A few years back I read a fascinating book about Te Maori, the first U. S. exhibition of ancient art from the native Maori people of New Zealand. The opening of the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York was preceded by elaborate tribal rituals symbolizing honor for and protection of the ancestral artists, who are believed by the Maori to spiritually inhabit the art they created.

The notion of beloved souls inhabiting objects is easy for me to accept on a spiritual level. It also prompted me to extend the concept on a different plane toward my mother, who throughout her adult life has served as custodian and curator of a large collection of family treasures handed down through various branches of our family tree. As years passed and circumstances caused the collection to grow, my father teased her about her strong affection for these items, which range from jewelry and handbags, to furniture, artwork, china, and the like. Ours is a blessed but certainly not wealthy family, so the value of the treasures spikes much higher on the emotional scale than on the financial. We are unlikely candidates for stardom on Antiques Roadshow.

Whether my ancestors owned or created these treasures, it mesmerizes me to consider what their spirits, if residing therein, could pass on to us. Could I replicate the hospitality at my own dinner parties that always illuminated my parents’ home by remembering to pull out my mother’s crystal wine glasses? Could I someday achieve tournament-winning putting, like my grandfather, if I keep polishing his silver golf trophies—or will I just inherit his predilection for corny golf jokes? Can I emulate with my little family the long conversations I had with my dad if I take good care of the old maple rocking chair I sat in, across from his favorite perch in their den, when we chatted?

Many of these objects are lovely to behold and an honor to own. And then there are others. Varying views on the outliers might be over style, sometimes for condition. Either was something we freely commented on when my generation was younger, when one is unerringly certain of so very many things. Such opinions were generally accepted by my mother with her characteristic equanimity.

Nowadays, honesty compels me to admit that these illogical attachments to ancestral objects have claimed some of us in our turn, as we move to a more reminiscent season of life. There’s an ancient, dented tin measuring cup with a bent, cock-eyed handle tucked in my kitchen drawer that I can’t relinquish, so it stays nestled there next to its shinier, more legible modern counterparts. For years my sister clung stubbornly to a thin old aluminum spatula descended from we aren’t sure where, swearing it was the only implement in her kitchen that could pry absolutely anything out of a skillet. Rust finally sent that one to the Great Beyond.

Carefully preserving treasures for children, too, my mother sent one of her favorites to my daughter’s family home after the birth of the first great-grandchild. This miniature, Windsor-shaped wicker rocking chair, freshly painted, was a gift to my mother from her own grandfather when she was a child, growing up in a small mountain town in Eastern Kentucky eight decades ago. That makes the current users the fourth generation to rock baby dolls and bunnies in the tiny chair, which I long ago jokingly christened The Ancestral Seat. Will my mother’s spirit in the little rocker impart her sense of humor, compassion, and common sense? If so, it would also convey a rather particular expectation that children should behave, help their family members, and take good care of older people.

My own favorite family treasure is a round hardwood table with a rattan pedestal base, acquired by my parents in the Philippines in the early 1950s and shipped home to occupy their series of kitchens for the remainder of their married life. Growing up, we ate so many family meals at this table, where my brother routinely knocked over his milk and my sister leaned back and fell out of her chair. Around its circumference occurred all kinds of family dialogue, more than a few pointedly delivered parental instructions, and more than enough smart-aleck teenage commentary. It bears cigarette burns and other scars from years of service at the center of a big, raucous family.

When my mother moved to a smaller home not long ago, there was no spot for the old rattan warrior. No takers for the kitchen table so far, said my sister, who patiently organized the sharing and relocation of items that my mother no longer needed.  I’ll take it, I responded, without a notion of where to put it. at first. Whether it lands on my porch for outdoor dinners, in the kitchen, or some space not yet imagined, the table, and whatever spirits it harbors, stays with me. With us.

At the moment, it occupies my home office, and serves as my workspace for writing these chronicles.

It seems indisputable that today’s world harbors parenting challenges that we never imagined when my daughter was young. Yet one essential truth remains, universally acknowledged then and now:

Two-year-olds are impossible.

The other night my daughter, a devoted, creative, and loving mother, sank back into the cushions on my living room couch with a massive sigh of frustration. She was fresh from another face-off with her own two-year-old, a deceptively beautiful, tiny female to  whom I lovingly refer as Rambo in a Tutu. My daughter stared at me in utter desolation. “Mom,” she said, despair shadowing every syllable, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her. I really, really don’t.” I returned her sigh in a spirit of comradeship, thinking I could dare anyone to find a parent who has not agonized their way through this developmental stage, a period of time unlike anything a rational person can fathom in life as we know it.

And what exactly makes these Pint-Sized Revolutionaries so vexing, anyway? Is it the astonishing strength of the opposition force? The utter lack of logic and reason that governs their every move? The terroristic unpredictability, the realization that one never knows when a strike may occur?

Long before the day for my daughter’s lament arrived, I foresaw a time when my heart’s desire at this moment would be nothing more than simple justice and fair retribution. Payback time, I imagined, would be ever so delicious and sweet. The memories that drove me to that cold and bitter anticipation are remarkably fresh. My daughter’s tantrums at two were the stuff of story and song (the blues, of course), and at their peak I often tried to remove her to her room and shut the door. This pathetically ineffective strategy generated more, better screaming and motivated her to pull on the doorknob with all her maniacal might, demanding escape. Refusing to cave (and lacking a lock), I pulled against the doorknob on the opposing side in a classic tug of proverbial war. The screaming generally lasted about six weeks or so, and about halfway through I was generally reduced to sobbing myself.

Such stories, and those of more comedic antics, are often traded among empathetic parents. I have a niece, now one of my favorite women on the planet, who demonstrated will of breathtaking scope at this age. Instructed by her mother to stop hurling bits of broccoli off her high chair tray and onto the floor, she resumed the aforementioned sport the minute her mother turned around. Mother escalated to a more direct confrontation, positioning herself about six inches from Niece’s face, firmly and slowly intoning, “I SAID: Stop. Throwing. Your. Food.” The child locked eyes with her foe, leaning even closer, and resumed slow-pitching the veg without moving her eyes from Mother’s face. (I had to run from the room to howl unobserved. These things are always funny when it isn’t your kid.) A good friend shares a tale of instructing his twin daughters that eating with their hands was hereby disallowed. Planting their hands at their sides, they solved this dilemma ingeniously by dropping their heads face down into the plate, to graze like puppies in a dog bowl. Yet another good friend summarizes the time period poignantly as “the longest days of the shortest years” of her life.

Oddly, when my moment to savor sweet justice arrived, it lacked the thrill of victory. I longed to to reassure and soothe the mother’s soul—because, of course, nothing can be done with the child—but standard alms like a stiff shot of bourbon and a long hot bath did not seem like particularly original suggestions.LJ hat 1.16

A few days later, in a fit of New Year’s purging, I sorted a box of old books and came upon a small, worn, cloth-covered volume called “The Fine Art of Motherhood” and dated 1930. That would mean it likely belonged to my grandmother and was given to her around the time my mother was born in the spring of 1931. Could there be any time-honored recommendations here? Skimming through, I failed to uncover specific solutions for surviving two-year-olds, but other, related observations made intriguing reading. “Conquering a child’s will is not what we are after, but training it,” the author opines. Indeed. And easier said than done, perhaps.

On the final page, however, I lingered over her closing statement, where she quotes an authority who “….names as attributes of little children sincerity, faith, democracy, forgiveness, and the tender heart. If we can meet them on this plane, they will teach us more than we can teach them.”