Why I Hate Art

This AP Month Blog Event post was submitted by reader Elizabeth Wickoren, who blogs at Mothering from the Maelstrom.

Each year we try to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and not just Christmas Day itself. Makes for a somewhat less frantic early December when you don’t feel like you have to cram a year’s worth of joy and Christmasy-ness into two days. We’ve been doing a lot of yummy Christmas baking the last few days, socking away a little bit of each batch in the freezer for our Twelfth Night party, but mostly just gobbling it down as fast as we make it. We’re also making time for lots of the things we really love, like board games, feeding the wildlife, thrift store shopping, movies, video games, theater and today, ART.

Art is one thing I feel like I really don’t do enough of with the kids. I am a big old scrooge when it comes to any art other than drawing, really. The thought of clay, paint and the like just makes me cringe. All that mess and chaos … ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I love to do art myself. I LOVE it, love love LOVE it. But I tend to be kind of lazy when it comes to breaking out the messy stuff for my brood. Or I thought it was laziness. Today I’m thinking it is more like a self-preservation instinct.

I was reading a Deep Space Sparkle article describing a lovely winter trees project involving shaving cream, and thinking, “I bet the kids would get a big kick out of shaving cream.” So, figuring it was the season for fun things, I got a couple of cans of shaving cream and cleared off the kitchen table.

Things started out innocently enough …


They were swirling colors and dipping papers …


Even the baby got to participate …


Don’t worry, hers is whipped cream, not shaving cream.

If you want a fun blog post to inspire you to art projects of your own, stop reading now. Get some cans of shaving cream and have fun. If you want to hear our horror story, however, read on.

At this point things took a turn for the worst. Mitchell was really enjoying the shaving cream. Enjoying it so much that he started rubbing it all over his stomach. I sent him to go clean up a bit, and while I was getting him to clean up, the other two decided to follow suit and start spreading shaving cream all over their bodies. So I sent them to the bathroom.

While they were cleaning up, Mitchell decided to stir his shaving cream as fast as he could so all the colors mixed into a really putrid olive green. So much for lovely swirls. Then the little two came back from the bathroom, and Henry decided to make his a solid-greeny mush, too.

I started to get a bit irritated that they were ignoring the whole concept of making beautiful art and instead were just focusing on the smoosh factor. I tried not to let it get to me. Intellectually, I KNEW that boys will be boys and that they were having a great, fun, tactile experience even if they weren’t making art as I had planned. I praised Violet’s lovely swirls because they really were lovely, and the boys ended up asking me to help them have swirls, too, so we added more color to their green shaving cream. In the end, I was a bit frazzled, but everyone had fun and had some swirly art.

Now, we could end the story there, but as you may have noticed, this last section didn’t have pictures to go with it. My hands were full of shaving cream, and I was just too crabby to take any pictures of the green goo.

There also aren’t any pictures to go with this next section.

Once everyone had made several swirly art pictures and I was sufficiently out of patience, I started to get things cleaned up. While my back was turned, setting pictures out to dry … Violet started rubbing shaving cream on her tummy, and the boys started to dive into the shaving cream up to their elbows. Their laughter started getting that crazy sound to it. You know, when it starts to shift from joyful, delightful giggling to insane, overstimulated, maniacal laughter. Plops of shaving cream started landing on the floor, on the chairs, on clothes. Things were officially out of hand.

I will admit, this was not my finest moment. I yelled a bit. Tossed out some choice phrases that had no business being said to children. Maybe “yelled a bit” is being too kind. I screamed. I really lost it. All I could think was that I had spent all this effort trying to do something fun and special with them, and they were almost literally throwing it in my face. Mitchell, especially, got the brunt of it because he is the oldest and “should know better” and his innovative little brain started all the mischief. Everyone except the baby got sent to bathrooms.

The baby was wondering what the HECK all the fuss was about. But another round of whipped cream stopped her wondering, and she got back to business.

As the baby was getting round #2 of whipped cream, shenanigans started breaking out in the various sinks. Thankfully, at that moment, Daddy walked in the door before I could strangle anyone. He bustled the little kids off to the bathtub for a thorough cleaning. Mitch was sitting in Grandma’s bathroom where I had exiled him, and I was left with a table to wipe up and a moment to catch my breath.

