Every parent has their thing. You know, the thing that you truly love doing with your kid, not because you should, but because you – the human being trapped in a parent’s body – want to, love to, even.
For my husband, it’s making up songs on the guitar. For our upstairs neighbor, it’s soccer. For another friend of mine, it’s long bike rides. For me, it’s talking – having a conversation about life and people and how things work.
It is not, however, doing art projects.
Take me to an art museum, sure, but my god, do not give me popsicles, glue, or markers. I don’t know what overwhelms me more: the inevitable messiness or the unfamiliar language of making things with objects. But I know I am overwhelmed. I’m cool with a Magna Doodle, for obvious reasons, but beyond that, I’m lost and risk averse. And I don’t want to be!
My three-year-old seems so proud of the sparsely painted pieces of paper he brings home from preschool, the ones I hang up in his room with pink painter’s tape and marvel at. Just because his mother has a panic attack at the sight of water-based paints and pipe cleaners doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get to make art at home.
So, in service of this mission, I asked my friend Lisa Fontana, an elementary school art teacher and mom in Brooklyn, how to not stand in the way of my son expressing himself with things that could stain the rug or stab me in the foot on my way to bed.
Here are her surprisingly simple, accessible ideas:
- Designate an “art table” at home that can get messy and have a variety of materials available on a shelf or in a bin, like paper, tape, glue, markers, and recycled materials.
- Have kiddos select the materials they would like to use and focus on the process of creating (instead of the product). Say “I notice you are making really fast red lines” instead of “that’s a cat” because…it’s usually not a cat.
- Be an active observer and reflect back what they are doing. It shows you are interested and helps them to slow down. “I see you are taping now,” or “You are going for the paint now, oh boy.”
- Develop ideas by asking questions. “I wonder what is happening here?” or “How can we change this?”
- Encourage creative problem solving by transforming items from recycling bin. “I wonder how we can turn this milk carton into a car.”
- Not to sound cheesy, but if you have the time, sit down, grab some crayons, and relax. Forget about your skill level and enjoy the sensory experience of art making. Your kid will see you enjoying yourself and join the fun.
At the risk of sounding utterly idiotic, I had no idea how conversational art-making could and, maybe, should be. As a writer of long things, I know how imperative it is to practice process-appreciation. The journey is long; getting comfortable finding satisfaction, even some joy, in the day-to-day doing is the only way to survive.
This is parenting, too, but I myopically did not think about how that could be the case with an art project.
Lisa’s final suggestion – that we parents sit and color and, you know, calm down – moved me to tears. I never hated coloring as a kid. It’s only now, as an adult, that it’s come to feel like something I don’t have time for.
But there is time to be found.
There are things that can be left undone: dishes, beds, big plans, all my big plans. So much is undone in my own life right now, messy and unfinished and unknown. Perhaps instead of trying to control the terror lurking at the back of my brain by hiding the magic markers, I can instead dig out that glue wedged into the bottom of the drawer and gather the recycling we keep forgetting to take out and befriend the chaos with my son.