We are at this amazing stage in childhood with Caroline where she wants to sit with me and create. This makes my crafty heart happy. I have always considered myself more of a “crafty” person than a creative. When people comment on my creativity, I counter with “not my idea. Stole it from Pinterest.” Before Pinterest there were magazines to tear images from and replicate. Before magazines there were Arts and Crafts Books for Kids that I checked out all summer and set goals to complete each project. My favorite part of Legos was the very first day you crack open that brand new box. I pulled out the detail instructions and set to work matching my creation next to the blueprint. This early love of seeing a craft and following the plan to create led to my early fascination with house plan layouts. I was going to be an architect.
I became a child development specialist instead. Completely different, you say. Yes, but no. When I began work with a young family and their little one with developmental delays, there was always a plan. There were the goals we set at the initial meeting. There were the milestones I knew needed to be reached. After almost 10 years of work, I practically had a script for each family, changed a bit depending on the particular needs. But I always had a plan. I always had an end goal. I was always looking ahead. This was my job and this is why early intervention works.
Yet the problem with this mind sight now, as a parent, is I haven’t shut that down. Not completely. I am still always looking ahead to that next milestone. The next birthday. “When they can play together it will so much easier…” or “I don’t know what I’m going to do when he starts walking…” or even “she is almost going to Kindergarten which means she is practically a teenager and I just can’t handle a teenager.” My focus tends to be on what is to come instead of what is now. The product instead of the process.
It’s 9 AM. Elliott is taking a morning nap, a time when we get a rare one on one just mom and Caroline time. This is when we do things like watercolor painting that only big girls get to do. She swirls her paintbrush into each and every color on the palette. The colors, as you can imagine, become one unappealing mish mash blob of bluish black. The brush splatters across the paper in one swift glop, and she moves the paper aside. “Done.” “Really? You’re done? We just got started.” “I’m done with that one. I want another paper. I want to make more.”
My paintbrush swirls into the paint, too. We don’t share palettes. I like my colors vivid and separate. I stare for awhile at the blank paper. What do I want to make? A message? A portrait? I should start a pin board of watercolor ideas. “What should I make?” I ask her. “Make a painting.” I stare a little longer. I choose orange first and add a quick swoop across the middle of the empty paper. I pause again.
She is putting more paint on this second paper than the last. A similar blobby bluish black, but so much more spreading over the paper. “I need a spoon. And salt,” she asks me. This time I don’t question her request. I’m curious. She dribbles more and more water onto the paper and the colors pool. Then she sprinkles the salt and smashes it into the paper like she is kneading dough. She is quiet. She is focused. Her face is squinted almost like a scientist studying a rat in a cage. Watching her art change with each step. From my vantage point the paper is slowly deteriorating from the saturation of the water and the scrubbing of the salt. Yet she keeps working, studying, creating. She is fully absorbed into this process.
I stop watching her and pick up my brush. I add another swirl to the paper, this time green. Then blue. Then purple. I am getting more sloppy about the amount of water. As I add more and more color to the paper, I notice the brush strokes change color as they cross over one another. It is not quite the bluish black blob that Caroline worked so hard to create, but it isn’t pure. It isn’t really anything at all. But it is quiet. It is calm. It is colorful. It is a process.
We set our art to the side to dry. Elliott is awake and our painting time is done. I ask her if she wants to hang up her picture and she says “no, I want to make a different one to hang up.” She isn’t done yet. I hope she is never done.
I’m not done either. Each and every day, I am practicing this art of parenting. Some days it is a bluish black blob. Other days it is bright and colorful, maybe just what I had in mind, maybe even more beautiful. But I am going to learn to trust the process, not the product. I am going to find peace and light in the creating and be surprised by the creation later.