Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Prayer for 2017

This past summer I took on the task of turning the last year of Matilda’s artwork into a collage. I noticed that around the time she turned three her strokes became more deliberate, purposeful, and brilliant. As the year progressed, to my delight she started to draw actual things—dogs, people, the sun. While to most the art would be viewed as mere scribbles, I have become enthralled with the beauty of it. The colors are so vivid, the strokes seemingly perfect, watercolors perfectly pooling like a liquid dream. What captures me even more than the uncanny beauty is the way in which Matilda works on her art. There is no detailed plan preceding her painting, no drawing, erasing, and redrawing. She is not bothered when the paints get away from her or when her trees turn into cars. More often than not she seems to interpret what emerges from her drawings after they are done.

I wanted to find a way to capture this art and this time in her life. Before she learns that she must always have plan, that art isn’t good unless is looks like the actual thing one seeks to represent, before someone tells her that she shouldn’t waste her time on it because it will never make her any money. I wanted to make something for Matilda so that she can look at her art and be filled with pride and possibility. I admittedly also wanted to find something to do with the piles of artwork that started taking over our drawers, closets, and counter tops.

In taking on this task, I decided I would make a huge collage that includes pieces of each painting or drawing. I cut out the most colorful or awe-inspiring portion of each and placed it on a canvas. At first I was nervous. Would I look back and wish that I had left these works in their virgin forms? Would I feel guilty that I only kept pieces of each art work? Would I want to remember the scraps that weren’t lively enough to make it onto the collage? My worries dissipated quickly as I began to cut and organize the pieces on the canvas (and as more and more and more artwork started coming home from school and stacking up around the house). I glued all the pieces down, slightly overlapping so as not to hide any small detail I wanted to be sure to highlight. After the art was down, I decided that I wanted to place a stamped quotation over the top of it. Because I knew I wanted to hang the canvas in her room, I thought long and hard about what words I want to wake her up to every morning and what sentiment could possibly capture the whimsical brilliance of her and her art. I chose a quote from the song “Naughty” from Matilda the musical. As I worked I was overcome with emotion of the task. I was not yet sure why.

In the slip of a bolt, there's a tiny revolt.
The seeds of a war in the creak of a floorboard.
A storm can begin with the flap of a wing.
The tiniest mite packs the mightiest sting.
Every day starts with the tick of a clock.
All escapes start with the click of a lock.
If you're stuck in your story and want to get out,
You don't have to cry, you don't have to shout.
'Cause even if you're little, you can do a lot,
You mustn't let a little thing like little stop you.
-Matilda Wormwood

I loved making the collage so much that I decided to use Matilda and Fyo’s new piles of art to make one for each of our family members for Christmas this year, as well as a little one for each of their teachers for teacher appreciation week. This was 12 collages! Yes, as usual I bit off something larger than I should have been chewing on. However, like I did this summer with the first collage I reveled in this task despite the enormity of it. I was struck all over again by a feeling that there is something ephemeral, spiritual, and magical about the way their little hands use their crayons, markers, and acrylics. I love the process of reading these works of art, hunting for the beauty and mystery on each page. I enjoy thinking about the person for whom I am making the collage, picking out the perfect quote to speak to who they are or what they are going through. I was full of love when recipients were overjoyed upon opening their packages and when their texts came in with pictures showcasing the art proudly displayed in their homes.

Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends,
is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives. - John Galsworthy

I don't know how to be silent when my heart is speaking. - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart. - Proverbs 3:3

The soul is healed by being with children. - Fyodor Dostoevsky

If I know what love is, it is because of you. - Hermann Hesse

Working on and giving these collages as gifts came in conjunction with what has been one of the sweetest holiday seasons on record for me. The pain that often rears its head as a result of celebrating holidays without my angel babies was tempered a bit, perhaps by time, perhaps the pure joy of watching an almost four-year old and almost two-year old unabashedly revel in opening new bikes, a bunk bed, and so many spoils from our families and friends. What I think has made the most difference though is the quality of the time Mark and I have had with Matilda and Fyo. They have two weeks off of school, which typically is a time when I go into survival mode. I often work frantically to get prepared for the upcoming quarter at work, which begins the first week of January. Preparing syllabi for new courses and managing two small children who require the utmost of my attention and patience is enough to leave me weary, counting down the days until I can go back to work and they can go back to school.

Even though I am under this work-life balance stress again this year, in the last week I have enjoyed being a mom more than I have ever before. I admit that I don’t always like it. It’s hard. I often feel like I can never give them enough, with their constant “pick me ups” and “play with mes.” I struggle to find the time to be everything they want me to be to the extent that they would like while also caring for the house and working a job with its own fulltime demands. Often times I’d rather be working than telling someone for the five hundredth time to stop jumping on the couch. I’d sometimes rather be drawing than begging someone to get dressed. I’d sometimes rather be making my old glorious recipes than heating up veggie chicken nuggets again. But this week I haven’t minded those things so much. I’ve actually caught myself doing them with pride as if there was no place I’d rather be. Because there wasn’t. This year Mark had the entire week of Christmas off. This has not happened since having Matilda and Fyo. My sister got Matilda one of my childhood favorites—pop beads—for Christmas. She has been obsessed with making necklaces for the entire family. Fyo hasn’t let us sleep in, but I actually have not minded (as much) his 5:00 wake up calls for snuggling. I don’t even mind that he insists on laying directly on top of me rather than beside me on the pillow. This break together has allowed us more time than we have ever had sitting face-to-face with them, really playing, really listening. I have been left breathless with emotion.

I have been working hard to make sense of it all. This time with my family has brought me face to face with my wonder surrounding the kids’ artwork—the art in its heaps and piles with its seemingly random paint strokes and scribbles. The beauty of it laying there untapped and unimagined until someone takes the time to really be with it. Like my kids who are constantly in need of time and true connection, their art is a prayer—look at me, be with me, see me, hang me on the wall for all to see, give me to others, celebrate me. Of course in theory this has always been my goal as a mother. Really doing these things though is not easy when the schedule is so full and when the stress of day-to-day work and home life is so great. But what if it wasn’t? What if there was more time? What if I said “no” at work sometimes instead of always saying “of course.” What if I didn’t come home at night and immediately start making dinner and putting laundry in the washing machine? What if the weekend grocery shopping, cleaning, and preparing for the upcoming work week didn’t always get done or came second after bike riding and sidewalk chalk? What if I viewed temper tantrums and wet undies as the pieces of the scrap pile and their hilarious conversations about butts and living room dancing as beautiful highlights worth showcasing?

Answering these questions is my prayer in 2017. I don’t pretend to think that changing my practice of constant racing and working and managing the minutia of the day-to-day will be easy. The struggle is so hard. My hope though is that in the new year I might take steps to begin to re-imagine what constitutes the masterpieces of our lives.