A mark. A line. A glob of blue.

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I dropped the kids off at school for the last time this school year and since it’s a half day, I’ll be picking them up again for the last time in what feels like just a few minutes. It was a weird year, but it turns out that the masks and temperature checks were manageable and we got used to them. More than half the time when we were running out the door, and I frantically asked the kids if they remembered their masks, they answered yes and we didn’t have to turn furniture over looking for one. Much of our “new” normal was surprisingly old normal.

I’ve not changed a whole lot either. A few days ago I re-read a post I wrote about kindergarten and realized four years has left my penchant for worrying unchecked, unrestrained. As the kids have become more capable, more independent, my worries have not lessened in proportion. 

I still first see their fragility and not their strengths. I see my own inability to protect them from bullies, natural disasters, disappointments, fear, rejection, cancer, all the things that lie infinitely beyond my control. 

And that’s when I have to remind myself for the 127,342nd time of what is within the realms of my control. Quite often that reminder starts with a mark. A line. A glob of blue on a primed and ready canvas. Painting reminds me to live and function and give energy to the part of the world I can influence and not the part I wish I could– the canvas I can work on even if I can’t work on them all. Last summer I did a guided practice of making lists as a way to connect to the world around me and my own thoughts and feelings about it. I thought that practice would be useful here. Here’s my list. It’s a few of the things I care about that I have the ability to influence. 

  1. Loving and nurturing my family
  2. Showing up for them
  3. Showing up for myself
  4. Showing up for my art
  5. Saying I’m sorry when I’ve messed up
  6. Letting go of perfectionism
  7. The groceries I buy and the meals I cook
  8. The walks I take 
  9. The “just because” flowers I put in vases in the living room
  10. The “no’s and “yes’s” I say to extra activities
  11. The amount of paint on the knife

I’m not the kind of painter who knows exactly what she wants the final product to look like and spends the entire painting process getting that vision to emerge. Instead I mostly fidget and explore, pile on, and scrape off. I see what happens and go from there. I’m trying to take cues from this approach in the rest of my life.

I’m not sure who the kids will become or if they’ll say please and thank you when I’m not around. Ultimately, that’s something they will decide. Are deciding. Have decided. When I paint, I find that trying to force things and having too rigid of a vision for the end result leads only to frustration. I’m learning from them like I’m learning from all the blank canvases I’ve encountered. I’m learning that what transpires when I let go is usually grander and more magical than what I’d hoped would happen when I first took paint to surface. 

None of these ideas erode my worries. But they do comfort me. They do make me feel just a little less unstable. What would your list look like?

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Denise Hopkins

May 26, 2021

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