I’ve been drawing and painting our daughter Myla for a long time. I was intimidated at first, but she quickly became my favorite subject.
I was looking back at some of my artwork featuring her, and noticed how it’s changed as much as she has over the years.
My first of her was this one, where I armed her in a gentle pink dress-up dress, with Han’s holster, Leia’s belt, Wonder Woman’s lasso, and She-Ra’s sword, surrounded by some of her very first drawings of “monsters.” She’s ready for the world, ready to face whatever’s coming with a soft smile. I’ve wanted this for her since she was born.
Soon, my drawings of her (most of them eventually turning into collaborations with her) centered around imaginary creatures, unusual monsters, and just all the make believe things that made her smile.
I also enjoyed illustrating the wonderful things she said.
I began taking photos of her, and adding all kinds of creatures to them, trying to capture a tiny glimpse of the magical world that might be in her mind, and celebrate the magic of being such a creative kid.
And as she got out into the world a little more, I felt this strong urge to teach her to enjoy all the creative weirdness that makes her so wonderful. To never be ashamed of being who she is, and to be proud of being creative and different. I felt a pang of pride the day she told me how a kid at school called her a “weirdo,” and she confidently said, “thank you!”
The more she had conflict, the more I wanted her to meet those monsters if she must, and make friends with them, instead of fearing them. I want her to be comfortable enough with herself to know who she is when she goes up against them.
I want to protect her heart from harsh arrows, and keep her kind but strong–a tough balance for anyone, I know.
I see her as such a magical little creature, and in my desire to protect her and teach her to protect herself, I began arming her in my artwork with horns and armor.
One day, an image came to me so strongly that I had to put it on paper. She’s been faced with her own obstacles recently, and I have been discussing them with her, so she can better understand how she works, and not be afraid or feel bad about it. And although I saw a slight nervousness in her, I was so impressed that she just accepted it all, and mentally prepared herself for the battle.
I want her to know that everyone struggles. EVERYONE. There’s not a person you see that’s not facing SOME sort of issue at this very moment. You can’t let it knock you down forever. You have to find ways around it–whatever it may be–and keep on going. Whatever that struggle is, it doesn’t have to be the only thing in the definition of who you are...it can simply be a side note.
She doesn’t have to be the kid who–despite having elaborate and complex stories in her mind–has trouble writing letters or remembering instructions. She doesn’t have to just be the kid whose energy and excitement keep her from holding still in class. Those things don’t have to be the only things that define her.
She is the kid whose creativity knows no bounds; whose mind is overflowing with amazingly creative ideas–so much that it’s sometimes a little distracting for her. She has quiet moments, too, and can spend hours patiently drawing or working on detailed art projects. This is the kid who can remember things from years ago in full detail. Who is extremely empathetic. Who can make friends with anyone. Who says “have a great day!” when she leaves a store. Who creates complicated board games and makes three-dimensional, fully posable creatures out of construction paper and tape. Who is goofy, and will do pretty much anything for a laugh. Who surprises me sometimes with the depth of her thoughts.
I wanted her to see the kind, strong warrior I see.
She posed for a few reference photos for me, and I started sketching. I saw determination in her eyes. I filled her armor with dragons, because sometimes you can turn monsters into friends.
She saw me working on it one day, and although I hadn’t planned it as a collaboration (I just had the basic image in my mind, I wasn’t sure what else to do with it, really), I thought it was a perfect opportunity for her to add her own creatures to it. To draw out those little demons and give them faces.
I told her a little about my idea, and the image I saw in my mind. She came up with the concept of drawing demons (the enemy) and dragons (her friends). Some of the demons she created had names like Fear, Jealousy, Pain, and Chains. The dragons had names like Kindness, Humor, Bravery, Energy (a negative into a positive!), Peace, and Strength. I added a few leaves to the background to give it a setting, and went on my way…
I start with a thin layer of turquoise acrylic on top of my ballpoint pen drawing on the skin areas. The turquoise gives the skin a little depth, I think, and I build up thicker layers of acrylic on top so it becomes more opaque.
