Being An Artist

We are at an inter-generational art conference this week. Last year was our first year here and we had a blast. The conference strives to enforce the notion that we are all children of a creating God and each of us has incredible creative potential inside, waiting for us to recognize it and grow with it.

The conference opens with a worship service Sunday evening. Tonight, the worship leader asked us to close our eyes and think of a creative person we know. Hold an image of that person in our minds. She then described possible images we were holding: a woman in a paint splattered apron in front of an easel, a shaggy-haired man bending over his guitar, a writer scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop.

The first image that came to my mind was one of myself, sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog. I immediately began to analyze whether this counts. I’m not a novelist, creating a story out of my imagination. I’m more of a journalist blessed with amusing children. At best, I’m a storyteller. So my mind searched out further and I gazed at my husband in his clay-stained apron leaning over his pottery wheel. There’s a good image. I’ll hold on to that one.

When she told us to open our eyes, she asked, “Did any of you imagine yourself?”

Silence filled the room as one small hand was raised in the chair next to mine. In a room of over 50 people, mostly adults, Daryl was the only person to think of himself. The speaker’s eyes lit up. “Daryl did. Daryl knows that he is a creative person. He is an artist. Children know these things. They are born with the ability to play. And creating art is about playing. Being able to try something different and not worrying about failing.”

I thought about how I had pushed my image of myself out of the way as inadequate or not quite fitting the profile. It was still haunting me when the other worship leader asked us to stand and set some intentions for the week. We confirmed that we would help create a loving, safe, and supportive environment. We confirmed that we would strive to grow and try something new.

And then she asked us to commit to silencing that inner critic, the one that told us we weren’t good enough. Not creative enough. What we created wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t worthy. Convicted, I choked up as I tried to say “I will”. And even as I forced the words out and wondered how surreptitiously I could wipe the welling tears from my eyes, I wondered if I really could. Then, as the chorus of “I will” completed, I heard a husky male voice add “with God’s help.”

Of course. She wouldn’t have mentioned the problem if I were the only one with it. Nearly everyone in that room has an inner critic. Perhaps not all as vocal or harsh as mine, but they all have one. Even Daryl. So as she invited us to come to the front and draw something on the cloth that would serve as our communion tablecloth at the end of the week, I resolved to not be scared of that simple invitation.

I stood back as Hal and, well, most of the people, traced their hands and colored them in. I din’t want to trace my hand. That had been her suggestion, a jumping off point. A place to stay for the very young or the scared or the rushed. I wanted to go further. I saw someone draw a beautiful tree with gorgeous leaves and thought, “Oh! I want to do that!” But to do that would be to copy. Just wait. Think. Wait.

Finally, I reached over Hal and drew a simple shape. I divided it up with lines and used the colors available to fill in each section. I was pleased with my creation. It was simple but colorful. And unique. And mine.

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I showed Jane and she responded, “You drew that? Really?!” Hah! I told my inner critic. Who needs you? I’ve got a daughter! And then I realized that she wasn’t surprised because she thought I wasn’t an artist, although that was probably, realistically part of it. She was surprised because she’s not used to seeing me create anything and doesn’t see the things I do create as art.

I headed off to my beginning jewelry making class feeling hopeful. That hope carried me through the panic that rose as the teacher told us to begin sketching out designs for our pendant. I stared at my stone. I turned it over and over. I backed off and thought of what was important to me and how it might look with the stone. An idea began to form.

“Can we use wire to make a shape in front of the stone?” I asked. It took her a minute to understand what I meant but then confirmed that I could. But what to do with the back? When an answer didn’t come, I let my mind wander. In a rare moment of peace for me, I allowed the emptiness to be comforting. I just waited and tossed images and words around in my mind. There’s a tree in front of that stone and I like how it looks. What if the backing was a leaf? I drew it out on the paper and saw that it was good. And so was I. Not perfect. Not the best. But good enough.

