I hope he wouldn’t do it, and he did it.
He eyed the paper, he took the marker, and he scribbled over the figure of a fox he had drawn. “It’s in a storm!” My four year old announced, grinning. To him, that made it perfect.
You can’t save someone else’s art. But, damn, how I felt the urge.
My perfectionist instincts, and urge to preserve, makes me want to rescue his art from this habit. But that was such a cool fox! I want to protest. And now no one can f-ing see it! But parenting, like teaching, often means letting a process just unfold.
Awwwwwww meeeeean, said the baby (Translation, “Aw, man!”)– one of the only phrases in which she puts two words together.
She peered at his scribbled-out drawing, assured she’d picked the right reaction. Awwwwww meeeeaaaaan, she repeated, (we’ve taught our kids this phrase as a response to frustrations). She looked around to see who was appreciating her timing. I’m thinking that might be the title of my autobiography.
But it’s his art. It’s his vision.
At some point between 2 and 3 years old, my son became enchanted with storms of any type– real, imagined, violent, gentle, didn’t matter. Every story we told got his “And then a storm came!” added to it. Didn’t matter if your story took place in the sunny land of Perpetual Yodeling and Jacked Up Good Moods.
His narrative twist was predictable: A storm would blow through it, and that would make it perfect to him. A story without a storm was like a story without a character or plot– not really a thing.
He did the same stormy flourish of scribbles to the drawing of ET he’d made on his brothers’ whiteboard, after we broke his heart with that movie. Ditto to the practice sketches of aliens in profile– my husband, the figure artist, had taught him how to do. His speech bubbles read backwards in all caps “I WILL NEVER PEE!” true to his stubbornness. All were scribbled out by the merciless storm.
My reaction is conservative: I always want to save the beautiful thing. I don’t like the chaos that threatens our best efforts, especially not when it’s imposed on purpose. I want to glow with pride at my son’s careful work, not watch it immediately be defiled.
But it’s not my art.
When the storms hit
And here’s the thing: this is exactly what life does. You can get your situation just so, so perfect or acceptable that you hold your breath.
And then life knocks the wind out of you. It throws bad weather on your seedlings. It balloons your IRS bill. It makes your friend act in a weird way you can’t decode. It gives you a strange virus that lingers. It takes away your healthcare coverage. The storms are never in short supply.
So each of us picks not only if our art includes those storms, but how.
To my son, the mess is a reality that pleases him. He isn’t overly attached to the precious thing he made. That may change, that may not change. He knows when I lose my creative work I get upset, and rarely am as careful with my words as the gentle “Aw, man.” But he also knows that storms have a power every single one of us must respect.
And that life is not static.
So when I looked back at his work I saw something else. I saw that beautiful co-exists with choice. I saw that chaos and creation are buddies. We can handle being in the middle of– and maybe even vehicles for– both.
How does this apply to you? Some thinking and writing prompts.
- Go rewatch ET. It’s really a phenomenal movie, and the first one at which my four year old openly wailed. When the strange looking alien has resoftened your heart, set a timer and write for 10 minutes.
- Storms: what have been the major storms that have passed through your life? What order have they disrupted, what beauty have they messed with? Give those storms names the way we name Hurricanes. Tempest BreakUp. Tempest D minus. Spend time with each storm.
- When we lose solid ground, that thing we made, that thing we worked for, we are forced to let go. Some of us are better at this than others, but everyone can get better at this. What have you had to let go of? And what might that have made room for that was new?
Not sure? Want to talk it out? We got you!
We have lots of room for your stories, and storms of any size. Contact us to get started writing personal essays that capture both the specific beauty and the “bad” weather of your life.