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Art at the Speed of Life

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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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Hard Assignments

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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.

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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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Drawing Game

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Last friday night we sat in the booth at Panera, just me, my husband and our four-year old, while the big kids were busy at parties and youth events.  The soup bowl lay empty, the dishes shoved aside, while we tried out a drawing game I’d recently seen in one of my new favorite art books for kids.

How to play:

  1. The first person draws a head and neck (animal, human, fantastical) while the other players look away.  The player folds down the paper until only the tip of the necklines are showing and passes the paper to the next player.

  2. The next player keeps the top section folded and draws the middle body section down to the waist while the others look away. The player folds the paper to cover the section, leaving only a tiny bit of the waist lines showing and passes the paper to the last player.

  3. Keeping the paper folded, the last player draws in the legs and feet and then turns the paper and then unfolds all of the sections for the big reveal.

This was a game full of fun surprises and our four-year old had no trouble keeping up!

If we had more than one pencil, we could have kept three papers rotating at one time, but we didn’t, so we finished one drawing before creating the next one.

This is an easy game to play while waiting in the car, around the table at a restaurant, or part of a family fun night.  If you have more than three players, you can start two or more teams.

Happy Art-ing,

Aimee

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