After a few deep breaths, I went in to talk to Mitchell. I apologized for screaming and told him I shouldn’t have said the things I said. Then we talked together about where things went wrong. I asked him if he were at school, would he have taken the art supplies and started rubbing them all over his body? He laughed and said, “No!”  I explained that I was angry that they had misused the art supplies like that for me. And he said, “But the shaving cream just feels so good!”

I started telling him how there is a time and a place for whole-body art. And the time and place is outside in the summer, where they can be hosed off afterwards and not wreck any hardwood floor finishes or anything. Then I had a light bulb go off. “The other place for whole-body art,” I said, “is in the bathtub. Where all the mess can be rinsed down the drain. Hop in.”

So Mitch continued his art exploration, and I went to bathe the baby.


Bathing the baby always cheers me up.  And Fergie (our dog) helped with the clean-up.

So, what is the moral of this story? The moral is, I need to approach art with no expectations except mess. Expecting any kind of aesthetically pleasing results is just setting myself up for disappointment and stress. I mean, the whole point of art, in my opinion, is to enjoy the process and not worry too much about the end result. I kind of lost that as I gazed at the Deep Space Sparkle pictures of magical, snowy trees and imagined that we, too, could make something so preciously cute. The kids didn’t lose sight of the purpose, though. Their entire aim was to enjoy the process, so kudos to them. And I apologize for raining on their parade.

Underestimating the amount of mess that can be made with two cans of shaving cream was a grave error in judgment on my part. Frankly, I think all art should be done in the bathtub in the future. It’s really the perfect location. Actually, we have an unfinished room in the basement, with a drain in the floor. Shall we tile that sucker up for a whole-body art studio?  A very tempting idea, actually …

And today, as I reflected on what I could have done differently, another factor popped into my mind. I had forgotten that the day before had been Mitchell’s birthday. We had promised him that a special ADHD diet didn’t mean he could NEVER have the food he liked again. We said on his birthday he could eat anything he wanted. And boy he did. We had McDonalds, pizza, donuts, the works!

The thing about Mitchell’s food sensitivities is that they generally don’t affect him until the next day. It’s not an immediate thing. So planning a messy art project the day after he stuffed his face with preservatives, gluten, dyes, milk and high fructose corn syrup was just asking for trouble. So–note to self–don’t try to do ANYTHING the day after Mitch has blown his diet except manage his symptoms.

So, while it wasn’t one of my finest moments, I think yesterday was not without merit. Everyone got bathed, swirly art DID get made and mama learned (and relearned) a few lessons.

The Talk

christmas star

So today, was ‘the talk’ with my dearest Larissa, age 7.  Not the sex talk – the Santa talk.  Never in my life have I experienced something quite like that.  This morning we were running around, barely on time for school and Larissa asked me, “Mom, I wondered who hired Santa?  Who was the first one?”

The moment struck me, and I sat down to begin the conversation.  I had known it was coming but my mind was whirling as responding with sensitivity took on a whole new meaning.  I wanted to be honest and truthful but could I do that without crushing her, without being totally honest?  Could I lie?  No… but it was a passing thought.   I stopped beating around the bush and jumped in full throttle into what felt right.  The conversation unfolded something like this…

Well I believe in all kinds magic: the magic of Santa, of your dreams, of fairytales, of God, of Christmas, feeling good when you do the right thing.  Santa is just a representation of all that magic.  But not in the way that kids usually think about magic.  The magic of fairytales coming true is real to me because I married your dad and we live the fairytale every single day.  However, in a real-life, fairytales you have to clean toilets, you make mistakes, you are sometimes late for school (like today).  

There are 2 groups of people in the world. Both believe in magic but in different ways.  The younger group believes in the kid-friendly kind of magic because of the older group.  Once you are mature enough and you have this once-in-a-lifetime conversation, YOU become the one responsible for carrying the magic of life, onto the first group, onto your sisters and someday your kids.”

“You mean I get to BE the magic?” she asked.

“YES! “

Larissa lit up, her face turned red, and I thought she was going to cry from disappointment. But after a moment, she looked at me about to bust with happiness. She hugged me and said, “Mom, you are my magic!” I cried of course and said that magic is a giant wheel of belief.