And after a lot of work and a TON of time, I think she’s finished. And I think it says what I wanted it to say.
Everyone’s got struggles. You don’t have to be completely fearless–they can scare you a little–but you’ve got to get past the fear, and adapt and overcome by facing it head-on. Don’t let it get in the way of whatever it is you want to do. In your struggle, you might feel like you’re not coping or handling things as well as other people might. It really helps, I think, to know other people are dealing with things the best they can, too. Make friends with your monsters. Learn to live with them. Don’t give up.
You’ve heard them before. Those judgemental mom-comments that get under your skin.
At soccer practice this past week, I heard a mom grumble snarkily under her breath that another mom spent all her time at practice just “playing on her phone” instead of watching her kid (this is at PRACTICE, mind you. Not a game). Meanwhile, that same mom’s kid was running all over, being obnoxious, distracting the other players from actually practicing.
Maybe we’re all a little guilty of feeling like we’re doing a better job than other moms. Maybe that’s because it’s a SUPER hard job.
But might it also be possible to consider that we’re all doing the best we can?
That mom playing on her phone while her daughter was at soccer practice also had a baby in tow. Maybe soccer practice was the first chance that mom’s had to breathe all day. Maybe she spends all day long with the kids, and would like a little adult interaction, even via facebook articles or pinterest pins. Maybe she’d like a half hour where she didn’t constantly have to be in her kid’s face.
That same judgemental mom probably looks at me, sitting on the sidelines at practice, listening to my headphones and drawing in my sketchbook, and most likely thinks about what an inattentive, horrible mom I am….not knowing how much time I actually SPEND with my daughter. Doesn’t consider the fact that I work from home and check every email on my phone, in case a late job request comes in. Doesn’t realize my husband’s deployed, and that staring at our daughter during practice actually DISTRACTS her from paying attention. (I know my kid, and I know that she doesn’t always NEED me up in her face.)
And that same judgemental mom, whose own kid was running around being wild, annoying, and obnoxious…it’s possible that maybe even SHE is doing the best she can, too.
I know I’m guilty of it. We all are. You put SO MUCH work into being a good parent that you get so frustrated when other parents seem to be doing a crappy job. I find myself thinking, “maybe your kid wouldn’t be so crazy if you’d actually give him discipline when he acted up instead of ignoring his bad behavior.” I think, “instead of saying “behave, behave, behave,” why don’t you actually DO something when your kid misbehaves?”
I realize it’s futile. There are a million ways to be a good parent, and a million ways to be a bad one.
So when I hear that snarky voice start to chatter in my head, I really try hard to change the conversation and understand that there may be another side of the story that I might not know. It’s really hard sometimes, but it does help a little.
And since when does being a good mom mean giving up everything you want to do? Looking at your phone for five minutes? Selfish. Going to the gym? Selfish. Going to see a grownup movie? Selfish. Putting on makeup or doing your hair? Selfish. We feel so guilty for doing anything for ourselves that we put ourselves last in everything, if we even get ourselves in there at all. It’s sort of expected. You’re supposed to drop everything and become this superhero of a creature called MOM.
Because of that pressure, I found myself taking care of everyone…except myself. Ask most moms, and they’ll tell you they do the same. My husband needed help studying for a test? I help. Baby is sick? I’m up all night. Kid has this activity or that dress-up day at school? I got it covered. Dogs need to go to the vet? Got it. Bill needs to get paid? I’m on it.
Not to mention I’m a work-at-home mom. I have a full-time job as a graphic artist. I’m so grateful for my job, and it has the same responsibilities that any job would.
I always say that every day is a challenge to keep the plates spinning…Letting ANY of the plates drop is NOT an option for me. I want to give a hundred percent to my job, my child’s well-being, my marriage, my husband’s well-being, my hobbies, my art, my pets, my bills, my house, my daughter’s activities.
