Archive for the 'Parenting' Category

My Crown of Glory


A few months ago my children and I observed how my dozen or so strands of gray hair had remained steady in number since their first appearance a few years back.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed with dismay that the number had increased twofold, the fierce pale strands fighting for their place amongst the mass of deep brown. A difficult season of parenting had taken place between those two surveys of my head and I knew without a doubt that out of the stress and straining of those days the silver had sprung its roots.

My 12-year-old encourages me to embrace the tale-tell signs of aging. She quotes a passage from Proverbs and reminds me that it’s a sign of a righteous life, that it is my “crown of splendor”.  If I look from the right angle, I can see the new gray stands as an affirmation that I’m not over-exaggerating that short but stormy season, it’s a marking post that I faced something truly difficult and I’ve arrived on the other side. I simply didn’t know my crown of splendor would be arriving at the age of 37.

What if the same process that produced these silver strands also worked in reverse?

For example, today was the opposite of my days a few months back. The April sun was warm, while the shade allowed a playful caress of wind. Instead of fighting, each of my kids engaged in a creative activity, entirely unprompted by me.

My six-year-old sat before me in her red wagon, first drawing a map of an imaginary land and then typing a story of giants and dragons. Beside me sat my ten-year-old (who has spent much of the last year hating any act of school-ish activity) writing chapter five of a story. The twelve-year-old worked on a “creaturepedia” for her own story and the oldest worked on a script for a project that she’s begun with friends. This is how the day began and this is how the day continued for hours and I sat near them all, reading a book and saying a quiet thanks to the Lord.

What if, with the same power that conjured those gray follicles into my hair like wild kudzu, a day like this could just as magically change a few of them back to the rich brown of youth and hope? This too, would be a kind of affirmation, that each day may brings its own mercies, its own renewal.


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The Space to Breathe


(this post was written a few days ago)

At this very moment, there is silence around me.

Truthfully, it is not silent, because there is a ticking clock, the sound of a dog roaming outside, and an occasional chicken chattering in the backyard.  But the normal soundtrack of children arguing and “I’m hungry” is absent, so to me these other noises are still a kind of silence.

We are finishing up five days of housesitting for friends. They only live fifteen minutes from us, but I’m fairly convinced that when you turn onto their dirt road, away from the matching houses of the neighborhood in which their home is nested, you cross a portal into a different zone of living.

A dog reminiscent of a polar bear approaches you as you exit your car.  As you enter their sun-filled house your eyes move from the shimmering honey jars stacked over their kitchen sink (fresh from their own bees) to the big picture window where colorful woodpeckers and chickadees dance on the bird feeder outside and finally your gaze lands on the books, and then more books.

It is a home in which the doors are never locked (that’s not a metaphor, they really aren’t ever locked that I know of). The most striking feature, aside from the generous hearts that run this home, is the room to breathe.   Inside the house there is space.  Outside the house there are benches, swings, hills to climb, welcoming paths and lanterns in the woods.

For our family of six, who live in a small three-bedroom house, space is a gift. For our family, in which a step onto our driveway means we’re practically stepping onto our neighbor’s driveway, space is a gift.

For our son (a young man of ten years with three sisters), the space calls him to adventure. He’s had a challenging winter of hating school and suffocating in a small space with sisters who like to be in charge and highlight his mistakes. Here, he rises early, checks the animals, and heads out to the woods, a sturdy walking stick in hand.  He doesn’t complain about taking out the trash, or cleaning up a mess. He’s more patient and confident, in this space.

For our two older daughters, they’ve left email and other technology behind and now venture into books and board games.  “I haven’t read a lot this year,” my oldest daughter told me last week.  This week she has read for hours, diving deep into stories.

“Can I please play on the iPad,” she asks me when she finally tires of reading.

“No,” I answer, though inwardly I’m wondering if I’m drawing the line too firm. She’s fourteen and I’m trying to loosen the reigns.

A few minutes later she is building card houses on the hearth of the fireplace and I relax.