I was scared that Larissa was going to be totally devastated or angry but her reaction shocked and touched me.  I have never seen her so full of joy and happiness in all my life.  She did say that she was a little disappointed but she was so excited to be given the responsibility of passing the magic around. She was just busting with actual pure euphoria.

You know, when you become a mom, ALL the work you put in gets eventually rewarded.  In toddlerhood, the reward comes when your child finally shares a toy that ONE time as a sign of compassion to another crying child.  Oh, man that sense of pride is nothing compared to when they get older.  The moment when you know you must be doing at least an alright job of mothering because they show such compassion and maturity.  This was that moment for me as I have never known.

When I sat down that day I would have I honestly would have preferred the sex talk, at least that I had thought about and prepared for those conversations.  I thought I was being a murderer of magic for her, but really I just made it grow.

This is a moment I will treasure forever.

What’s Your Parenting New Year’s Resolution?

2010Happy New Year!

Today is the day that millions of people around the world make a New Year’s Resolution. Losing weight, eating healthier, and working out more regularly are some of the more popular resolutions. I wanted to find out what parenting-related New Year’s Resolutions the AP community is going to make this year.

The following are a few of the responses that I received from API staff, the blogging team, and a few regular readers of API Speaks.

This year I am resolving to try to admit when I am wrong, including to my
kids.  I am also resolving to make more of an effort to include my kids in
 the housework, even when it would be faster and easier and more efficient
to just do it myself.

My resolution is to attend La Leche League meetings as I strive to breastfeed my daughter (currently 6 months old) for at least 2 years, as well as help to promote the goodness of breastfeeding in my community!

This year, I plan to make at least 2 meals each WITH my kids, teaching them kitchen safety and food prep.

I’m holding the intention to manifest a few things in 2010 for the benefit of my daughters, ages 3 and 1. One, I’m going to incorporate more self-care into my life so that I’m not running on empty most days and better able to be fully present and nurturing in our daily interactions. I’ll call it the “Happy Mama Trickle-Down Effect”:  Regular exercise.  More sleep which will mean going to bed before midnight. Dedication to eating greens every day. Development of sugar alternatives for desserts. My diet is essentially my girls’ so they will have direct benefit there. And, I have a strong hunch that sleep and exercise will influence, if not fully enable, my second intention for parenting in 2010:  more consistent patience with my 3 year-old.

I will engage in more self care this year so that I can have more energy, stronger health, and be a more patient and present parent.

If you’re the resolution-making type, what is your parenting-related New Year’s Resolution?

Photo: ba1969

Fully Present

Most parents are skilled at the art of multi-tasking. The busyness and pace of life with kids demands that you learn how to do more than one thing at a time. You have to be one step ahead, you have to be prepared, you have to learn to anticipate where your day is going to go next. In my life, multi-tasking meant breastfeeding the baby while also making a sandwich for my toddler (hurrah, Maya Wrap Sling!) or folding laundry while supervising bathtime. My list of things to do is always a mile long, and the only way it gets done is to make phone calls for preschool using a Audio Direct reviewed wireless headset while also doing the dishes and helping my kids with an art project at the same time.

After so many years of perfecting my multi-tasking skills, I find that I no longer find it easy to do one thing at a time. Even when I don’t have to be doing two things at once, I do it anyway. I clip coupons while I watch TV, I make lists in my head while I life weights at the gym, I file paperwork when I chat on the phone with my mom. Sometimes doing one thing at a time seems like a dreadfully inefficient way to do things.

This sort of lifestyle works for me…except when it comes to time with my kids. Sometimes when I’m playing or interacting with my kids, my mind is three items ahead on my to do list. And after my son lamented one day a couple of weeks ago, “Mom, you’re not listening to me,” I realized he was right. I was listening to him…sort of. I heard what he said and I responded, but I wasn’t giving him my full attention. I wasn’t fully present and he knew it. I thought about how annoying it is to realize that someone isn’t really listening to you, and I want better for my children.

At this time of year, with so many things that need to be done, gifts purchased, cards mailed, cookies baked, I find myself struggling to remain fully present even more than usual. So my son’s comment was a wake up call for me.

