A whole decade of loving you.

A whole decade of loving you.

It wasn’t easy, the way you came into the world. I started labor on a Saturday afternoon. You were born at 8:03pm that Monday. Your dark, straight black hair covered your entire head and even came over your ears a little. They put you on my chest and I wept. The truth is, I didn’t really believe in you, that my pregnancy would end in me holding a living, breathing, human child on my chest until that very moment. 

I think there might just be a handful of events that mark such a profound change in direction of our lives that we forever think of ourselves as two distinct people: the one that is before the event and the one that is after. In this case, the change you brought about feels so all-encompassing that the after seems to blur and distort the before. Pre-you is like remembering an old movie– one I know well but not because I lived its events. 

You asked me once why I became an artist, and I told you it was because of you, to which you said, “you’re welcome.” On the edge of so many uncertain paths, your little face made me want to try, even if it meant failing miserably. Never particularly brave or prone to take risks, I decided to attempt to design a life I could love; for you, yes, but looking back now I think it was mostly for me. I needed to navigate the world not just as a victim of circumstance but as a force who not only responds to but creates the world in which she lives. I needed to show you how to care for yourself, how to fail again and again and still believe in your worth instead of never risking anything except your own sense of self. 

In the beginning most of my art taught me how imperfect I was– as a painter and as a mother. Most of my early blog posts are about how hard it was, how much you cried, how deeply I loved you.  But my worst days always ended, gave way to new chances to begin, to right my wrongs, and if not that, then at least work towards something new. 

An entire decade of knowing you, and I’m still learning so much about how to care for you, how to be your mother and still an entirely separate person from you. My first impulse is to make every sandwich, fold every shirt, correct every misstep even though I know you are strong, capable, resilient, and whole. 

You’ve taught me that control is an illusion. That love is deeper than I ever could have imagined. The difference between a white and speckled trout. That hugs cover a multitude of sins. That ice cream is very often a good idea. You’ve taught me that being a mom isn’t marveling at a mini-me but learning who someone else really is and loving them without a single condition. 

Ten years ago I was so scared. Today I’m grateful that I get to do life with you, learning from you, rooting for you, making art you inspire, and, if I’m really lucky, holding your hand when no one else is looking.

 

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I got lost looking at the peacocks.

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“Leaves a Trail Behind Her” 36×48, oil on canvas

I wrote about how I got the title for this painting on instagram back in October. I told the story of how when I was a kid, okay not just a kid, a young adult too, my Dad used to say quite often, “Oh that Denise, she always leaves a trail behind her.” In other words, I was a mess. I’d open a granola bar and leave the wrapper on the counter, inches away from the trash. I’d use a pen and leave it out, the cap resting somewhere nearish but not easily discoverable. My clothes were rarely in drawers. In college, my roommates used to joke about how I’d sleep on the tiniest sliver of my bed, the rest taken up by books and whatever other materials I’d used that day. 

My kids do all these things now and probably to a lesser degree, and it drives me batshit crazy. What’s life without at least a dash of hypocrisy? Or maybe retribution. 

In my post, I said I like to think that all those trails led me somewhere. I think what I meant is that I think I may have learned, eventually, how to leave better trails– how to take up space with my voice and my art rather than all my trash, my discarded projects, my oblivion to who might come behind me. 

I may remember this the next time I pick up yet another ramen wrapper from the counter. I may, as I wipe the dust of the flavor packet remnants into the trash, think about what kind of other trails they will leave behind them, how we are not really so different at all. I might. 

I started thinking about this because someone purchased a print of “Leaves a Trail Behind Her” this morning and inquired about whether or not there had been a blog post about it. I sent her a screenshot of the original instagram post. She responded by telling me that she’d picked this piece because there were peacocks that lived in the rehab center where her dad resided a couple days before he passed away. She said he was very confused and sick at the time, but made her laugh when he said, “I got lost looking at the peacocks.”

I loved that. Maybe it’s okay to be messy and lost sometimes. Maybe the child becomes the parent before she’s ready or before she even realizes it.  Maybe the trails we leave are littered and overrun but take us somewhere worth going anyway.

 

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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.

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.

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

FullSizeRender (28)

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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