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The Perils of Pole Climbing

Daryl loves to climb poles. He’s gotten pretty good at it over the years too, perfecting his wrap-around leg technique to grasp the pole with the edges of his shoes. We recently found ourselves at the high school football field, where Daryl saw an excellent pole climbing challenge: the field goal.

This pole was considerably fatter than his usual regimen and a bit taller as well. With some effort, however, he was soon calling out from the cross bar, “Mommy! Daddy! Look at me! I did it!”

We congratulated his success but told him to hurry down because we were leaving. He slid back down the pole and joined us. As we walked, he began to explain the proper approach to climbing a fat pole.

“With a big pole like that, it’s all about speed. You’ve got to keep moving or you’ll slip back down.”

“I see,” I responded. “I’m glad you got it figured out.”

“The pole was pretty rough, though. Look at my leg,” he said, turning to show me the scraped inside of his right leg.

“Ouch,” I said.

“Yeah, it kind of hurts. I’m all scratched up.”

“Looks like it.”

When we got to the car, he resumed the complaints, possibly because he didn’t feel that I had given his injuries the attention they deserved. “Why did that pole have to be so rough? I’ve got scratches all over. It really hurts.”

“Well, maybe when you realize that a pole is so rough, you should stop trying to climb it.”

In a fierce and determined voice, he declaimed, “No. I Do Not. Give Up.”

“Well then maybe you should quit whining about how rough the pole was. You don’t sound very tough complaining about it so much.”

Seriously, son. You don’t get to be tough and whiny at the same time. Pick one.

Checked Out

I usually get off work at 4:30. My schedule is flexible though so this week, I’ve been working until 5:30 so I could get some extra time in to compensate for some planned vacation time. Today being Friday and me having wrapped up all my obligations, however, I decided to leave at my usual time.

About 4:15, I began to prepare for my departure. I sent a document to the printer a little bit later and while I waited for the printout, I looked at my watch to see if it was already half past the hour. It wasn’t. The watch said 4:20 and I was confused. It should be 5:30, I thought. When did my watch stop? I tried pushing the wind-up nob back in but it was already in. And the second hand was still moving. That’s strange. I must have bumped it off for a little while and then bumped it back.

With a shrug, I took off my watch and reset it to read 5:30. I reminded myself that I would need to verify I had the minutes right, grabbed the printout, and returned to my desk.

I gathered up my things and then walked to the equipment room to turn off my equipment before leaving. I remembered that I didn’t know how close to 5:30 it was so I glanced at my watch. Idiot, I thought. You don’t know if the minutes are right. You’ll have to check it somewhere else.

When I got to the equipment room, I glanced at the phone on the wall. 4:23.

What?! I panicked. You mean I don’t get to leave for another hour?! I don’t want to stay another hour! I’m ready to go now! That’s when I remembered that I had been planning to leave at 4:30 all along. Which means my watch had been right and I had reset it to the wrong time.

I corrected it as I returned to my desk to retrieve the printout that was supposed to go home with me but I had left sitting on the desk. My brain had clearly already checked out for the day. It’s amazing I was able to drive home safely.

While You Were Away

Something really exciting happened while my older two children were at summer camp. Something so exciting that I wrote to tell them about it. They both got a letter on the same day with the big news.

The Doctor paid us a visit! In the Tardis! I mean, wow! How exciting! Hal was elated!

When I arrived at their respective camps to pick them up, I even showed them the photographic proof of the visit on my phone.

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To my shock and dismay, neither one of them were impressed. In fact, they flat-out didn’t believe me. Neither one of them.

“That picture isn’t real, Mommy,” said Jane. “The lighting is wrong. Where did you learn to Photoshop like that?”

I reminded her that we didn’t own Photoshop.

Later, she tried another approach. “He’s not really The Doctor, Mommy. That’s not his real name.”

“Oh, really? What’s his real name?”

“He’s not real. He’s just an actor that plays a role on a TV show. His real name is David Tennant.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes. Mommy. It is.” Her impatience was very thinly veiled.

“No, it’s not. The actor on the TV show’s real name is not David Tennant.”

