26 April 2007

like a champion



and the rains came (like everyone said they would). we found ourselves inside for the whole of last week. at some point, I realized that ezra had not yet been properly introduced to the world of fingerpainting. how could that be? am I not the queen of messy art-making? apparently not. when ezra scrunched up his nose in complete disgust the moment he discovered a glob of paint oozing from between his thumb and forefinger, I knew something wasn't right. he begged me to clean his hand, begged me pleeeease. is this the same child that gleefully squeezed an entire tube of aquafresh toothpaste into the sink? the same one that smeared black beans all over his face and then attempted to act as if nothing had happened? the one who loves baby lotion more than a grandma loves jergens? ezra is nothing if not a Lover of Mess. his reaction was a troubling one. and so totally out of character. I began to wonder: what have I done wrong? have I somehow robbed my son of his love of mess-making? perhaps in my relentless Quest for Clean? was it the hundreds and hundreds of times I've yelled NO and STOP THAT and GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF THERE? have I unwittingly broken my son down? have I imparted a sort of cautiousness not meant for the likes of youth? have I been so busy with everything else this past year that I've forgotten to allow for good old fashioned mess-making? am I overthinking this? yes. prolly. maybe not.



a couple of weeks ago, I took ava to an art class. there was another boy there (closer to ezra's age) and I watched with great fascination as he immersed himself in the project at hand. he exuberantly smeared elmer's glue over the entire surface of the cigar box he was decorating. then came the glitter. I'm not going to lie-- I was horrified by the scene. oh, the mess-- the mess! who's going to clean up the mess? what if he gets glitter in his eye? he started to drag crayons and markers through the coarse, glittery mixture. I was mesmerized. and then, totally caught up in the joy of it. his parents were there, occasionally stepping in, though only when completely necessary. I was just as taken with them (and their laid back approach) as I was with the boy and all his glue-loving ways. his mother was extremely pregnant, her fair-skinned belly occasionally peeking out from underneath a black knit blouse. she slowly lowered herself into a chair across the room and encouraged him from afar. "yeah, that's good. that's the stuff," she'd say as he gently pushed small fistfuls of glitter into the sticky terrain of the box. I'm telling you, it was beautiful. that sort of creative freedom makes me want to lay down and have a good cry. because it comes from a place so deep and true, so authentic. which is at the very core of who we are as children-- creators who have yet to be corrupted by the unrelenting voice of reason, by rules and restrictions and the narrow ideas of what processes are right, what methods are acceptable.



later on that same day, while we were having a picnic lunch in the backyard of a good friend's house, ezra discovered a full basin of rainwater near a drainpipe. no longer interested in lunch, he toddled off to explore. then came the rocks (big rocks that fell with the most satisfying PLOP) and then dirt and many fistfuls of grass. then eggshells from the compost pile. and more dirt. at some point, the garden hose made an appearance. ah yes, all the makings of a great springtime soup. he began to dip various body parts into this brown soup, starting with hands, then arms and feet, ultimately ending with his entire head and as much of his little body as possible. by the time it was over, said springtime mixture had been dumped and ezra had to be stripped down to the skivvies so that his clothes could be thrown into the dryer. through it all, I couldn't relax. I had real difficulty with just letting him go. I was torn: I wasn't sure exactly when I should step in and put a stop to it, or if I even should at all. how much guidance is sufficient? how much is too much? not enough? lucky for me, I have great friends who allowed patches of their backyard to temporarily become swampland. they're good like that. and splendid parental units, to boot. still, I was thoroughly exhausted after the whole ordeal and disturbed that I was not more sure-footed in the face of such a minor parenting dilemma. which started me to thinking that maybe I'm playing this motherhood gig all wrong-- fast and loose and all over the place. not as laidback as I thought I might be. losing confidence in my skills. and fast.



ultimately, ezra took to the fingerpainting like a duck to water-- up to his elbows in it (literally) once he figured the whole thing out. and yesterday in art class, he was only too happy to 'fingerpaint' with an entire bottle of elmer's glue. I was sort of hoping for the glitter to make an appearance too (no such luck). I don't think I've damaged him-- at least not in the area of personal expression and mess-making. I do feel challenged, though. each incident is but a greater representation of most every parenting situation-- how much structure is too much? not enough? when do I pull back? when do I step in? we are constantly called to strike a very fine balance. this is what makes parenting so exhausting, so exhilarating. it's why I collapse into bed each night as if I've spent the day taking on entire armies from foreign lands. it's why I keep finding grey hairs here and there, I'm sure of it. And I think it may also have something to do with those dark circles and fine lines around the eyes (though all that time spent laying out in the sun during the 80s hasn't helped either).

if I figure it all out, I promise you'll be the first to know. I guarantee a good amount of mess-making is required to round out a good childhood, I know that for sure. fortunately, I think we might have that area covered.

