s constant refrain would echo in my ear. “Watch out for the canisters! Be careful, I don’t want them to break!” My nervousness would be palpable as I would work around these ceramic idols.

Inevitably, one day, one broke. Thankfully, it wasn’t by me. A wayward ball lightly tossed in the wrong direction hit a canister. Over twenty-five years later, the cries and anger that came from my mother still ring in my ears. At the time, what struck me most was how inconsolable she was. Looking back, however, I see that it was the distinctiveness of her behavior that strikes me the most now.

Emotion and life were not part of the gray house on Andrew Avenue. Yes, there were four people living there, ostensibly a family. In reality, just four people sharing two bathrooms. A devotee of the eighties “Super Mom” philosophy, she wanted to succeed. As a career woman, long-time student, wife and part-time mother, she focused on the external goals the most. Locking herself away in her den for hours every night, she tirelessly corrected her nursing students’ papers, then seamlessly moved on to her own Ph.D. coursework.

My father, one of the early computer programmers, would spend similar hours in the basement with his beloved PC, a monstrous machine compared to today’s notebook-thin laptops. My father would lose himself in pages of program code flickering green-on-black on the computer screen.

My brother and I found our own ways to escape. He became a fencing prodigy. Traveling all over the country winning competitions, or spending hours at practice, striving to be one of the “Great American Competitors.” This was an area of which my mother allowed herself to take notice, holding off some of her other personal responsibilities in order to watch him succeed. It became some of the basic material to talk about about during her social outings. As for me, I played in my room with my dolls. Long after the appropriate age to stop playing with dolls, I would spend hours in my room playing house. As the mommy in this pretend world, there was never a greater goal that to take care of my Cabbage Patch Doll babies. Their misproportioned plastic heads and unblinking eyes provided sure signs of the unconditional love that I so wanted.

I grew up believing that mothers took care of “things” instead of taking care of children. I grew up believing that a mother polished silver, taking care to bring out the shine in the cups rather than the shine in her children. Tears over boyfriends, friends or teachers’ injustice were not acceptable, as they were too much for my mother to bear. The energy that I had remained trapped inside me, needing to shine forth, begging for a place to express who I was.

Only years later do I think I have begun to realize that my mother’s emotional capacity was already full. The cancer that was growing inside her took up whatever space she had. Shunning sympathy, it was kept a secret from all but a few for years. Moving forward, fighting for normalness, was all she wanted. For ten years she was able to live her life the way that she wanted, focusing on the external, palpable goals. Only in the last three years of her life, when she had to make it public, did her focus shift inward to survival.

I grew up believing that mothers took care of “things” instead of taking care of childrenFor years after she died, my father continued to live in that house on Andrew Avenue. Her antiques were left in their place, as if waiting for her to come and take care of them. Whenever I would enter the kitchen and look at those canisters, I always felt an odd sense of relief that none had cracked or broken. The canisters faithfully remained on the kitchen counter as a testament to the woman who had once lived there. When the time finally came for my father to leave the house, I was left with the formidable task of packing everything up. Now, my tears finally had their chance to flow. Almost sacrilegious in feeling, I handled all of these once forbidden, sacred objects. With my brother far away in Florida and my father rehabilitating from a stroke, I spent hours rifling through everything, having been given full discretionary power over their fate.

An estate sale was arranged. Meeting with the manager days before the sale, I was instructed to go through the house and label each item with a different color sticker. Green for sale, yellow for trash, and red for not for sale. Walking through the house, I was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt. Though it has been ten years since she died, my fingers shook with each green sticker that I placed on an object. And then I came to the canisters. Those stupid, beloved canisters. Neither my father nor brother had any need or desire for them. Their fate was now left to me. Seeing at them on the counter, I stopped. Suddenly, my long-buried disdain for those canisters came streaming out of me. Was I obligated to keep this set of canisters, this shrine to my mother’s existence? I felt completely at a loss at what to do. Logically, I knew that living in Israel, with my standard Israeli kitchen, I had no proper place to keep these things. And, emotionally, I was afraid that if I kept these canisters, I would begin to revere them as a way to honor my mother. They could so easily become a focus that I was not willing to create.

I had fought my mother’s demons for years in my struggle to create the home that I had always wanted: a place for emotion and spirit to reign supreme. A haven for my children to cry over battles lost and laugh over victories won, and a refuge for the struggle in between. These canisters were a symbol of all that I had changed. With tears stinging my eyes, I reached for the green sticker. I took a pen. I wrote, “Includes the entire set.”