“Oh, really? Then what is it?”

“David Tennant’s real name is David McDonald, but it doesn’t matter because that picture isn’t of David Tennant. It’s of The Doctor.”

“No, it’s not. That’s David Tennant.”

“No, it’s The Doctor. David Tennant was chosen to play him on the TV show because he shares such a striking resemblance to one of The Doctor’s actual physical forms.”

“Seriously, Mom. Where did you learn to Photoshop like that?”

Daryl had a much more flawed argument. He insisted that the picture was obviously fake because “that’s not even the current doctor! That’s an old one.”

Hello? Time travel? The Doctor. Travels. Through. Time.

“It doesn’t matter,” he claimed. “He can still only be one doctor right now.”

“You obviously don’t understand time travel,” I argued. “Each regeneration of The Doctor has traveled throughout time, past, present, future. Any one of them could be stopping in to see us. We just don’t know about it until he arrives.”

Even Jane backed me up on this one but Daryl still shook his head and walked away.

When we got home, they descended on Hal almost immediately.

“Hal, did The Doctor really come to visit?”

Hal nodded his head. Good boy.

“No he didn’t!” they responded in unison. “Come on, tell us the truth. Did he come?”

Again, he nodded. Then Jane pulled a devious trick on her honest little brother. She pulled up a picture of Matt Smith as The Doctor on her phone and asked, “Is this who came to visit?”

Hal nodded. They pounced. “See! That wasn’t The Doctor in the picture! It’s not true! He didn’t come!”

Hal rolled over and buried his face in the armrest of the chair. He was embarrassed and I thought he might be close to tears.

“You two are ridiculous!” I said, coming to his defense. “Hal is a very smart young man. He’s capable of recognizing The Doctor in all his forms. He doesn’t have to look physically the same for Hal to recognize him for who he is. He just didn’t understand your question.”

They still did not believe. Children these days. Such jaded and doubtful creatures. Where’s their sense of wonder and mystery? Why so cynical and suspicious? I’m their mother. Why would I make up such a tale?

Disgusging

Hal walked out of his room and into my outstretched arms. As I lifted him up, he wrapped his spindly little legs around my waist and his arms around my neck. I settled my face into his neck and as we hugged, I murmured sweet words of appreciation for a day well-started.

I backed up to the bed and sat down with him settling into my lap. We are planning to purchase new bedroom furniture so a tape measure lay nearby.

Hal reached for it and began rolling it down my chest. A heavy metal object does not feel good tumbling into your lap, so I lay back a little to slow it down. On each subsequent descent, I leaned back a little farther until I was flat on my back. As my body stretched out on the bed, the bottom edge of my pajama shirt rode up, exposing my belly.

Hal grabbed the edge of my shirt and pulled it down to meet the waistband of the pants. When he let go, it sprang back up. He tried again. And again. Finally, he held the shirt in place, even lightly pressing down into my hipbones as if some pressure now might keep it there once he released it again.

“What are you doing? Are you trying to hide my belly?”

“Yes.”

“Why? What’s wrong with my belly?”

“It’s disgusging!”

“Why is my belly disgusting?” He couldn’t know that I’m very self-conscious about the condition of that region of my body. Really, it’s all your doing, I thought. Before the third child, my belly looked fine. You did this to me. “Is your belly disgusting?”

“No.”

“Then why is mine?”

He pulled my shirt up just a bit. I was ready with my “it’s your fault” retort. “This boo-boo right here.” He pointed to a nearly healed clogged pore. “It’s disgusging.” And then he pulled my shirt back down.

I reached for his torso and began to uncover his belly at the same time I lifted him in the air over me.

“No!” He struggled and tried to hold his shirt down.

“I just want to check your belly and see if I find anything disgusting.”

He giggled “No!” as we tumbled over to the side and my holding turned into tickling.

“Nothing disgusting there! Just a cute little belly!”

