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.