When their friends spend the night, they gather around me.

“We’re bored,” the four girls stand before me, expectantly.

“I can’t wait to see what you come up with,” I answer, as I continue to make dinner.

A few minutes later they are in coats and boots traipsing out into the wet, cool weather. Soon after that they are in a tournament of card games.

And for our youngest, our six-year-old, her older siblings are actually playing games with her, and being mostly nice about it.  She’s figured out Hot-Cross Buns and Beethoven on the piano (we don’t have one at our house, this house has two), and she proudly walks in with two eggs from the chicken roost. “They’re still warm,” she says.

From a winter that has brought regular strife amongst the kids and a lot of angst over decisions for my husband and I, this pocket of time and space is a bit of healing.  A time to slow down.  A time to remember to play. A time to sit in silence and breathe.

Tomorrow we will have to cross the threshold again, back into the world of work, school, expectations, and technology. But this time has soothed the lingering scabs of a tough season.

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Art at the Speed of Life


If you go to an art museum with your four children, you will see the art fast, a colorful blur of masterpieces.

First, the quick pace will be set by your five-year-old, who will drag you from painting to painting (skipping several pieces or walls at a time).

As you try to avoid whiplash during this process, you notice the 14-year-old old has a smile turned upside down and is grinding her teeth because she feels crowded by her siblings and grumpy because she has to rush through the art (even though she doesn’t appear much more interested in the art than the five-year-old).

Eventually you notice the five-year-old has stopped dragging you and now has her arms lifted toward you to be carried.  When you bend down to pick her up you notice the woman with the headphones, who is standing still, listening to the audio tour, and you think how different the art would look at her pace, which seems almost like slow-motion compared to your own speed.

Your attention turns to your nine-year-old son and you know that at least twenty-six minutes have elapsed since he last ate and you calculate how much time is left before “I’m hungry” escapes his lips.

You are now the one that picks up the pace, urging everyone through the exhibit and finally to the stairs that lead to the room the kids have been waiting for, the art-making room. Coats are tossed your way as they disperse to different stations.  You think wistfully of putting your own hands on the fanned paintbrush or making a white line on the black paper in front of the wooden figure. Or maybe making a short animated movie with the giant guinea pigs at station number six.  But you hold the coats and the bags of art as they accumulate.

Later, at home, your husband asks the five-year-old how she liked the art museum and she answers, “First there was this really boring part where we looked at a lot of pictures, but then we went to the part where we got to make art!”

You smile, seemingly amused at your daughter’s cute response, but really you’re thinking again of the woman with the headphones, who walked the exhibit, without any fear of whiplash.


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Shopping for the Right Presents


It’s late in the night and the house is quiet except the muffled tick of the clock, the white noise of the refrigerator, and my fingers sporadically tapping these keys.  It’s dark except for the Christmas tree lights a few feet away, little stars of light shining near my computer and across my patchwork blanket. A glance at the clock tells me that it’s not late at night like I first thought, it’s actually the first hour of Christmas Eve.  By this time tomorrow, the presents will be piled under the tree and the stockings laden with jelly beans and and candy canes and miniatures treasures.

True to our personalities, my husband and I have been finishing up our shopping at the last minute, and we’ll be anxiously awaiting the last Amazon box, due to arrive “by 8pm on the 24th”, according to the tracking data.  We’ve budgeted and agonized over the purchases, adding numbers and checking the kids’ wish lists and doing our best to buy three presents of similar value for each of our four children. Most likely we’ve guessed pretty well thanks to their detailed lists, and after a frenzy of paper ripping, the kids will all be happy with the presents.

For a little while.

Tonight(this morning), as I think over their presents, I’m dissatisfied that I can’t give them what I long to wrap and place in the their hands and in their hearts.  I long to give them each an identity steeped deeply in the Lord. I long to help each of my children believe that they were lovingly and uniquely created by the hand of their Father. I long for them to see that nothing they do in this world, right or wrong, can make them any more (or less) loved or valued by God. I long for them to know that they don’t need to seek out their worth from their peers, or the internet, or even their parents, because their worth is beyond measure and has been since they were a gleam in their Heavenly Father’s eye.

