art

That Time Whip-Nae-Nae Saved The Day

Nothing stinky here

Nothing stinky here

As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.

On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.

In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.

“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”

“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.

“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”

We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.

“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.

(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)

I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.

As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.

The Puppy and The Bone I Threw Him

Our real puppy

Not the puppy in question

I recently wrote about how excited I was that my son found and began reading my blog posts. At the time, I felt like Queen of the World because this demonstrated to me, in some small way, that my son was interested in what I do and recognized that I am a person outside of simply being his mother. The other day, though, I discovered the rub with this new situation. My son reads my blog. This means that all the anecdotes I tell about him, ones I think are super cute and fun, are now open to his scrutiny. He could read what I write and feel embarrassed or, worse, feel I am making fun of him. It puts my responsibility to him as his mother above my responsibility to myself as writer. Dammit. To make matters worse, this discovery was precipitated by something cute I wanted to share about him that he was none too happy to have me share. It went something like this:

“So…I was thinking about writing about you and the whole puppy thing.”

“No,” he responded emphatically.

“But it’s so cute,” I countered with the growing realization that this might be an uphill battle.

“It’s embarrassing,” he replied. “What if someone I know reads it?”

“No one you know is going to read this,” I replied. “No one reads my blog.”

“Over a thousand people do,” he responded naively.

“I guarantee you that a thousand people are not reading my blog.”

“Doesn’t matter, Mom. Nothing dies on the Internet. If they don’t find it now, they will find it later. Stuff on the Internet never really goes away.”

This is true. We’ve discussed the benefits and pitfalls of the Internet ad nauseam. He knows that the Internet is not some ethereal netherworld. Things you put out there now could be there forever. To wit, here’s a link to a website I created in 1997 as a graduate student at Illinois State. Giggle heartily at my use of animated gifs, please. Just remember that it was 1997, I was using Adobe PageMaker software, and this dancing hamster was cutting edge. Also, it took five minutes to download a single photo and America Online was an actual thing. Did I mention it was 1997? Don’t judge.

For the past few days, I have been trying to wear my son down, still wanting to write about the puppy thing and hoping he would at last give me his blessing. I know this isn’t phenomenal-parent behavior on my part. I should respect my son’s wishes and just move on. But I really felt strongly about this puppy story, so I kept pursuing it. Yesterday, I finally got him to admit that perhaps something bigger than fear of embarrassment was troubling him. He acknowledged that since the puppy story involves another person perhaps that person might not appreciate it. I told him I would talk to that person personally at back-to-school night before writing anything. He looked at me with horror. Sensing that he was not going to win this battle and knowing I have the tenacity of a pit bull when so inclined to lock my jaws on something, he acquiesced…under one condition. I had to allow him to shoot me with his brother’s Nerf disc gun. It seemed like a small but fair price to pay for the rights to his puppy story. So, I stood still and let him assail me with several rounds of Nerf discs. You gotta be willing to sacrifice for your art.

Tonight, with bona fide permission to write the puppy blog I have been pestering him about for a week, I sat down with my MacBook Pro to fulfill my destiny. I got about this far and started to question whether I was making the right choice. I adore my son, and I would never want to do something in the short-term that would undermine our relationship for the long haul. I thought it only fair to give him one last chance to rescind his permission. He did. So, the story I’ve been working on all week will not come to fruition. I’m okay with it, even though it was a really cute story. Someday, when he is older and more comfortable in his own skin, he will roll over and let me tell his puppy story. In the meantime, I’ll just throw him this little bone.

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait

Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait

My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.

All I Know About Art I Learned From DrawSomething

I am no artist, especially not on an iPhone with my fat finger as the artistic implement, but being creative is fun.

At the request of my husband, I downloaded the DrawSomething app, which is kind of like Pictionary for your phone. You’re given a choice of words to draw, each with different possible points to accumulate based on the potential difficulty of the word. For the record, I did not want to download this app because I’ve been banned from playing Pictionary with my family. They believe I become too competitive and then belligerent. Truth is, my mom and I would always end up as partners while my sisters would be partners. My mother is an artistic soul and while she was busy creating a work of art, my sister Julie would get three lines into a stick figure horse, my sister Kathy would guess the clue, and my mother and I would go down in a ball of flames. I hate to lose. I do. But losing to three lines of a stick figure horse while my mother sketches the outline of her equine masterpiece was more than I could bear. Lesson #1: The truly artistic should never play timed drawing games with people who like to win. They should play DrawSomething instead.

Although my spouse (the one who begged me to download the app so we could play) never plays with me, other friends have started games with me and gotten me addicted. Now, I have friends who are infinitely more gifted than I am with artistic skills. Some of them create miniature works of art on their phone or iPad and make it easy for me to guess the answer. Other friends are a bit more like me, and I have to employ my creative mind to guess what in the holy hell they just drew. I suppose the thing that keeps me going when a friend draws a Scotty dog that looks like it’s a black unicorn wearing a ugly sweater is that this is a cooperative game, not a competitive one. I don’t want my friend to think that her drawing was indecipherable, so I work hard to envision her thought process. Sometimes, it’s not easy. Lesson #2: Sometimes art truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

It’s interesting to see the different ways unique individuals try to bring a clue to life. What works for one person in a guessing game does not always work for the next person. One person might choose the term “blizzard” and try to convey a snowstorm. Another person might choose a Dairy Queen treat to convey that same idea. You never know what the person guessing your clue might have in their mental arsenal to help them solve your drawing. You just do the best you can with what you have and leave the rest to interpretation. And in the end, you hope the friend you’re playing with doesn’t start to wonder about you too much when the word you choose to draw is “poop” because you know exactly how to depict an appropriate, steaming pile of doggie do. Lesson #3: Art is subjective. Sometimes a person’s best work of art might be a representation of canine feces, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Some of us are Rembrandts and some of us are Picassos. We can’t all create a flawless work of artistic realism. Some of us look at things a bit differently and put our eyeballs in the wrong spot. I’m glad hubby begged me to download that silly app. It has reminded me how fun it is to draw like I did when I was a kid. Getting back to my inner child has been a trip. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve saved some of my iPhone artistic creations because I was so proud of them. Now, I just need to figure out how to put them on a virtual fridge using virtual magnets.