Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Walking Amidst It

Maya Lin, the woman who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, thought that "public spaces should be filled with art...so that we can walk amidst it..." (as found in Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters by Barack Obama). Lin was right - public spaces - and private ones, too, should be filled with art.

My walls are bare and my wallet is empty, but I have two very creative and crafty children who were desperate for a really good, authentic, engaging art project. Taking our inspiration from Picasso's drawing of the hand holding the bouquet (which Aidan had studied in school) along with a favorite book called The Imaginary Garden, this was the end result. In sum, the project took 1.5 hours and cost less than $10:

You will need the following:
Large canvas (ours is about 11 x 14)
Acrylic paint (optional - for the background on the canvas)
Paintbrush/ paint sponge
A variety of colors of tissue paper
Elmer's glue that has been watered down a bit

First, a caveat: I have this thing about kid art. Usually, I'm all about the "process" and not as focused on the final "product;" in schools and classrooms, I look for evidence of individual expression and encouragement to think outside the box. Sometimes, though, seeing yet another solid brown finger painting makes me wonder if there might be a compromise between process and product. This project is one such example, where I actively guided them through a technique and a process, which helped keep it authentic yet also yielded a lovely product.

I was also deliberate in making this a collaborative project. Another time, I will give each of the kids their own canvas and let them do their own thing, but this was essentially a "brotherhood-building" activity in addition to being an art project.

And so -
Paint the canvas and allow to dry. Decide on your design for the canvas. We had three initial ideas for the project, but opted to use a vase (which Leo first drew on a piece of paper, then I traced and cut out from the tissue paper; in retrospect, I should have had Aidan do the cutting). Hands would also work, or you could "root" the flowers in some shaggy grass at the bottom. Another idea is to create a large tree, a heart, or a huge sun. Be creative!

For the vase:
Design the vase and cut 2 layers out of tissue paper. Cut a variety of lengths and colors of green stems, then glue the vase and stems down to the canvas. Using two layers for the vase allows you to add some texture and dimension to the vase, because inevitably one or both of the layers will wrinkle as you glue it down - wrinkles are good!

Experiment a bit with how to create the flowers. Initially, I showed Aidan and Leo how to cut out petals from the tissue. This was fairly hard for Aidan, and way too challenging for Leo, so instead, I suggested tearing the tissue into small-ish pieces - an excellent choice. On a scrap piece of paper, I demonstrated how to spread a thin layer of glue, then begin layering the tissue scraps in a circle, creating the flower. I showed them how to fold or layer small bits of paper for the center of the flower, and then I sat back and let them work, offering guidance here and there - Aidan tended to use too much glue, and Leo, too little. Other than pointing out some empty "holes" that needed to be filled, the work was done completely by the young artists, which is an important piece in the process and the product.

Make sure to have your artists sign the canvas with their initials (or names) and the date or year.

Once the design is complete, allow the glue to dry, then apply a thin layer of Mod-Podge to the canvas, completely covering the tissue design. Allow that to dry, then add a second coat of Mod-Podge to the entire canvas, which will effectively seal and finish the work of art.

Finally - hang your masterpiece prominently. It will bring you much joy - remembering how fun it was to create - as well as reminding you that the children who are driving you to the point of insanity are the same ones who created such a beautiful work of art.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shades of Gray

Call it serendipitous, call it coincidence, call it the subconscious awareness of what's been in front of you forever, coming forth into consciousness. Two blog entries have been drafting themselves in my head for several days. Two timely news article links were posted to Facebook recently, catching my attention because I was essentially handed the literature to back the rant that was forming in my head. One of the issues, I'll tackle now. The other, I'll wait until it's become less of a rant and more of a tribute.....

It happened in the baby aisle of Wal-Mart, the moment when my brain started drafting furiously. The words started spewing forth with such gusto that they actually started leaving my mouth in a dribble of mutters and curses. My children stared at me in wonderment, looking at me as if to say, what's her deal?

