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 ezra had not yet been properly introduced to the world of finger painting. how could that be? am I not the queen of messy art making? apparently not. when ezra scrunched up his nose in complete disgust over a glob of paint that oozed 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 one that smeared black beans all over his face and then acted 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, so his reaction was a troubling one, and so completely out of character. I began to wonder, what have I done wrong? have I somehow robbed my son of his love of messy art making? perhaps in my relentless Quest For Clean? have the hundreds and hundreds of times I've yelled NO and STOP THAT and GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF THERE finally done damage? 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. probably. or 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. watched as he smeared elmer's glue over the entire surface of the cigar box he was decorating. then came the glitter. I cannot 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 absolutely necessary. I was just as taken with them (and their laid back approach) as I was with the boy and his mess-making ways. his mother extremely pregnant mother, fair-skinned belly occasionally peeking out from underneath a black knit blouse, 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'll tell you, it was beautiful. it's the sort of creative freedom that makes me want to lay down and have a good cry. because it comes from a place so deep and so true, so completely authentic, which is at the very core of who we are as children-- creators who have net yet been 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 (that fell with the most satisfying plop) and then dirt and then many, many fistfuls of grass. then eggshells from the compost pile. and dirt, 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 the 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, clothes thrown into the dryer. through it all, I couldn't relax. I had real difficulty just letting him go. and I was torn. I wasn't exactly sure 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? fortunately, I have great friends who allowed patches of their backyard to become swampland. they're good like that and splendid parental units, to boot. still, I was thoroughly exhausted after the ordeal and a more than a little disturbed I was not more sure-footed in the face of such a minor parenting dilemma. maybe I'm playing this motherhood gig all wrong-- fast and loose and all over the place. I am certainly not as laid back as I thought I might be.
ultimately, ezra took to the finger painting 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 'finger paint' with an entire bottle of elmer's glue. I was sort of hoping for the glitter to make an appearance (no such luck). I don't think I've damaged him. at least not in the area of personal expression and/or 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 and this is what makes parenting so exhausting (and well, so exhilarating). this is why I collapse into bed each night like I've spent the day taking on entire armies from foreign lands. this is why I keep finding grey hairs, I'm sure of it.
if I figure it all out, I promise you'll be the first to know. a good amount of mess-making is required to round out a good childhood, this I know for sure. and fortunately, I think we might have that area covered.