How on earth is that humanly possible? I don’t know, but I nearly kill myself trying, and feel like a failure if any one of those plates starts to wobble. The LAST thing on earth I’ve got time for is myself, so I get the least attention. I get leftovers in all aspects of my life, if I even give myself anything at all.
So where does that leave me? 42 years old, overweight, used up, worn out, completely stretched to the limit, exhausted and stressed out. I have a preexisting back condition, which doesn’t help in the stress department, and it was making life absolutely miserable. Years of trying various injections and infusions had left me with an exhausted immune system and I was so tired of it. I thought if I could try to find a way to exercise, I could help strengthen my back WITHOUT medicine. I had faith in this, because my younger sister–who has the SAME back condition as me (ankylosing spondylitis / spondyloarthritis)–has avoided medications and has been doing nothing but exercising this past year, and has told me how much it’s helped.
I have learned, as a mom, how to make room for my artwork. Now it is time to make room for my health.
So now it is a priority. I don’t just WANT to exercise. I HAVE TO. I need to, to function for my daughter, for my family. I’ve heard the old airplane adage about putting on your airmask before your child’s, but it didn’t really click until now. I HAVE to take care of me. It’s no longer an afterthought, it’s a necessity. I am just as important as the bills. I’m just as important as the dogs.
Sound so stupidly simple, doesn’t it?
So I saw my rheumatologist again, who finally balanced me out on a pain medication that didn’t dope me all up, but at least dulled the constant pain so I could work out.
And then I joined a gym that has an adult-attended child care room (don’t EVEN get me started on how sorely lacking the Army is when it comes to child care and gym facilities, where my only options were a single room with some dusty old baby toys and a rusty old treadmill..UGH).
And thanks to the magic of being an only child, Myla LOVES to go to the child care room at the gym! Any chance to play with other kids is great by her, and she LOVES it. (I even offered to take her to the aquarium last weekend, and she said, “can we go to the gym instead?”)
So I go to the gym at lunchtime (while she’s at school) and I take a class (step aerobics, zumba, spin). I pick her up from school, and we go again, and I either do two miles on the treadmill and use the machines, or take another class. I’m getting about two hours a day at the gym! I haven’t done that since my Army days!
And let me tell you something: it feels SO GOOD. I’m taking care of me. I’m so much happier. I’m stronger. I feel better, I feel more positive, which is ONLY going to benefit our daughter, and our family. And from this side of it, I can look at that snarky mom who may be judging me and mentally say to her, “go ahead and TRY to say it to my face,” because I don’t care what she thinks. I know I am doing the best I can, and I’m doing a pretty darn good job.
And so are you, or you wouldn’t care.
I remember asking my mom when I was pregnant, “What if I’m not a good mom?” She told me that the fact that I was worried about it meant that I was going to be just fine. I remember hearing something similar on Freakonomics, where they did studies on whether or not reading a ton of parenting books actually made you a better parent, and the answer was this: the info in the books didn’t actually make you any better, but the fact that you were the type of parent that was trying to IMPROVE yourself by reading books made you a good parent.
So ignore those judgemental people. They obviously aren’t empathetic to your struggles, so their opinion doesn’t matter AT ALL. Do what you need to do to keep your boat afloat, to keep your train going, to keep your plates spinning. Don’t worry about what those people say; they have NO IDEA where you’re coming from. MAKE TIME FOR YOU. You are just as important as the laundry, and I guarantee the laundry will be there tomorrow.
Spend time with your kids, your family, your pets…but don’t forget to focus on yourself a little. Make room in your life to take care of YOU.. I promise you, it’s OKAY.
Actually, it’s more than okay…it’s NECESSARY.
When our daughter was a baby, she had a lovely little mess of curls on top of her head that I lovingly referred to as her bird’s nest. I drew pictures of it. I made photo collages of it (complete with little mockingbird!).
