Some snapshots of the art-making that I have been up to lately. I also had three paintings on display in this month’s Art Walk in my area. You can see them online here.
Recently, my little Simon and I met some friends for lunch at a local cafe. We arrived, ordered our food, and then I told Simon he could pick out a drink for himself. He excitedly chose an Izze soda, knowing that this is the only soda I allow him to drink. (If you are not familiar, Izze is basically carbonated fruit juice with no added sugars or preservatives. And it is quite delicious.)
Full of excitement over meeting friends, and being allowed to have a special treat, he practically bounced across the cafe floor with his drink, to place it on the counter. The woman working at the counter began to ring us up. Simon politely said to her: “Excuse me,…”
“Hi!” She said to him. “Is that your drink?”
“Yes, and—” He began to reply.
“Your Mom is having a baby!” She interrupted him. “You must be excited!”
He again tried to speak, pointing to his soda: “This is—”
“Are you having a sister or a brother?” She again interrupted.
“No. This is—” Still pointing at the soda bottle.
“A baby sister or a baby brother? Do you know what you are having?” Her tone implied impatience with him, and yet she was not giving him time to reply. By now, I was feeling furious with this woman. My son was attempting to communicate with her, but she had her own agenda. Because he was not responding the same way an adult would, she was not respecting him, and not taking the time to listen.
He tried again: “But this is–” He was tapping the soda bottle frantically now, to show her what he was trying to talk about.
And again she interrupted: “You must be excited about the baby. What is it gonna be, a boy or a girl?”
Finally, Simon could not take it any more, and actually jumped up and down and wailed: “But I am trying to tell you something!”
She didn’t even hear his words, despite the fact that he was shouting them, because she was still grilling him over the gender of our baby. So this time I interrupted her. I reached out my hand, and stroked Simon’s hair. I leaned down to his level and said: “It’s ok honey.” Then, I looked back up at the woman and said: “He has been trying to tell you something that is important to him. He is very excited today.” I leaned back down to Simon and encouraged him: “Go ahead, Sweetie. Tell her what you want to say.”
She finally gave him room to speak. He spoke carefully and slowly now. I think he was afraid she would interrupt him again: “This is special soda that I get to have.”
She didn’t seem to know what to say, so she just replied “Oh yeah?” and finished our transaction.
Unfortunately, I don’t think she believed there was value in anything he had to say. I realize that not all adults know how to interact with children. However, at this point he was a customer in her cafe, and also a fellow human being. She was only interested in my pregnant belly, and thought he should be too. Of course he is, but it is a part of his everyday life. At that moment, getting a soda was much more thrilling and new, and he had a desperate need to express this to the other adult in front of him. Sure, she made an attempt to show interest in him by asking him questions, but it wasn’t genuine because she didn’t actually try to hear what he was saying.
He may have been barely able to see over the counter. He may have been wiggly, and silly, and young. However, that did not mean he was not worthy of being listened to. Children know when they are being talked down to or disregarded. They can sense it and it causes them frustration. (Just as it would for an adult.) This whole interaction may have only lasted a few minutes, but we encounter similar situations day after day. Added up all together they send a message that his opinions are less important because he is a kid, and that only grownups are worthy of being heard.
All adults, parents and non-parents, sometimes need to be reminded: Children are people too.
We have been cooking up a storm lately. Having a daily meal together is one of our family values, one that we have neglected far too much in recent months, with my pregnancy being rough on me, and us still not being quite fully settled into our new home. Jeramy and I want to eat more healthfully and seasonally, to role model a good relationship with food for our children, and to stick to a budget while sharing the experience of family time spent at the dinner table.
In need of some inspiration, I checked out a new cookbook from the library, and drafted a meal plan from there that was realistic for our tastes. When I create weekly meal plans it is better for our budget, saves us time, and means fewer trips to the store. I spend a little bit of time once a week, looking at recipes, writing the grocery list, and looking at the calendar to see what our evening schedule looks like every day. Once that bit of work is done though, and the grocery trip has been made, I am free from the stress and panic of “What’s for dinner?” each day.
The best part is that not only have I been rediscovering joy in cooking for myself, but Jeramy and Simon have too. Most nights, all three of us are in the kitchen together to prepare dinner. Simon has shown increasing interest in helping, and learning about recipes and ingredients. He has assisted with chopping, stirring, measuring, and scooping. He even helps set the table now. And though he tends to be a picky eater most of the time, being involved in the process has invited him to try new things. It certainly takes longer to prep a meal with a small child, but it is so worth it. He is learning so much, and having a very valuable experience. Cooking together as a family creates memories.
“Mumma, your armpit is dis-gus-ting!”
“What!? Why is it disgusting?” I asked him.
“Because it has hair in it.”
Amused, I explained: “That is because I am a grownup. When you grow up you will have hair growing in your armpits too.”
“Ewwww!” he replied. “Well, then, I am not growing up.”