13 comments:

  1. yes to all of this. i know that fine line and flirt with it everyday. for instance yesterday collette knocked over her cup of milk for the ten millionth time. i wasnt mad at her, but seething over cleaning up milk for the ten millionth time. i mean for crying out loud there is a proverb over spilt milk. not a big deal right? sigh... it is such a hard job, but i cant imagine not having it.

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  2. I am so glad others relate to this. I REALLY struggle with this. I have come so far in the area of mess making (especially for meal time) since having children, but finger painting... i wanna be ready, i really do, but i'm scared! Why does mess terrify me so much. I have been that mom sitting on the sideline wondering when and if i should intervene.!

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  3. My daughters are older now, but I was definitely the mother who couldn't decide. Should I let them get dirty again or is it time to say stop, enough? (I could hear my mother's voice whispering: Stop, stop, clean those ladies...) I admit that when I'm doing arts with my nephew and niece I don't ask myself that question anymore. Let's go, let's get dirty if we feel like it. But I'm not the mother, that must be why it's so much easier!

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  4. I'm so not carefree and this post made me realize I need to loosen up - who cares really? My girl is always begging to be a messy artist and I'm continually squishing that joy and need to express with 'later', 'not now' and really, if not now than when?
    Thank you for writing this - I plan to have her little gooey fingers in the brownie bowl this weekend, she'll try the mixer and if it flies everywhere, than the brownies will be that much better won't they?

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  5. What a fantastic essay on the catch-22 of being a parent. How much is too much? Am I stifling him/her? Am I giving too much freedom? What kind of little person am I creating?

    One rule of thumb that I usually followed was "Is he/she hurting anyone? Are they hurting themselves?" From there, you just watch...and wait.

    My favorite saying of Frank's is "kids bounce." It is something he said to me many many times when I worried about one of the kids hurting themselves. But he was right -- how WE react to something a child does, directly influences their reaction. Especially when they are younger. If Ezra walks in the door covered from head to toe in mud and you absolutely freak out, tell him he can't get anywhere near mud again, and repeatedly mention how long it is going to clean him, his clothes and the trail of mud to the bathroom -- he will, in the future, either avoid mud all together, lie the next time he gets in mud, or get in mud intentionally when you make him mad.

    BUT -- if you sigh, shake your head at him with a smile, then sing silly songs with him as you bathe him, and make a game of cleaning up the muddy path in the hallway...he may invite you to play in the mud with him next time ;)

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  6. You make a good point about allowing mess/encouraging creativity here. My boys had similar reactions upon introduction to finger paint, but now they too have found their "inner mess/masterpiece".

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  7. so true. all of what you have written is something i have struggled with at one time or another. alena loves to get dirty but the finger paint thing was a bit hard at first. i wonder what it is.

    by the way the name ezra has always been top on my list for boys. great name.

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  8. You are doing a great job as a mother when you are asking these questions of yourself. There are so many women in this world who pride themselves on cleanliness and would never self reflect or question themselves. Sometimes I wonder if this half need to be neat and tidy and the other half wanting to let it all go comes from who we were mothered by and that generation. Really enjoying your blog. I'm a littlebirds reader and found it through her. good luck in portalnd and with all that rain. cheers!

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  9. love this post, andrea. i think with mess-making, kids are often perched on the edge of what is tolerable for not just us (as parents), but for them, like they really have to experience the excess to know, "okay, that's too much. i don't like it any more." going overboard helps them set their own internal limits the next time around.

    one trick is to just have them paint in an empty bathtub (with washable paint). they can paint the sides of the tub, tiled walls, their bodies and then when it's time to clean up, you're already where you need to be.

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  10. thank you andrea. once again you have tapped into my brain, already i wonder about these things, these fine lines and decisions and my little one isn't even born yet! i am always impressed by the way you prioritize play, it inspires me to do the same, both on my own and with my child when he is here.

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  11. we tried finger painting once, maybe twice and then decided that's for art school or until i buy a tarp that covers the entire floor first. you're not alone here my friend, in fact feeling less confident tells me you're even wiser. i swear the older i get the less i know.

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  12. beautiful! i LOVE the photos!

    please send me your blog/button badge for my mother's day blogroll mrs. ward-o-matic (+ enter my mother's day giveaways)

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  13. Beautiful pictures... so inspiring. Creativity and expression of oneself arises from the most messiest of situations... I swear by that (especially in the kitchen!!)

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