Reflecting back to my own childhood, I have a distinct memory from my three-year-old preschool class. We were all given large letters to color, and on my page was the letter “R.” I chose the color red, and in my mind, my work was perfect; the edges of my letter were intact without the slightest stray scribble. I was completely content in my perfect expression of art until Brad, the kid next to me, took his brown crayon and make a huge mark that extended from inside my red letter, crossed the boundaries of the line, and finally violated the clean white space of the paper that was not meant for any coloring. It could be said that I overreacted, but I felt the only appropriate action to take was to grab a black crayon and destroy my beautiful, red “R.”
Further reflection about this memory could say quite a bit about my wish to control the environment around me, an indication that the budding creativity of my own children might challenge my comfort level. Perhaps the brown mark across my paper could have been developed into a beautiful tree over my letter? My creative vision at the time was limited, though, and I could only see that my work was destroyed.
Those who have seen my house can easily confirm that I am not a neat freak. Clutter is well nourished in my home; I tolerate scattered books and toys better than most. However, the story of the letter “R” revisits me when it comes to doing artwork with my children. With my son, the challenge has been that he would want help with coloring a picture, so I would help. I would choose my color, pick a section, and all would be well until I realized that I was supposed to be okay with him coloring on my, I mean his, artwork. Fortunately, as the years have passed, my son has become happy for us to each color pictures beside each other, allowing me to control the environment of my own artwork.
The medium of art expression that I have avoided the most is finger painting. Yes, children’s paint is washable, but somehow it will not only move beyond the boundaries of lines on the paper but also find a way to use children’s hands to hitchhike onto the table, clothes, hair, and sometimes even the floor and wall. Of course, the moment will come when my child wants help from me, and the risky feeling of paint on my fingers that could be transferred to anything else I touch gives me a greater awareness that even I, in a moment of distraction, might not be able to keep my own art inside the square corners of the paper.
For me to be able to help my child with finger-painting, I have to accept the reality that art is messy, it can be cleaned up, and that my child and I will recover no matter where the paint ends up residing. I almost forgot – it should be fun!
Today I finally opened up the finger paints I bought for my daughter months ago. I took the risk of letting her have fun, fully aware of the disorder that would result from her joy. At fist, she hesitated. Maybe she was also worried about a mess? Oh no, I didn’t want her to feel limited by a fear of paint going everywhere. I dipped my finer in the paint and demonstrated. She following my example and enjoyed herself by painting five pictures! By the time she was finished, the total damage was paint on her hands, my hands, her pajamas, and the table. That was it! We had fun creating art together, and all of the mess was easily cleaned up!
Perhaps not all mothers have as much difficulty with finger painting as I do, but I do think most mothers can relate to having their children push them outside of their level of comfort. Of course, there is a balance, and sometimes it’s important to maintain order. However, I’ve learned that the situations where our children push us just past our limits can be good lessons for how we view life. This can apply to our career choices, our social activities, and even our value system.
Perhaps the safe career isn’t the most rewarding? Perhaps the risk of starting a new activity and meeting new people will bring a greater depth and enjoyment to life? Perhaps one of the rules of life you have always followed should be reevaluated to determine if it still fits into your value system?
Since I gave birth to my first child, I have tackled all three of those questions. My career goals have changed, but I feel a much deeper sense of satisfaction with my new career direction. I have joined many new social groups and have only found more appreciation of life with getting to know more people. For my value system, I have learned to listen more closely to what is in my heart rather seeking out popular values that are not meaningful for me. Hopefully now that I have survived finger painting, I will be able to accept even more of the joys waiting for me outside the lines of the letter “R.”