Last week we had several rainy and chilly Spring days in a row. On one of those days, Simon found a box of art supplies and asked to take it out. Never one to turn down art, I of course brought out the box, and we ended up spending hours together being creative and messy.
We found an old plaster mask inside that Simon got at a local kid’s art studio last year, and which he periodically adds to or re-paints. He started out by putting more foam stickers onto the mask, and then a fresh layer of paint. From there he moved on to painting on newspaper, exploring mixing colors on his palette, and then splattering water onto construction paper to see how he could make it change color.
While he did all of this, I used crayons and paint to work on some sketches of my own. I find that when I make art with materials that are less “precious” I tend to feel more free to explore and express. I think this process is good for me as an artist, because I release my tendency of being a perfectionist and just let go and have fun with the process. It is also probably good role modeling for Simon to see that you can be fearless about artistic expression, and not fuss about what it looks like.
Eventually Simon discovered the perler beads, and began working on making a star. I was amazed at how focused he was on this, seeing it through to completion with determination, even when the beads would sometimes tumble off of the shape if he bumped them. Once his star was filled in and ironed, he moved back over to the other side of the table again, and drew with crayons for a while before discovering that he could dip them in the paint and use them instead of a paintbrush.
So much exploration of materials took place, and I was amazed by how much time Simon invested in his artwork. Times like this are my favorite, where there is no right or wrong answer, we just pull stuff out and see what happens.
It is very difficult to admit to oneself when a bad habit has developed. It takes a certain level of self-awareness to even recognize when something you are doing is having a negative impact on your life, let alone to do something about it. I recently came to realize that I have a bad habit when it comes to my constant use of the internet.
Not only do I have a computer, but I recently got my first smart phone, something I had avoided for a long time because I felt in unnecessary. With the new technology came an increase in temptation to simply pop online to check Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads…any of my favorite sites. It was easy to check it all before, but now I had access in my pocket, wherever I might be. A bad habit had become a worse one.
It wasn’t just that I was being distracted from my own tasks, I was also sending a message to Simon that the internet was a priority for his Mumma. Not something I want to role model, especially in a world that more and more tries to reel kids into the latest technology, and away from using their imaginations and learning from their surroundings. I also believe in and will espouse the value of setting limits for use of technology, but was not living up to my own convictions. So, after thinking it over a bit, and admitting to myself that my internet habit was interfering with my ability to be in the moment and to find motivation, I realized I had to break it.
I talked to my husband about it, because he has the same bad habit. He agreed we needed to work on it. So we came up with a new rule: No internet until Simon is in bed. This means no frivolous browsing on either our computers or our phones while he is around. The acceptable exceptions would be things like checking the bank account balance or paying a bill, looking up how to get somewhere, finding a recipe, etc. Otherwise, there is no reason why it cannot wait until after the child is in bed.
The new rule has been in place for about a week now, and we have both broken it a couple of times. The other day, while Simon ran around in the yard to play, and I sat on the deck with my iced coffee, I popped onto facebook. Today he actually took a nap and I decided to hop online for a few minutes. So, I still need to work on it, but even those times when I did break the rule, it was when Simon was not around me. And overall, I have been successful at staying away from the temptation to just pop on needlessly.
The thing is, we think we are more connected when we use the internet. And yes, in some ways we are. For example, I have friends and acquaintances that I communicate with exclusively on the internet. However, the reality is, spending time online takes us away from the connectedness that comes from being where we are, in the real world, with the people who are there. What is happening right now will change from moment to fleeting moment, but the internet will still be waiting for me when and if I do decide to surf at the end of the day. The messages don’t care what time I check them, the blog posts and articles won’t disappear if they aren’t read immediately.
The internet–social media in particular–is addicting. But giving up the addiction and setting healthy boundaries is much more rewarding.
Last week we celebrated Simon turning four years-old. His actual birthday was on a Wednesday, so he and I spent the day together playing outside and shopping for party supplies. When Daddy got home from work we had a special pancake dinner (which has become an annual tradition), followed by a few presents. The following Saturday we had a little party here at home with some friends and family.
As everyone who has loved or cared for a child knows, time flies. They grow and change so fast, and it is amazing to witness. Simon continues to astound Jeramy and I on a daily basis with his imagination, intelligence, humor, and love.
At age four he loves ninjas and swords. He is currently obsessed with the movie Frozen. He makes “contraptions” all over the house with bits of rope and toys. He has very strong opinions on the way he believes everything should be done, and will argue them with us exhaustively. He is considerate and sweet, and loves to pick me flowers. He will sit and listen to chapter after chapter of a book being read-aloud to him. He increasingly wants to help us cook, garden, and do projects around the house. He sings us songs and will perform concerts for us with his instruments. He is a mostly picky eater, but will do strange things, like dipping pickles into his soup. He is social, and will greet everyone we encounter in public, asking them their name. He loves going for hikes and walks, and to the beach in summer. His favorite color is orange, but he likes pink a lot too.
I am so proud of my little guy, and how much his personality has grown. This is such a fun age.