“The intensity of the conflict between parent and child isn’t what matters. The emotions can be very intense. What matters is the repair afterward.” The professor said this one day during an infant development class I took in graduate school. That notion about rupture and repair has stuck with me, and I have relied on it, and in my experience, it has held up most of the time. Emotional heat has caring behind it, and so long as that emotional warmth is expressed, too, into the efforts at repairing a fracture afterward, often the temporary break results in a stronger bond. I can summon more than one occasion with my children, young, larger, and fully grown, when, fed up at their messes—they are both artists who make great, spreading projects—I burst out at them. “You guys have to clean up or I’ll go crazy!” I always stifled my mess-frustration past a point when it could be calmly conveyed. After their furious, fuming tidyings-up, and my lurking about feeling guilty about my vehemence—and conciliatory hugs all round when the room was, to all parties’ relief, clear and spacious and ready for new messes—there would often be smiles as bursting and full of warmth as my explosion had been, and good-natured chats around cookies and milky tea to boot.
Recently I listened to a program on BBC’s The Forum, a show that features a “Sixty Second Idea to Change the World.” This round, the idea, put forth by Phillip Ball, was: “Make mending an art form: encourage and celebrate the skills of mending in everyday life.” The English science writer explained, “I’m thinking we can learn from the ancient art of mending broken ceramics in Japan, where the mend is seen as an opportunity to make the broken object even more beautiful, in some cases by picking out the network of glue in gold powder.” Mending, he said, ought to be regarded as an important life skill to be taught to children. Most important of all is to “remove the stigma of repair.” Mending ought to be seen as an art form, and mended clothes, rather than regarded as scruffy, should be “as welcome in the boardroom as the workshop.”
Ball’s fellow panelist, physicist Lee Smollen recalled a summer at Oxford when he studied with the mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose. Often their chats took place in the college commons where the staff kept “a cache of broken teacups” because Roger Penrose liked to mend them. While the young physicist and the older one chatted, the older man carefully pieced and glued the china cups.