So last week I was browsing the Monster/EverAfter High section of a store (like adults do), and I came across the most wonderful thing that made me instantly smile: An Ever After High doll named “Featherly,” complete with curly hair and a little BIRD NEST.
As I mentioned, I’ve been randomly addicted to customizing dolls lately, and set about repainting her immediately. I wanted her to look a little more like a little girl. A little more like Myla. Not in a weird voodoo-doll “I want you to be my pretty little doll and never grow up” way, but just in a simply innocently weird, “I want to make a doll that looks like my kid” way. (Hey, it’s not THAT weird. Girls get those American Girl dolls and dress like them, right??)
So here she is all repainted and pretty… I’ve still got a little learning to do with customizing dolls, but I’m having fun, and the rest will come with practice.
My technique’s a little more scratchy and sketchy than people who do this professionally, but it feels good to see a new little look shining through.
I even redrew some of her drawings onto the doll’s legs, like little doodle-tattoos.
Myla’s seen me do some customizations lately, and asked if she could give it a try. So once , when she had a chance to choose a toy, she chose a Monster High Boo-tique kit. She’s not at all interested in clothing, but the kit inspired her, and she asked if she could draw on the actual doll instead.
Now, Myla is a kid who hears “no” a lot. We give her discipline. She has rules. But sometimes, when you can allow it, a simple yes can make a kid shine.
Awhile later, she showed me her masterpiece…
Okay, I know what you’re thinking–quite terrifying, right? The thing is, she made it her own, and it made her so happy. And it didn’t take a lot on my part. In this case, saying “yes” told her “I believe that you can do it.” And no matter what it looks like, she OWNED it. As wonky as it was, she was pretty proud of her. “I messed up on the eyes,” she said, “and I was frustrated, until I just cut some new ones out of paper.” She markered her hair. She drew a snake tongue on her mouth. Her name is Alia, and she’s an alien (of course).
What did it cost me? A doll. Fifteen dollars for a chunk of confidence? I’ll take it.
One of the things I learned from collaborating with her when she was four was that if you loosen the chains of thinking things should be “just so,” that magical things can happen. As I said in that post so long ago, “Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little.” And the best part is that the confidence she’ll get from me trusting her is worth way more than the sanctity of any doll.
This has been one fun past week, lemme tell ya.
First off, I should explain that I have some back condition called “ankylosing spondylitis.” It’s a really fun thing, because after 12 years of medications, injections, and infusions, no one can seem to figure out how to treat it. It’ll be fine for MONTHS and months, and then BOOM–pain and spasms so bad I can’t walk.
Last weekend, with a bit of a painful limp, I was determined to take Myla out & about. We drove to the Waco Zoo, but by the time I got there, I could barely walk, and decided it’d be easier to push around in one of the courtesy wheelchairs. We looked a mess: Me, with Myla on my lap at times, rolling around to all the exhibits. I got out on the uphill slopes and slowly limped my way up, pushing Myla in the chair. When I was feeling wobbly, Myla would offer me her shoulder to hold onto for balance. “Just hold my shoulder, Mom.” Several of the exhibits were closed because it was actually COLD in Texas for once, but we made the best of it, and had a good time anyway.
EXCEPT that by the time we got home, I had spasms so bad I was in tears and could barely walk. Thank goodness my mom was 8 hours away, and was able to drive down and help take care of us (Thanks, Mom!). After many appointments, much medication and rest, I’m pretty much back to my normal level of constant discomfort.
So THIS weekend, Myla built a backpack fairy machine. Like you do. It was made out of a cardboard box, a milk jug, and lots of duct tape.
And then she came right inside, spiked a fever of 101, and wanted to go to bed.
So we’ve spent this long weekend at home, pretty much on the couch, bringing down a fever and binge-watching kid’s movies.
