The Fine Art of Parenting

(This first published on my blog Training Wheels, which I write for Central Penn Parent magazine.)

Don't just stand there, Mom; wipe my hand. "Hand!!!"
I’m not a crafty mom. I don’t have delusions of grandeur when it comes to art projects with the boys, because I know my limitations. A creative art day for me is one in which the boys use both crayons AND markers to draw pictures, preferably on the paper and not on themselves.

But every now and again I get this idea in my head that we should try something different. That surely my 3-year-old would be gung-ho about any type of new artsy activity I brought to the table. That maybe my 18-month-old is ready for paint.

None of this proved to be true.

I didn’t try anything difficult, just potato stamps. I’d read about them online and they seemed so simple even I could make them. So while the boys played quietly one morning last week, I carved two potatoes into five cute stamp shapes, including a heart and a star and even a hot-air balloon, in honor of the hot air balloon festival our family had just attended the previous weekend.

I got out their art smocks, covered the table, and prepared two paper plates with globs of washable paint in several colors. I set out two paint brushes, two plastic cups of water for rinsing the brushes, and my newly carved potato stamps in a happy little row between their chairs. Then, feeling like a bonafide art teacher, I called the boys to come see the exciting new thing we were going to do!

Kostyn outright refused to leave his toys (which is such a kid thing to do, because if I was begging him to stay in the playroom he would have been at that table faster than I could say “Finger paint!”); Evan ran over excitedly, assuming we were going to eat. He was dismayed when I strapped him into his booster seat and he saw that his paper plate was filled with paint, not Goldfish.

“Crack-uh?” he asked.

“No, we’re not eating crackers right now, Evan. We’re painting! See these stamps I made?” I said, showing him how to dip the stamp in the paint and press it onto his paper.

He whined and pointed toward the kitchen.

“Crack-uh?” he said again. I sighed and fetched a sleeve of Ritz crackers from the pantry. He smiled and said, “Tank you,” and started nibbling, getting crumbs all over the paint.

I tried again to coax Kostyn to the table, but he wasn’t interested, so I waited patiently while my only art student ate. And ate. And ate. Finally, he grew interested in the art supplies laid out before him. Except every time his fingers touched the paint, he held up his hand and wanted me to wipe it clean. Every time. Do you know how hard it is for an 18-month-old to press potato stamps into paint globs and not get any on himself? It’s impossible.

“Hand?” Wipe. “Hand?” Wipe. “Hand!!” Wipe.

After several minutes of me wiping his hands clean every 3.4 seconds, I held up the paintbrush and showed him how to hold the potato in one hand and brush the paint onto the stamp with the other hand. This proved too difficult. So I showed him how to dip the brush in the paint and then paint directly on the paper. This he tried, mashing and bending the bristles so quickly that in no time at all it resembled a toothbrush that’s been used to clean grout. Plus he got paint on his hand again.

“Hand?” Evan said, holding his wet finger up to me. Grrr, I thought, wiping it clean and grabbing the brush from his other hand and swishing it around in the cup of water before handing it back to him. This piqued Evan’s interest; he, too, wanted to swirl the brush in the water.

So I held the cup while he swirled, and then he painted the paper with colored water from the brush. This made him happy, and I mentally kicked myself for not remembering every “easy art tip for toddlers” book I’d perused over the years with the idea of letting them paint using water, a paint brush and colored paper. I had five homemade potato stamps and eight rich colors of paint in front of us, and all he wanted was the cup of water.

Then he wanted to hold the cup. This I realized would be disastrous, but at that moment Kostyn wandered over and wanted to know what we were up to. Yes! I thought. An art student who would totally “get it.” I put on his smock and he climbed up in his booster seat and I showed him the stamps. “See! A hot air balloon stamp!” I raved, dipping it in red paint and pressing it onto his paper.

He was not impressed with the potato stamps.

He wanted a brush, “just like Evan!” And then he wanted a cup of water, “just like Evan!” By that time Evan had dumped his cup of water all over his paper. I cleaned up the mess, gave him a much smaller cup with a few drops of water, and handed over the other cup to Kostyn.

So they sat, painting water on paper, while the paint globs crusted on their paper plates and the sad little potato stamps lay in a cluster on the tablecloth. While I watched them, I thought about the cardboard box they’d favored over their toys for a six-week stretch last spring. I thought about the times I have set out with them on a treasure hunt only to get stuck in the driveway as they watch a trail of ants for 20 minutes.

And I realized that they may be learning things from me along the way, but I am truly the student in this awesome journey we’re on.

Also, I should have saved the potatoes for home fries.

No comments: