Motherhood Literature + Art

Susan McGee Bailey – Rainbow Time

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Susan McGee Bailey


Rainbow Time

Months into Covid-19, time has lost all precision. Days and weeks have a pleasant, blurry quality similar to my daughter’s rainbows. The ones done in water color, no clear lines of demarcation, one color blending into the next. Amy rejects these paintings and turns to her magic markers. “But Amy, your paintings are lovely, they’re like the rainbows we see in the sky.”

She looks up. Pauses. Then returns to her drawing.

Amy has developmental challenges and this is her first morning home in four months. She is fifty now, but retains the joy and energy of a young child. With her blond hair and slim, five-foot frame, strangers often assume she is my granddaughter. For the past two years she has lived in a shared living arrangement an hour away with a young couple, their 6-year-old son, and another young woman with special needs. State regulations have prohibited visits home for people under the care of the Department of Disabilities. Amy does not understand why we cannot be together. Face Time and Zoom are poor substitutes. They reveal her confusion behind attempted smiles. “Please my mother, when can I come home? Tomorrow? Next week?” I long to hold her, to comfort her. I need the warmth of her hand, her joyous giggles and unexpected hugs.

I raised Amy alone. When she was born there were unexpected physical and developmental complications. Her father and I made different decisions. Until she turned twenty-two, she lived with me and various part-time caregivers. Then, for another twenty-five years, in a succession of unsuccessful group houses requiring her to return home for many months at a time. As a single mother working full-time, I longed for solitude. Then two years ago, there was a move to a new house, the addition of a new housemate.

I held my breath.

But Amy loved her house in the countryside, her expanded family, her increased independence. After a year I dared to relax. Amy and I saw each other every other weekend, sometimes more.  My life took on a new, more age appropriate balance. I was beginning to find the solitude I had desired for so long.

Covid-19 upended my search for uninterrupted time. Isolation was not the solitude I sought.

The prohibition was lifted. Yesterday Amy was able to come home for several days. Happy to be with me, she soon began to ask about others: “When will I see Sally again?” “Is everyone at my house OK?” “How long can I stay with you?” And always, “When will I see you again?”  She insists on wearing her mask to bed. When I try to reassure her that the mask is needed only in the daytime, for walking downtown, to have if we see friends, she is upset. “No! I might need my mask. We need to be safe.”

I put aside my thoughts. Amy is holding up her magic marker-rainbow. “Mother, look!” Each color is a clear, separate curve. “Those other bows you like are far away in a big sky. My paper is small and right here. Up close I see each color.”

I think about her words. I cherish moments when she is able to express connections that can seem beyond her grasp. Now I realize this happens most often when she works on her art projects, quiet, absorbed in her own world, her hand moving across the page creating colorful patterns, abstract images. Relieved of pressure to respond to conversation, the anxieties that hopscotch through her days are stilled. She interrupts my reverie. “And mother, come draw with me. I will show you. Please, right now!”

I am well into Covid’s danger years, concerned about contracting the virus, even more frightened of spreading it to my daughter. I, too, want to be safe. I need Amy’s lessons, the calm of creative work. Drawing with her, I will sink into the blur of time, absorb its gentleness, and seek the clarity buried in the chaos.


Susan McGee Bailey directed the Wellesley College Centers for Women for 25 years before retiring to study creative nonfiction at Grub Street in Boston. Her essays have appeared in various publications including The Boston Globe Magazine, Manifest Station, and Gulf Stream. She is currently completing a memoir, “The Education of a Feminist.”  Twitter: @feministstrong Website:



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