Kid Art

I recently heard a radio program on the topic of dealing with your children’s artwork. Many parents share in this dilemma. With so much art being produced by kids these days, it can be overwhelming. What should you keep? What gets thrown away?

There were many ideas offered: some great ones like photographing the works and turning them into books, and others not-so-great like plastering them as wallpaper all over your walls. (seriously?!)

I’ve kept absolutely everything over the years, believing that someday I would, somehow, deal with it.  Since our move, we’ve had a lot of clearing out and organizing to do and, with less space than we’re used to, that “someday” has arrived.

The multiple bins that contained literally hundreds (possibly thousands!) of pieces of art from the girls had to be dealt with. It was simple enough: two piles, one to keep and the other throw away.

Who knew that something so simple could be so painful?

Opening the bins brought back a flood of memories. Each piece of construction paper I held in my hands took me away. How could I choose to throw these treasures out? The early fat crayon scribbles, slowly evolving into circles, which over time became amoeba-like faces with long legs and arms. I remember vividly sitting at the kitchen tables of our past, my babies on my lap or in their high chairs, watching them struggle to hold their crayons in their chubby little fingers. Little tongues poking out. A look of intense concentration on their faces…Me stooping repeatedly to pick up the crayons that would roll to the floor.

Av's art circa 2006

Av’s art circa 2006

These scribbles are not just lines on paper. They are a direct link to my old self; a time that already seems like a lifetime ago. A young mother getting through her days, cold cups of coffee on the counter….

Then there are the drawings of mother and child holding hands. Big hearts, butterflies, rainbows, cats…Daddy and child, “I love you” scrawled across the page in sloppy letters. Sunshine and flowers. Their names printed with a letter or two backwards… “Look, Mommy! I did it!”

Envelopes roughly put together with masking tape, letters to Santa, school art, cards, glitter and glue…all of them – every single one – a masterpiece.

Memories keep flooding through me. Holding hands to cross the street, cool morning walks to school. Hot, sweaty summer days at the park, sand in their shoes. Picnics, tantrums, little wet bodies in warm baths. Dirty faces turned upwards for me to wipe. Days so full of happiness that I could burst, and days so difficult with self judgment and resentment that I wanted to curl up and die.

But always, the love.

In the end, I did manage to throw away a lot of art. But, the pages were photographed and stored as bits of digital data. As for the throw-away pile, my husband unceremoniously took them to the back of the barn and burned them in an old oil drum. I imagine, though we never talked about it, that he had his own memories to deal with as he placed them one by one into the flames. It must not have been easy.

Our little artists are big girls now. I no longer need to hold their hands or wipe their faces. Those days are gone. But what does remain is their love of drawing. And even though they don’t write “I love you” across the top of every page anymore, the act of showing me their work, and awaiting my praise is just another way of showing it.

Cal's art

Cal’s art

I still have a baby in my life. My son is three and rapidly accumulating an art collection of his own. I am acutely aware of how precious my time is with him, having seen how quickly time flies and kids grow up. I take the time to sit and appreciate the many moments we have together. His drawings are in the “long legs and arms jutting out of the big head” stage right now. Soon, his name will find its way onto the pages. And then, the Mommy and child, the “Daddy I love you” and the flowers and rainbows.

And with every masterpiece he creates, another memory is safeguarded for years to come.

Image of the week

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Country living has found us adding many miles on our vehicles. The old ‘inner city walk to the corner store’ has become just wishful thinking! Now, shopping requires a lot of forethought, as running out of milk means a ten minute drive. Play dates, trips to the library, parent- teacher interviews and after school activities all require car time. But, it’s not all bad. Check out my blog from April entitiled Gravel Roads for a more romantic take.

The power of ‘no’

As my friends, family and fellow bloggers know, it’s been quite a journey of self exploration for me this past year. My move from city to country has been both exhilarating and nauseating.

I find myself teetering between the two sensations on a daily basis; I am still trying to figure out where I fit in this new life. And it’s not just me. As a family we had to let go of so much to come here. It was not a blind move, and certainly not a decision we made lightly, but it was still a test of faith.

I have always believed we are all on a path. The old clichés ring true to me and have guided me my whole life. Clichés like, “It will all work out in the end,” and “What will be, will be.” And also “When one door closes, another door opens.”

It’s one thing to have a door close and another door open. But what happens when it’s you who closes that door? Does fate still extend her hand of generosity? Or, are you just screwed? Have you altered your own intended timeline and changed your destiny irreversibly?

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I’ve done just that. I’ve closed a door. Last year, as I was settling into my new life in the country, I was fortunate to have a teaching position fall into my lap at a private school. Suddenly I went from “who am I?” to “French teacher.” It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience. I discovered the joys (and rage) of teaching children from grades one to eight, and in doing so, opened up a whole network of new friendships. The school invited me back to teach again this year, but after much soul searching, I decided to decline.

Why? Why close this door?

I suppose I didn’t want it to become a crutch. As wonderful as it was, it was not a financially sustaining endeavour, and it took up most of my free time. I didn’t do it for the money. But, I realized that my time was too valuable. That sounds awfully narcissistic, doesn’t it? Very self-indulgent. Who in the hell do I think I am?

So now I’m left wondering what’s next.

It’s an odd feeling. I’ve worked my entire life! Now I find myself wandering the property like I’m retired. I get up, I feed the chickens and the goats. I stroll the grounds with my coffee and cats. I do my yoga. And, I think.

The truth is, I do have some goals in mind. I will steer myself in those directions and let the universe guide me. I need to be grateful that I’m in a position to have this freedom of choice. But this decision to decline work could be viewed in two very profoundly different ways: either it’s very brave of me to indulge the universe in this way, or (and this is what I fear) very reckless.

Either way, I’ve made my choice and now I have to live with it. I tell my children that every decision they make in life should scare them a little bit. If you always choose to operate within your comfort zone, then your world will become too small.

This is advice I repeat to myself often these days. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. If you don’t stray from the path now and then, you’ll never know what you’re missing. So if nothing else, by closing this door, I will show my children that sometimes saying “no” takes more courage than saying “yes.”

 

 

 

 

Image of the week

abandoned

On a family drive in the country last week, we saw the ghostly silhouette of this house in the distance. We couldn’t resist pulling into the lane to get a closer look; the property looked like something out of The Walking Dead. An old car sat smashed and abandoned right next to the house; driver’s door ajar. A broken tractor, found next to the old bank barn that was barely standing, had a shattered front windshield that looked like it had struck a pedestrian. The entire property was overrun with grass and weeds. I was able to take a few photos before we left. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. Something didn’t feel right.

Preservation

Preserve
[pri-zurv]

verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.

For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.

Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”

The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.

But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.

By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.

My canned tomatoes.

My canned tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.

The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries.  Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.

You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.

I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.

And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?

It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.