The Curse of Parenting No One Tells You About

School is in session. Well, not exactly. I’ve got a meet the teacher Wednesday and the first day of kindergarten is officially Friday.

I have spent the last two months at the snowball stand, zoo, swimming pool, beach, theme park, often lamenting my freedom. I have somehow created paintings during episodes of PBS’s Wild Kratts or when my now (suddenly and without warning) non-napper became enthralled with legos. Enthralled: not asking every two seconds for me to pull stuck bricks apart or which vehicle I like better only to disagree with me when I answer. Don’t ask me what I like more if you are just going to tell me what I like more

But here is the curse of parenting I never would have imagined and no one ever warned me about and the first thing I will tell my son should karma ever deliver him children of his own:

As much as your child exhausts you, as much as all you need is a little space to get some things done, the moment he or she is gone for an extended period of time and often in the care of strangers, the anxiety is tenfold.

I know it by now. I know that very anxiety will subside when routine takes over– when the great unknown of his teacher and friends and schedules bows down to soothing ritual. I will again, one day soon, paint in my studio without worrying what he’s doing and if he’s okay. I will look up to find it is already after three and rush to pick him up. But until then, Friday will be filled with clock watching and nail biting. I will try to paint and not be able to. I will have my phone constantly at my side just in case the school calls. I will hug him twice as hard when I pick him up.

At a writer’s workshop once, I was given index cards with single words on them and asked to make a poem. Each round there was a new challenge: use only these words, dismiss up to two, add up to three of your own. The parameters were so tight, so limited, I thought there was no way anyone’s poem would be worth anything.

But they were. Without all the excess, the poems seemed to open right to the heart of things. They were beautiful. To say summer limited my work time is an understatement. I was trying to keep up my routine and host camp mom. I dare say what I accomplished with those stringent limitations, if not thoroughly beautiful, is a great start to what is to come this school year when, for seven or so hours a day my job is to create. 

I hope you’ll follow along.

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But You Love What You Do: The War of Art

I recently had the pleasure of attending a classical guitar concert after which a few musicians chatted about their art: did playing guitar ever feel like work? The consensus was a resounding yes. One guitarists suggested that he is happiest on a beach somewhere, miles and miles away from his instrument. I get that.

We tend to glamorize art careers. How amazing it is to be able to do the thing you love every day. True. But sometimes the thing you love wears you out, beats you up; it sometimes spits you out.

Once again, my repeated claim seems to ring true: painting is an awful lot like parenting. Immense, other-worldly joy paired with a big scoop of fear, heartache, and frustration.

I struggled in my studio yesterday. The colors weren’t working, the strokes of the palette knife looked muddled rather than intentional. The more I worked, the worse it seemed to get. But, just like parenting, I find the best way to win the war of art is to keep showing up to it– the way we have to when we parent. We don’t walk away from our children after a particularly unimpressive day of parenting. We stay in it. We keep going. We try again.

I needed a break from my painting yesterday. And even though I’d rather be on a beach somewhere miles and miles away from my palette knives, today I’m going to get back to it. It’s routine and ritual that save me from myself. It’s the frustration and the pained strokes that build toward those rare magical painting days where every stroke feels divinely inspired. Hoping that by showing up today, I’ll get one of those soon. And if I do, I’ll definitely be letting you know.

But for now, I’m off to the battlefield.

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Single Mom on Mother’s Day

I had an honest-to-God good Mother’s Day for the first time since I’ve become a mom. There was nothing particularly different about it in theory except this time my four year old had the language skills to repeatedly ask me when it would be “child’s day,” unconvinced that every day since his birth has been one long celebration of that.

I used to get particularly sad about my single-mom status on Mother’s Day. I’ve always had a great support system who never let that anxiety-producing day pass without gifting me the flowers or cards I’d always imagined I’d get from a spouse. I know it might sound ungrateful (which it certainly is not), but it just isn’t the same. Mother’s day used to remind me not of all my son has and all that I have in him, but of all I lack, of all I’ve failed to provide. Of dreams shattered.

This year was different. Perhaps I’ve just put in my time– the years of grief have finally watered the grounds and new life is starting to bloom– above the surface where you can actually see all the hard work that has been going on all along.

This year I was able to believe people who said “you’re a great mom” and even if there was (and there probably wasn’t) an unspoken “given the circumstances” that followed the sentiment, I was able to ignore it. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was doing great with what I had, but just that I was doing great. My family was full and rich– not lacking. Not substandard. Not broken.

Painting, perhaps more than anything else got me here. My painting career and my son’s life go hand in hand. I started when he was just a baby.  Making things from blank pages made me feel powerful. If a surface is blank, there is no end to how you can color it. My touch means something. I make things happen even if it’s just a bright blue line across a stark white canvas.

my first ever painting of my son and me

So to all my single moms (and dads) I was thinking of you today as I painted. God, this whole thing can be so hard. Your marks matter– are no less worthy than anyone else’s. The way you color your blank pages is beautiful; I’ve learned from so many of you. Thank you.

And if you need a little encouragement, read this, it gets me every time!










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Out, Out Damned Yellow Spot: Painting is Like Parenting Part II

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My painting is like my parenting: sometimes so glorious I feel tempted to write a book about it, sometimes so painful and frustrating I wonder why I keep trying day after day at all.

My son’s pre-k assigns dots to each day in the calendar he brings home in his folder. Blue means great day. Green, good day. Yellow? Let’s just say the chart says yellow means “lost in the woods” (they’ve got a camp theme going this year).

We’ve been lost in the woods for a few days now, and every time I think we see an opening, the trees seem to close in front of us or the trail we thought was leading somewhere just brings us right back to our sad little campsite, a dying fire and a cold night about to descend. Too dramatic?

I worry too much about yellow dots.

I wish I knew how to convince my four-year-old that telling the truth is best, that he has to be quiet when others are talking, that he can’t go around knocking over lunch boxes.

But he, like me, I suppose, is a work in progress. So full of life and energy. So obstinate and assertive. So convinced of the truth of things he doesn’t know couldn’t be.

This painting, I kid you not, started as a big yellow dot. I thought it was going to be an abstract ode to the trials of parenting. It turned into spring flowers that I happen to believe are some of my best. The painting wasn’t painful or tortured. The strokes came easily. The colors worked without me having to pull out any of my hair. I didn’t even bleed.
I’m waiting for my little guy to come out of the woods. Into the sunlight where I know he’ll bloom. 


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