To be fair, it actually started in the canned goods aisle. I needed tomatoes. Wanting to grab the can as quickly as possible, I hit a wall - literally - of choices. Diced, petite diced, crushed, whole, halved, with basil and oregano, with jalapenos and onions, without extra salt, organic, non-organic, made by DelMonte or Sam Walton himself. I needed canned tomatoes, and the overwhelming sense of wastefulness annoyed me. Should buying a can of tomatoes really require a flow chart of choices?

I also needed diapers. Usually, the choice for me was Pampers: Cruisers or Extra-Dry? Suddenly, the choice was different - and the sight of them assaulted me, stopped me in my tracks and left me cursing. There were pink argyle ones. Or blue stripes. They were clearly marked - for "GIRLS" and "BOYS." Have we really come to this? The irony did not escape me, either - here is a product designed to sufficiently and completely cover those very boy and girl parts - and yet the exterior, also intended to be hidden beneath clothes, highlighted the very essence of what's underneath the diaper.

I'm so proud to be living in a nation where, by and large, tolerance and acceptance have become the norm, not the exception. Women are mostly treated as equals to men; blacks are mostly treated as equals to whites; gay and lesbian couples are gradually coming to enjoy many of the same rights as married straight couples. Gone is the "black and white world" in which we used to live - literally, when blacks and whites were segregated, and figuratively, when women were denied access to voting, career choice, and fair pay, and where civil unions and marriages between gay couples didn't even exist. The lines have been blurred; the black-and-white world is now a variegated rainbow reflecting many shades of gray -

Except in the case of gender. Instead, we are going backwards in time, back to an era where boys wear blue and girls wear pink, where individuals are defined not by who they are but who they appear to be. Where boys play with trucks and tanks (that are blue and brown) and girls play with kitchen sets and cradles (pink and yellow, of course). As evidenced by the genderized diapers in Wal-Mart, we're reverting back to a black and white world, where mindsets are closed and perspectives are narrowed.

The diapers are an affront to any parent who has worked to de-emphasize gender and stereotyping. They are not cute, they are not clever, and they are absolutely offensive to me. I particularly appreciate the perspective of Lise Eliot, from the article link above:

"If parents did not buy into the gender stereotyping of children's toys and clothes, kids would stay open-minded longer during childhood. The goal is to keep girls physically active, curious and assertive, and boys sensitive, verbal and studious."

I, for one, will continue to seek the shades of gray.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Man Like My Father

This story has been told many times, but never here --

Late one night as a college freshman, I was talking to an older boy about what my perfect mate in life would be like. I named a variety of character traits (funny; good at fixing things; cute ), values I would want him to have (compassion; deep respect for women and people in general), beliefs I hoped he would hold (God). I concluded, "I guess you could say I'm looking for someone a lot like my own father. Someone who would rush to the store to buy more batteries when the smoke detector starts beeping late at night. Someone who would fix me pickles and ice cream in a bowl when I'm pregnant and craving it at 3 in the morning." My friend laughed his cruel laugh and shot back at me, "You'll never find someone like that."

Indeed, I have. Jeff is that man - the man who tends to the safety of his family, who lovingly fetches peculiar cravings, who is sensitive and kind, dedicated and devoted to those he loves best in this world. And that makes me one pretty lucky woman to have not one but two extraordinary men in this world who treat me with such absolute, unconditional, unwavering, love - my own father; and my children's father.

Happy Father's Day to two of the very best fathers in the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We are there...

You know it's been an awesome vacation when checking off "blogging" on your to-do list feels more like a chore than the outlet it usually provides. On Saturday, we returned home after a week at the beach, and although home is always a wonderful place to be, it's been hard to get back into the demands of everyday life....

The week was wonderful. Although we've vacationed most years before with the kids, it has always been to visit people, or with other families. This was our first extended vacation, just the five of us - and it was unforgettable.