I’d like to give my oldest daughter a true glimpse of the God who died for her, who is with her now, and will be with her forever, when the visible, tangible things of this world have vanished.

I’d like to give my second daughter a mirror that reflects the image God sees when He looks at her, a daughter radiant in strength and joy and beauty, a mirror that absorbs the lies of beauty that this world projects onto every magazine and billboard.

I’d like to give my son a similar mirror that reflects his image unbroken, made perfect in Jesus, a picture of who God has made him to be: a protector, a lover, a maker, a brother, a son.

I’d like to give my youngest daughter the gift of holding on to her beautiful and pure joy in the Lord and His creation, a joy that can’t be stripped away by the darkness of this world, or by the act of growing up.

I don’t have to power to give my children the gifts of faith, love, joy, peace, and hope. I can offer my prayers, I can offer my imperfect self with my imperfect love of Jesus into their daily lives, but I always come up short of how to fill the needs I see in their hearts.

What are Legos or a new scarf compared to the gift that arrived on the very first Christmas? Because of that gift we were all given a new identity.  We became adopted children of God, a brother(or sister) to Jesus,  and heirs to the Kingdom.

Lord, give them gifts that I cannot purchase or manifest by my will or desire. Give them gifts that will not gather dust in the corner of overcrowded closets, gifts that will instill a deep joy even when worldly happiness is in short supply, gifts that will hold them up when the world wants to pull the rug from their faith and hope.

In truth, the gift was given long ago, Lord help them to receive it.

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To Linger in Thankfulness

IMG_7834watching backyard animals from the window

I’ve never been good at writing thank you notes. I blame it on my mom, because she didn’t make me write them (love you, momma!). And my kids will blame it on me, because I don’t make them either.

In theory, though, I like the idea of thank you notes. My kids receive thoughtful presents or the gift of time from a relative, enjoy it and then, moving at the speed of life, they forget and move onto the next thing. In truth, I’m just like them with the daily gifts of life. I am guilty of living moment to moment, worry to worry, just keeping my head above the water until the next wave of worry comes along. I easily miss the amazing gifts that arrive with each new day.


pajama clad girl with her leopard balloon riding her bike in the evening

I’m not good at thank you notes, even if I write them I usually fail to send them. Seriously, I still have sealed thank you notes from our wedding a decade and half ago. Even keeping a thankful list usually falls by the wayside after three days. Lately though, art has become a way to linger in thankfulness a little longer.

These past few weeks I’ve been grabbing my sketchbook to capture moments and then I revisit those sketches later with fresh paper and paint. It’s been a way to slow down, to mark the mundane that is really not mundane at all.  The moments are really endless, but my hand can only catch about one a day or every two days.

IMG_7825the simple pleasure of a swing and a breeze

These moments include:

My oldest child in her cat-eye green sunglasses and favorite owl shirt, beautiful in her spirit, poised between childhood and becoming adult.

My nine-year-old son as he exclaims every day, “You’re the best mommy in the whole world”.  (How amazing that someone truly thinks of me that way.)

All four children working together on a Lego movie.

The five of us reading Edward Eager’s books out loud together.

Every day of the fifteenth year of my marriage.

My five-year-old marveling at every bit of life.

Marveling at life, that’s what I’m doing when I take the the time to sketch a moment of our life. I’m looking at life with the heart of a five-year-old, awe-struck and thankful.



IMG_7838walking with my son during a beautiful sunset last year

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Searching for Answers at the Thrift Store



I’m looking for answers.  I want clear, specific answers.