At some point this weekend, she drew this picture of me, with a cane and a thermometer, taking care of her, sick in bed. I sent my husband the picture (he’s deployed), and he noticed, “she sees you’re in pain, but that you’re still taking care of her.” Which was awesome, because that’s exactly the way it was. (And at least she drew me with a smile, instead of wincing in pain).
Having a sick kid does not always mean they’re just asleep on the couch–she really tried very hard to entertain herself with paper projects, mostly related to whatever movies we watched.
Despite fighting a fever and sucking on cough drops, she kept VERY busy with scissors, paper, and tape. ALL WEEKEND.
It’s actually a little hard to keep up with–she built an entire petting zoo (complete with pteranadons, ducks, and baby otters) out of paper and tape. And after we watched the newest Goosebumps movie (admittedly an odd choice for her), she started making books with latches, and the creatures that come out of them….like this floating demon-poodle:
In any case, we’re nearly back to normal! Just trying to get back on our feet…in some ways, literally. That whole thing about taking care of yourself so you can take care of others? That stuff’s true. In my attempt to care for Myla and get out to the zoo for something to do, I ignored my own pain and injured myself further, when I should’ve just taken it easy. I’m not a “take it easy” kind of person, so that’s pretty hard for me to do.
I could take a lesson from Myla, though (as I often do), by just accepting it, relaxing, and making the most of it with art projects. On the couch binge-watching movies if I have to. It’s often hard for me to tell when “pushing it” will help or hurt (especially with the “push through the pain” army mentality I’ve got ingrained in me). In any case, we’re finally on the mend now! So we’re going to take it a little easy this week…which is going to be better for us in the long run, I’m sure.
So from us to you, take care of yourselves!
The constant juggle of too many screaming issues fighting for attention all at once, feathers flying, stormclouds brewing, and the discussion of too many things that were most likely beyond her concept. She’s at an age where she wants desperately to be a big kid (and sometimes I think she is) but with the added frustration of the fact that she still is a little kid, and is starting to question everything, challenge everything, argue with everything.
This is apparently normal. This is apparently something nearly all kids go through. Apparently, it will pass.
A friend once told me that you WANT them to have those skills when they’re older, but you want them to wait til they’re older to USE those skills, and you definitely don’t want them to use them on you! Totally true. Aren’t we the ones teaching her curiosity, standing up to perceived injustices, sticking up for the things she wants, and discovering and deciding her own truth for herself?
Hmf. Well, it’s all well and good, but respect and politeness are also mandatory if you want to have any sort of ability to communicate with people in the general population.
I tell her quite often that it’s part of our job to make sure she doesn’t turn into a stinky ol’ Veruca…
In any case, it’s a raven-juggling sort of week. It’s a phase, I know. For the time being, someone has mind-swapped my sweet little baby kid with an angst-ridden, cranky teenager. I’m not ready for the teen years yet!!–I’d like my sweet little 6-year old back, please! 🙂
So I’m off to do projects, spend a little one-on-one time with her doing some of our favorite things, and hopefully not lose all my hair in frustration.
So the monkey and I have been “off” for a few days. Every issue has been an argument, every request a struggle. This has resulted in fits and frustration, tears and tantrums. I won’t bore you with the details, and I don’t really need any advice or criticism about it–it’s a phase, I know it’ll pass, but in the meantime, it’s torturous. Of course, I’ve checked that something was not horribly horribly wrong, and by all accounts, I’m fairly certain I’ve ruled out anything major…I think it is just a matter of resisting structure, and avoiding conflict with other kids.
But since life is full of conflict and structure, I have started trying to implement that into our down time. The trick, I think, is to make it fun so it doesn’t SEEM like structure. So when I told her yesterday it was “project time,” she asked if we could glue macaroni noodles to paper.