The weekend before Christmas, we received a direct hit from a winter storm that dumped 20 inches of snow on our city. We had nowhere to go, the house was clean, and nothing to do but enjoy the enforced weekend at home. The snow was cleared by Monday, but we spent Saturday and Sunday taking turns shoveling, and just enjoying the time at home. And with no projects looming, nothing on my list that required immediate attention, I found myself consulting my day planner infrequently. For two days, I spent time with my family without thinking about what I needed to do next, what needed to be accomplished before the day was over. It was a refreshing break.

Of course, come Monday, life went back to its usual hectic pace, but I look at it with a different perspective. For me, one of the best gifts I can give to myself and to my children is to be fully present. To pay closer attention, to enjoy the time together, to focus on one thing at a time, instead of the endless list and the next project in the queue.

It will be there when I get back.

Yes Annika, there is a Santa Claus

Before I was a mother I always knew that if I had children, I would never lie to them, which included Santa. I always figured that kids needed to know their parents told them the truth.

santaAfter Annika was born, it remained a no-brainer. I always planned to play down the Santa part of Christmas and just tell her that it was a story when she was old enough to start asking questions.

Last year, when Annika was an infant, I had this argument with a friend who couldn’t believe how heartless I would be to deny my daughter the fantasy of Santa.

This year Annika is still not old enough to talk about it but something has changed in my way of thinking. I am now pondering the possibility that maybe she would like that fantasy and if done right, it could really make for some wonderful childhood memories.
Continue reading “Yes Annika, there is a Santa Claus”

Healthier Holiday Snacks

Sweet Holiday Traditions from the Past
Many of my holiday memories revolve around food. Aside from my dad’s amazing turkey, stuffing, and gravy, there have always been Christmas cookies, Christmas fudge, stockings filled with candy – it’s no wonder I was a regular at the dentist. And it isn’t just the taste and smell of food that I remember; I reminisce about stirring marshmallow cream into mom’s huge metal pot, licking raw cookie dough off of the beaters, and arranging plates of goodies to deliver to friends.

My food-based memories are not unique. Sugar- and calorie-laden foods are simply a staple of the holiday season. A Google search for “holiday treats” returns thousands of sites dedicated to delivering recipes that will tempt your taste buds and disrupt your healthy habits.

Creating Healthier Holiday Traditions in the Present
Now that we are starting our own family traditions, I am trying to incorporate the fun and pleasure of holiday goodies without the overload of sugar. As a parent, it is my responsibility (and privilege) to nurture a taste for nutritious foods.
Continue reading “Healthier Holiday Snacks”

Attachment Parenting Makes the Holidays Easier

I am now into my fifth holiday season as an attached parent. Over the years my family has changed and grown, but one thing has remained true. Attachment parenting practices, like breastfeeding, babywearing and positive discipline, have made the holidays easier. They have smoothed the rough patches, helped me get things done, and provided everyone with a touchstone in the midst of the craziness that can happen at this time of year.

One of my big challenges over the holidays is my long to-do list. I am baking, crafting, shopping, wrapping gifts and on and on and on. A good baby carrier (or, you know, 14 good baby carriers, as the case may be) really helps me get through that list. When my toddler is on my back he’s happy and I have two free hands. It is much easier to mix up a batch of cookies when I know that my child is safely strapped to me, and not climbing on to the dining room table yet again.

Hannah and Amber try out the Storchenweige
My 10-month-old and I try out our new wrap in 2005
Continue reading “Attachment Parenting Makes the Holidays Easier”

The Gift of a Day

My birthday is three days before Christmas. My husband took the day off of work and my mom said she’d help with whatever I needed so it could be my day. Even with those generous offers, I’ve had a very hard time figuring out how I’d like to spend my time. I don’t want to go shopping or out to dinner. I couldn’t even decide if I wanted a cake.

Figuring out what I wanted to do for me was challenging, I think, because I spend most of my days looking after people I love. The ubiquitous warnings about how your life changes when you have a child, how you should go to the movies or grown-up restaurants didn’t prepare me for the utter transition of self that comes with becoming a mama, especially an AP mama. For my last two birthdays, I couldn’t imagine wanting to be away from my son. The best way I could spend my birthdays was being with a person I had birthed into the world, but he just turned two and I feel differently this year. Continue reading “The Gift of a Day”