My eyes scan the book titles  and I wait for a title to reach out with promises.  Rather than start in the more obvious Self-Help section, I head to a smaller section with a taped label, “Theatre” (on second thought, it’s probably spelled with the American “er”). The section makes for short perusal because this is my neighborhood thrift store. There are thirty-two copies of Julius Caesar, twenty-seven versions of Romeo and Juliet, six slim paperbacks of Our Town, and a bland-looking book entitled Creative Drama that tries to lull me into a sympathy purchase every time I visit.

I call out to the books as I take my time amongst the dusty tomes.

“I need to make some decisions about my life. Who can tell me what activities my children should be involved with next fall?”

Silence pervades, but it’s not unfriendly silence.

I pause in the “Old Book” section.

“How can I get my kids to stop fighting?”

I’m pretty sure the muted black and tan book with the jazzy 1960s title: The Man’s Guide to Manly Cooking, just shifted its spine a couple of centimeters in my direction, but I call its bluff and move on.

I walk to the Spiritual section and ask with a little more urgency, “How do I lose a few pounds?”

Even the food-related title, Chocolate for a Christian Woman’s Soul, doesn’t pretend to hold the wisdom I’m longing for tonight, although it does make me think about cookie dough and my stomach rumbles its own response.

I stalk to the Education section, then Cooking and Children’s and eventually land where I should have headed all along: Fiction Softcover.

The reason I didn’t start here is because this isn’t the section I go to for answers.  This is the place I go to forget the questions altogether.  This final destination is a clear sign that I’m surrendering my hope for answers in exchange for the novels in my hand that offer the promise of escape.

It’s more than the other sections have offered thus far.

As I make my way out of the maze of shelves, my arms full, I conjure one final surge of hope and stop in the Parenting section.  Remarkably I find a hardback of the exact book I’d been looking at on Amazon earlier this afternoon. I add it to my stack. The bottom of my stack.

For six dollars and thirty-seven cents, I leave with all I need.

Later, I open up the first novel and my questions pipe down quickly, almost as if they’ve disappeared.

But really, the trick is on me. Inevitably, a dive into the world of fiction, brings me back to the surface of reality with a new perspective on my life and the questions of my heart which, most likely, are different questions than the ones I thought so pressing in the thrift store earlier tonight.




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Hard Assignments


As our family finished creating a mission statement over the break, one of the principles that made it on the list is “We don’t give up,” or as it’s remained in my mind, “We do hard things, we persevere.”

This week of starting back to school has been an essay on doing hard things.  On the first day, it was hard to get up at a decent hour and accept that the day was not our playground.  That morning I pushed all five of us through the motions anyway.  As we sat down to sketch together in the afternoon, I thought we were on the other side of hard for the day.  And then I heard, “I just can’t draw, I can’t do it, I won’t do it!”

I looked over at my eight-year-old, earnest in his fears and self-doubt, his face scrunched in a ball of misery just like the paper crumpled in his hand.  He didn’t have to sketch with us, it was the first day back to school after all, I could have let it go.  It would have made my own sketching time much easier if I’d released him from trying.

“Buddy, we’ve been talking as a family about how we do hard things and we don’t give up. Don’t give up, keep trying.”

And then I added other words about how his drawing didn’t have to look just like the cup of hot chocolate he was trying to sketch (that’s right, I’d even sweetened this sketch time with hot cocoa and homemade cookies).  And his older sister helped by declaring her drawing wasn’t going as planned so she was going to free herself from being realistic by doing a one-line sketch instead.

With enough cajoling, he eventually finished a sketch and I knew there was a small notch on his belt of belief that he could finish what he started, a notch that would help with the next challenge that was sure to come.  I put his finished sketch in a frame and that night I was a very tired Mama who was glad we were a family who did hard things.


The “I can’t do it!” theme has been persistent this week.  Wednesday it was multiplication, Thursday it was another drawing assignment and another math assignment.  There’s been shouting, thrown objects, and general mayhem that’s made giving up  quite appealing to all of us.  Along side my son’s energetic rant, I’ve carried on my own inner monologue a few steps away:

He needs to learn how to do hard things.  He needs to gain some drawing skills so he can gain confidence.  He’s got to learn how to deal with frustrating problems” (notice the subtle turn here) “I just can’t do this.  I don’t want to do this.  I can’t teach all of my kids these skills, I can’t face these problems everyday, there’s got to be someone else who can do this instead of me.  I just want to stop.”