Dang. I didn’t have any macaroni noodles, because no one in the whole house eats macaroni. But what I DID have was a big ol’ bag of kid-beads that a friend had given us. Sometimes, I give her a project to do and I go do something productive, like clean the kitchen, or sweep the floor. But this time, considering all the struggles we’ve been having, I thought it was important to do this project WITH her.
So it’s super easy: doodle something on some paper, and glue some random beads to it. Or macaroni. Or beans. Or Q-tips. Or leaves. Or cereal. Or grass. Or whatever random things you have around the house. It really doesn’t matter, because that part’s not at ALL important. The important thing is that I spend some time WITH her. Since she often goes into a project with an idea already of what she wants to do, she requested we turn them into ornaments, so each one has a little loop for a string to go through.
And it’s things like this that don’t take a lot of effort to do that really help me on the rough days. I don’t care what I made. I don’t care what it looks like. The fact that we did it together is what’s important. Spending actual time with her. Stopping to take a few pictures, but mostly listening to her and her ideas, and having fun WITH her instead of just giving her busy work to do. Instead of just tossing an ipad at her. Instead of just turning on the TV…
I am the mother of a strong-willed girl. Because of our collaborations, people sometimes applaud my mom-skills…but I’ll tell you a secret every mom should freely admit without fear: I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just do what feels right, even if it’s not my favorite option. I talk it over with my husband, and we figure out something that works. And you know what I’ve learned? NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. And the very most important thing (especially when you’re a new mom) is to keep in mind that what works for my kid won’t always work for yours.
I’ve had lots of people give me parenting advice, and after it fails me, I get the feeling that they think I’ve “done it wrong.” And then I feel like I’ve done it wrong. But I’ve learned over time, that there is no “wrong.” You just try and try again, and hope that you stumble along something that works before you pull out all your hair. You can’t fault someone for trying, and you can’t give them the squinchy eye if what works for you didn’t work for them. Give them a pat on the back for their struggle, and help them come up with another idea…or at least offer them a spot on your couch, a sympathetic ear, or a playdate.
Sometimes, you look around and it seems like everyone else is doing this whole parenting thing better than you. I promise you, they’re not. I know I’m not. We’re just doing the best we can over here. That smiling, happy family photo? Of course that family is posting it–they’re SO blown away that they actually have a SINGLE documented moment that looks like a magazine photo!! (I like to picture those magazine people first thing in the morning after very little sleep, with tangled hair, and bags under their eyes. And maybe a headcold, too…not to be spiteful, but because you KNOW they have to have those days).
(For a bit of a giggle, by the way, I love looking at “It’s Like They Know Us” on Facebook, where they take stock photos of “perfect” families, comment on them, and hilarity ensues. PS: If you’re going on there, you’ve got to read the comments people write for each photo; they’re just as funny).
Parenting is rough stuff. It’s not always that smiling happy, ethereal moment that gets captured in photos of people happily tossing their well-behaved, angelic toddler in the air as they smile adoringly at them. It’s not always the wonderfully monastic and artistic mom, lovingly and patiently doing art projects with her compliant and easygoing daughter. Maybe you think it’s like that for me. Maybe you think it’s like that for other people. Maybe it makes you feel like you’re not doing the best you can. If it inspires you to be a better parent, great! If it makes you feel like all your efforts are for naught because you’ll never be magazine-perfect Martha Stewart Betty Crocker parents, that’s not good. Because I can bet you it’s not like that all the time for those people. Parenting is some messy stuff, full of snot and tears and crying and frustration (and that’s just ME).
So we’re struggling a bit this week. And in case you feel like you’re the only one struggling, I promise you, you’re not alone. Maybe you worry you’re screwing them all up. Or that you’re making the wrong decisions. Or that your kid will grow up and become a jerk and it’s all your fault. I worry that ALL. THE. TIME. But as my mom told me, “the fact that you’re worrying about it means you’re doing alright.”
So good luck, grownups. Stay strong. You’re doing the best you can. And so are we. (And maybe she’ll realize that when she’s in her 30s….)