It’s always good to get a good hold on your humility and sense of humor when a kiddo brings out the brutal honesty. There’s no point in crying over it. They aren’t trying to hurt your feelings. Usually.

A Really Good Spice

“Hey, mom! Look! A tobacco store! Can we stop and get some tobacco?!”

Now, this is a phrase that you don’t want to hear from any of your children. Ever. It’s also a phrase that you don’t even expect to hear from your child when he is only nine years old. But more importantly, it’s a phrase that you never, ever want to hear while riding in a car with a church friend, her mother, and her two kids returning from church camp.

That, of course, is exactly when the phrase was uttered by my dear sweet Daryl. The car got very quiet.

“I like tobacco,” he explained.

More silence.

“It’s a really good spice.”

More silence.

“I put tobacco sauce on all my food. It’s so good!”

“Do you perhaps mean Tabasco sauce?” asked my friend.

This time the silence was Daryl’s as he struggled to work out what he had been saying wrong. And then everyone burst out laughing.

“I had them backwards!” he explained. “I thought tobacco was what I put on food and Tabasco was what you put in pipes!”

Well, dear, we are very relieved you had them backwards. Very relieved.

Riding in Cars with… Whomever

I am still trying to teach my husband the proper way to interact with other people in certain social situations. I’ve been trying for quite some time now and so far my teaching skills have proved sorely lacking.

Take today, for example. A friend and former coworker stopped by for a tour of the studio and to say hello. Our plan was to go out to eat lunch afterwards. This friend is still in his twenties, single, no kids – still enjoying a much more carefree life than ours. In fact, he ended up being a bit late because he was slow to get up after some heavy drinking at a party the night before. While he and my husband had met and like each other, he is essentially a stranger to Hal.

This doesn’t particularly bother Hal. You know how some kids have to try every public bathroom they encounter? As soon as you walk into a store or restaurant or someone’s house with such a kid, they immediately express an urgent need to use the facilities? Well, Hal has a similar obsession except his is an unquenchable desire to ride in other people’s cars.

As I walked into the house to get my things, I heard Hal ask the question.

“Daddy, can I ride in his car?”

I held my breath because I knew he would likely not answer appropriately.

“Well, Hal. That’s not up to me. You’ll need to ask him.”

Oh, no! I thought to myself. Wrong answer! See, my husband is of the opinion that everyone should be able to speak their mind and be truthful, no matter how uncomfortable. He’s not into the social niceties and hinting phrases that should be employed in situations like this.

By the time I got back outside, Hal was crawling into his booster seat that had been installed in the back of the other car. The friend was laughing. It sounded to me as if he was a bit in disbelief that he was about to transport our child into town in his car.

When I got into our car, I told my husband what he was supposed to say in a situation like that. “You don’t put people – especially people without kids – in a situation where they have to say no to a four-year-old. You just don’t do it. You should have said, ‘No, sweetheart. Why don’t you just ride with us?’ That way, if they are truly ok with him riding with them, they can say, ‘Oh, that’s ok. I don’t mind.’ But if they don’t want him to ride, you’ve let them off the hook.”

“If they don’t want him to ride with them, they should just say so.”

“Say no to a four-year-old?!”

“Yes. If they don’t want to do it.”

“Honey! You shouldn’t force people to do that.”

“I’m not going to serve as a barrier between my kids and other people.”

“Uggh! This is a tactful way to give them a way out if they don’t have it in them to tell the kid no but really aren’t comfortable taking the kid with them.”

“So what you are saying is that the next time a situation like this comes up, I need to tell him, ‘I don’t know. You need to go ask your mother.'”

“Well, I guess if you want it to go through two layers instead of just one, yes.”

“If that’s what it takes because I’m not going to do what you suggested.”

When they got to the restaurant right after us, I was waiting to open Hal’s door. “Is it everything you thought it would be?” I asked him.

The friend climbed out of the car laughing. “Oh, man, did we have some interesting conversations!”

I’m sure you did, buddy. I’m sure you did. The Facebook posts and blog entries pale in comparison to the real deal.