After my own rant ended, another voice began:

But Aimee, you’re trying to quit, just like your son, you need to learn how to persevere, how to overcome hard things, just like your son. 

Now I didn’t like how the tables were turning on me at all. I didn’t like the suggestion that I had as much to learn as my children about overcoming obstacles and pushing through problems.  I wanted to think of the beautiful release of quitting without equating it to my eight-year-old balling up his drawing and throwing it in the garbage. I wanted my internal fit to look a little less childish than my son’s, but it sounded mockingly the same.

I realized that I was in a hard place and it wasn’t that easy to push through the moment, which turned me toward empathy and grace for my son.  If I couldn’t instantly conjure the strength to get to the other side of my challenge, then I couldn’t expect such a quick turnaround in his countenance either. I had to do more than get frustrated and impatient, I needed to come along beside him, be intimate with his struggle, and call with him to the Lord for help.

This week my son and I have pushed through some hard things.  He’s gotten out new paper and tried again.  I’ve sat beside him. He’s wisely taken a break from a project, with plans to return to it when he’s ready.  I’ve allowed him the space to struggle. He’s gotten my help to finish a math assignment. And I’ve stayed, minute by minute, hour by hour. There was some chocolate involved in the day, some frustrated words, as I’m sure there will be tomorrow.

My son and I both have assignments in front of us daily.  I’m handing out his assignments and God’s handing out mine (of course, God is actually teaching us both).  Today I got a little notch on my belt to remind me next time I don’t have to give up, that I can push through hard things.

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If I Had My Life to Live Over


Last night my husband and I spent an hour getting ready for our time with the kids of brainstorming a family mission statement. We used this helpful free tool to poke and prod our thoughts about what makes our family tick and what we’d like to change for the new year. As I read through some bits of inspiration, I found this piece by Erma Bombeck. Even though I’m only thirteen years into motherhood, I can still identify with her regrets and the values she wished she’d chosen to govern her day to day choices.  I face these same choices every day.

“If I had my life to live over,” written by Erma Bombeck near the end of her life, details the values Bombeck wished had guided her daily decisions.

If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television – and more while watching life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more “I love you’s”.. More “I’m sorrys” …

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it … live it…and never give it back.


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Looking Back for the First Time


(Trying on Pirates of the Caribbean hats in DisneyWorld, 2013)

I confess that our family is usually sliding into the new year, exhausted from the harried month of December, a little frail from managing chores and sibling bickering, and not too excited about the three months of shut-in still left of winter. We’re usually in survival mode and stumble right past a time to reflect at the close of the year.

We have some good friends that have led us (by example) to a different path this year. Each year their family (of 7) head off to a cabin over New Years Eve and Day for some intentional family time.  They look back over their year and scrapbook their highlights together, answer questions about the past year, write notes to people who have blessed them, and look at their goals for the New Year.

New Traditions

We didn’t have plans to head out of town over the holidays, but we are trying to adapt some of these traditions into our holiday stay-cation. Over the last two days we’ve looked at a slideshow of pictures from the past year and answered some questions over hot chocolate and dinner. In the next two days we’re hoping to bless others with some written words of thanks and talk about our family vision, goals, and calender for the New Year.

As I sifted through pictures for our slideshow, I was surprised by all that had happened since January.  Before answering the questions and looking at the photos, my view of the last year easily gravitated toward the challenges, but after our family time I realized that in the midst of the challenges also came many blessings.

Here our my top 10 family moments of 2013:

 #1 Art Show

In January our family took an intense and wonderful art class with Carla Sonheim and to celebrate our hard work we had an art show at our house.  Aside from reading stories out loud together, art time is my favorite time at our house.  And it was a treat to share it with others. (Highlighted here at Carla Sonheim’s blog!)



