It’s not a secret that art is expression. It’s not an epiphany that even children use art to communicate. But when you witness it, and especially when it concerns your own children, you better listen carefully and heed the expressions of little ones.
Twice in the last couple of months, my children have humbled me through their art. While my oldest tends to scribble scads of stick figures in battle scenes and write stories of zombies and vampires—still full of meaning in its own busy way—my daughter and youngest son clearly use art to tell me their secrets. “I love you.”, “I love our family.”, or “Mommy, I miss you.” Their drawings bring me back to their level. Their projects remind me that little things are big things to them. It helps me draw out more patience for my day. Sometimes it makes me cry.
A couple weeks ago, my daughter came home with an assignment. The lesson was personification. The mission was to create an image of your family within the descriptive confines of an object. For example, if your family was a car, who would be the wheels? Ainsley designed her family as a bed. Mommy was the comforter that kept her warm. Daddy the pillow to rest her head. Zach was the fitted sheet because she wanted to squish him since he was mean to her. Braeden was the flat sheet because he likes to lay on her when they watch TV. And Ainsley was the bed frame to hold everyone together.
Her imagery punched me in the gut. Did she think that? Did she think it was her job to hold us together? Do we appear to be falling apart? Or was it just typical middle child syndrome—the mediator, the middle ground, the frame. I praised her for her beautiful project without one word of surprise or fear or sadness. I don’t ever want to squelch her expression. Keep on writing, baby.
Then today. I had a rough day today. It was the first crappy day after several gorgeous 70 degree days. I fell into immediate depression when the rain began. I can’t take any more oppressive weather. I need June like I need water. I spiraled down into a self-pity party of remorseful thoughts. (I can’t write. I have no stories to tell. I have horrible grammar. I will never amount to anything.) I spent most of the day in my room playing on the internet and watching movies. Purely wasting time waiting for the sun to set. I have spent way too many days like this.
Braeden came upstairs and asked if he could read Green Eggs and Ham to me. He’s read this book to me at least a dozen times—as well as several others—and frankly I’m sick of Dr. Suess. He was way too successful as an author. I don’t think I like him anymore. So, I brushed little Brady off and said “Not now.” He went back downstairs in tears. He’d been rejected by his own mother. Is there any worse feeling? But his sadness didn’t make me call him back. I ignored it. I didn’t have the strength. When parental roles are imbalanced, it makes the burn-out even greater.
So, Brady went into the kitchen and began pulling out all of the art supplies. Glue, paper, scissors, stickers, markers, popsicle sticks and so on. I returned to my movie. About twenty minutes later, I hear little feet coming back up my stairs. I knew he was on his way to show me his project and I didn’t want to reject him again, so I paused my movie and gave him my undivided attention. He drew a sweet picture of him and me and the dog. We each stood by a tree and there were two houses in the distance. I asked why there were two.
“One for me and one for you, “ he answered brightly, as if he’d just solved all my problems.
I frowned. “Well, that makes me kinda sad.”
“Why?” He asked.
“Because I want to live in the same house as you. I love my little buddy.”
He glanced at me, contemplated my claim as if wondering whether or not I was telling the truth. “Okay.” He countered. “This one is our house and that one is the neighbors.”
Much better. Be still my weeping heart.
But keep drawing, baby.
I will never be the perfect mother I want to be. Even on the days when I recognize that I’m being miserable and it takes a six year old's drawing to yank me out of the muck—I’ll still drown myself again. It is my nature and something I must be aware of and accept in order to change. I’m trying, oh, how I’m trying. In the meantime, I continue to express myself with words and try to encourage my children to express themselves in any way they can. May it never be stifled.
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