Aidan was amazing. Although he had a healthy respect for the ocean and its powers, he was relentless in his pursuit of riding the perfect wave. With a wallet full of birthday money, Aidan bought his own boogie board, and spent hours - hours each day surfing the waves. We would drag him out every so often and make him rest - but he'd clamour back into the sea after
impatiently wolfing down a granola bar and some gatorade. He and I walked hand-in-hand in the mornings, searching for sand dollars and pausing to watch the clams burrow deep into the
sand. At the water park, he raced me down the slide, beating me to the bottom and grinning with triumphant joy. I taught him to play War, and he taught Jeff to play Pokemon. He read many books on the trip, including two of my all-time Roald Dahl favorites: Fantastic Mr. Fox and Danny the Champion of the World. In these ways, in our long and lazy days, we enjoyed so many of the hallmarks of my own summer vacation memories....

Leo reveled. With the largest sandbox imaginable literally at his fingertips, he became lost in a world of imagination and creation. He insisted he could hear the ocean in every seashell he picked up. Leo built one drippy castle after another, and all I could think about was my own memories of building sandcastles with my father - Leo, like me, was mesmerized by the fast start - slow drip - final plop of the sand as each peak was formed. Leo, like me, looked for
seashells to decorate the perimeter and capstone of each castle. Eventually, though, as it
happens to every man who's labored long and hard over a creation (while his mother badgers
him to drink more water because it's hot!) Leo had to pee. A particular unforgettable moment of our trip came when Leo told me he had to pee and I pointed to the ocean and said, "Well, go pee!" He gave me a funny look, shrugged his shoulders and trudged off accordingly. Glancing up a moment later to check on him, there he was, in all his glory - he'd pulled his trunks to his ankles and was peeing far and wide into the ocean, for all the world to see. I shouted "LEO!" and the sound of my voice alarmed our sunbathing neighbors. They put their books down as their
eyes swung out in the direction of mine - and a great chorus of laughter ensued.

Pax was a wonder. He wondered about everything. He took it all in, drank in the sea and the sand and the sun. He loved the ocean, cackled at the sight of Aidan boogie boarding and made a game of chasing Leo to the water's edge and back. He splashed and kicked in the gently lapping morning waves and in the shallow pools left over from the high tide at noon. He dug holes, sat in those holes, pretended to fall into the holes, then filled them up again. He was fascinated by the
seagulls and pelicans we saw, and in that over-generalizing way of almost-two year olds, he
applied his sign for "dog" to every animal he encountered. I tried to teach him to sign "bird," but all he did was laugh at my wings. Pax loved when Aidan would take him on little rides on the boogie board, pulling him along like it was a sled. He and Leo drizzled sand on each other, then splashed it off again. Jeff took him on long walks, perched atop his shoulders, and Pax's eyes
were huge, happy saucers gazing on the world from a new perspective. And he enjoyed luxurious naps. He napped in my arms, against my chest, in the warm sunshine with the ocean roaring in his ears. He napped against my back, secure in the Ergo, with the cool morning slowly turning warm as the day began on the ocean.

For me, it was the simplest of pleasures that made me enjoy our time at the beach the most. I took a nap in the afternoon. I read books. I spent evenings with Jeff, playing gin rummy and
sipping gin and tonics (our official drink of the week). I ran miles next to the surf, listening to the roar of the waves and watching the clouds spread across the sky. I watched the sun rise over the ocean in the morning, sipping my coffee with at least one child snug in my lap. I created memories for my children from the memories my parents created for me. I drank deeply and I knew that it was good.

Was it perfect? Hell no. The kids still fought and bickered. I still got frustrated with them. We locked ourselves out of the condo at one point. The lens on our nice camera got broken. Putt-putt golf was a TOTAL disaster. There was a particular potty accident from a certain four year old that was... memorable in its timing and quantity (where was the ocean when I needed it?) And
the long car ride there and back... oh, I shudder at the thought. They were AWFUL. I said to Jeff at one point, "We seriously need to videotape this right now. Because when people [who live far away] ask us why we don't ever come to see them, we can play this video for them and they will KNOW. They will totally get it!!"

But, as it is with the best times in life, the memory of the bickering and the broken and the "are we there yet?"s fades like tan lines in August, and the joy and the love we shared together, as a family, is all that remains.