#2 The last semester of our Homeschool Co-op

For two years we were blessed with a sweet, sweet homeschool community.  About six families who shared a similar love of all things creative met once a week.  We had book club, art classes, PE, and in the final year a drama class and a writing class.  For the brief two years we shared a creative place, laughter, children inspiring other children, and an absence of many of the rules that govern boys and girls in traditional environments. In the photo below, our friend Jennifer (author and writing teacher)  is celebrating our 11-year-old  as a writer by giving her a new name. (check our Jennifer’s online writing classes)



#3 The Boy Finally Loves to Read

Even though our son has had the ability to read for a few years, this March he finally got it. He finally found the treasure hidden between those pages of little black words. For days I found him with a book at the table, on the couch, in his bed, and left him in the car in the driveway as he lived in the World of Story.  A life-changing moment for an 8-year-old.



 #4 Making Movies

This was the year of IMovie and Fireborn Studios.  The kids have made about ten movie trailers this year, starting with the first, The Adventures of Spy Dog.  My 13-year-old can do things with computers I could never even dream of doing.  We put all of their work on DVDs and gave them out as presents this year.  In our house, everyone gets to be a star, even the four-year-old acted in her own documentary trailer about the life of a ballerina.



#5 A Summer Worth Savoring

The end of the summer found me wishing for more.  Instead of anxiously needing to go back to routine and structure, I wanted more time at the pool and the absence of managing school. It was a summer of the swimming and…well, whatever surprises the day might hold.  I also had the luxury of time spent writing and getting some constructive criticism from a friend.


#6 DisneyWorld

In the Fall, my in-laws treated our entire family to a trip to DisneyWorld.  They paid for accommodations, park tickets, and meals for a three-day trip.  I thought this would be a stressful trip. It was, instead, our best vacation.  We haven’t really had many true vacations in our thirteen years of family life.  It was an incredible gift to cast off any worries about our mundane chores and meal preparations.  Instead we woke up each day with one precious goal: go have a great adventure.  We rode scary roller-coasters and watched the magic of the kingdom work its way through each member of the family.  Our four-year-old has started a fund to go back.

photo 1



#7 Dance Class

In the Fall, we joined a new co-op after our beloved one I mentioned earlier in this post, finally disbanded.  Life instantly became busy and stressful.  My favorite time of the week became our four-year-old’s dance class.  She’s the baby of our family but in this class she was the oldest, the leader.  I don’t know what’s more delightful than watching a dozen 2 to 4-year olds skip, march, and curtsey their way through classic musical songs.



#8 Our Eldest Daughter Participates in Her First Large Scale Theatre Production

If joining our large homeschool co-op came with great challenges, it also came with blessings, usually tied up together as I mentioned above.  She auditioned and got a part in the Fall drama in Shaw’s Pygmalion.  It was a twice a week rehearsal commitment and I also helped with costumes. Many times throughout the process I regretted that we’d gotten involved with the play, which made us the busiest we’ve every been with outside commitments.  But as often happens, Play Week arrived and it felt worth it.  She is certainly in her element when she’s performing.



#9 My Favorite Fall Day

While we juggled a new kind of school, dance classes, rehearsals, choir, and Boy Scouts, we had one of my favorite kind of days.  It arrived at the end of the fall trees.  This october was a struggle for me because it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death and he died when the trees were at full glory.  Usually the Autumn trees are my favorite seasonal decoration, but they brought flashbacks of pain this year.  It was on this day, one of the last days of our yellow tree in the backyard, that my soul finally found some peace with the beautiful, burning trees.  It was the kind of day I’ve always loved in our years of homeschooling.  All of us outside, art supplies spread out, creating new worlds on paper or in our imaginations.




#10 Hutchmoot

When the Rabbit Room took reservations for this conference back in March, my husband and I both got on computers and phones and tried to get tickets, but we both failed as the conference sold out in less than three minutes.  As the October date of the conference approached, I went through all the stages of grief that we wouldn’t get to go.  About two weeks before the date, I found out a ticket had become available and I threw grief aside.  This is a community that feeds all the often denied places of my creative spirit.  A weekend of excellent music, authors, visual artists, and theater.  A place to say yes to the way God sculpted my art-loving heart. And then it’s so much more.  It’s a place set apart where the light of God blocks out the darkness that we muck through in our daily lives.



A final note on the challenges of this year.  My kids are entering out into a bigger world, their faith and foundation are being tested.  It’s certainly arrived with a cost on our time and our way of doing school, and I can’t say what our plans are for this next year yet.  But it has also grown their character through the testing.  And it’s grown mine as well.

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Does Art Time Make You Want to Cry?

Almost immediately after I wrote my last post, I wondered if it might sound too idealistic to some of you: the family gathered together around the table, savoring the process of making art. You’re thinking of the many art times at your house that have involved a serious level of ugly-crying (both you and the kids) and you’re a little annoyed that I’m suggesting something different happens at my house.

How Art Looks at Our House, Sometimes

That morning we did have a great time, there were no tears, no crumpled papers, no “I’m not good at art” moments.  But we’ve had plenty of those moments, too.  I have one daughter who is a perfectionist and she can get very intense when she works on an art assignment (picture a creature from Poltergeist). I have another daughter who is quick to doubt herself and she often has to walk (stomp) away from her work for thirty minutes and approach it with a fresh perspective.  “I can’t do it!” is most often heard from my son, who’s been watching his sisters draw since he came out of the womb.

Give Me Product, Not Process

In addition, I’m aware that I can be a product-led mama.  I like things to look good with a capital “G”. I loved having an art show last year to display our family’s art work.  But that part of my personality can sometimes lead me astray.  I can end up framing the twelve-year old’s work, while tacking my four-year old’s art to the refrigerator, sending the younger child a silent message “Come back later when you’ve got some ‘real’ art”. When my twelve-year old was four, everything she touched with paint was as beautiful to me as a picture in a gallery. My, how expectations can rise.

Exploring Versus Mastering

Why, then, were we all relaxed during our last art session?  The project was open-ended. It was about exploring rather than mastering. We’ve done a few of these projects lately, inspired from a book called The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul. It’s a book that I checked out with my four-year old in mind, but it’s got all of us, ages four to thirty-six, following the scent of art to the kitchen table.

We need to play with art. We need to dip a lego brick into paint and put it to our paper without any pressure to produce something worth showing. We need to dip a q-tip in paint and see if we can create a face or a tree out of dots and then laugh if the face looks like a person with measles. Or possibly, like my son, we need to get a rubber ball and see how it works as a bouncing paintbrush.

A Little of Both

Now that some of my kids are older, we’ve leaned toward a focus on art projects that develop skills. That type of goal-oriented work has produced some great art and I enjoy seeing the skills show up in the sketch books and projects they do on their own.  But there is a place for both kinds of projects.  A child (or an adult) most likely won’t want to do the skill-focused projects if he hasn’t first experienced the exhilaration of making something with his hands, and continued to re-visit that freedom and joy.

Isn’t it true for many areas that combine skill and creativity?  Think of the hard-working ballerina who also loves to dance to the Beatles in her living room.  Or the classically-trained guitarist who plays in a Rockabilly band on Friday nights. We need to allow our children to play with art, and we need to play right along with them.

If art times are stressful at your house, take a look at what type of projects you’ve been doing. Do you need to put away the “how to draw” books for a a little while? You might need to examine your own attitude toward art.  If you regularly announce to your kids “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint” then don’t expect them to have a brave attitude toward art. Do you send a message of product over having fun? Try a different approach this week.

Here’s to a great week of art!


An artist who keeps these elements of playfulness and skill-building in balance  is Carla Sonheim.  She has two online classes coming up and I highly recommend you sign up for one and do it with your kids.   

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