4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I was standing at my usual station by the kitchen sink and Cabot ran by, reeking of lavender… Lavender Soft Soap, that is. I don’t know what her obsession with soap is, but I felt compelled to yell after her bobbing blonde pigtail and cloud of scented soap, “YOU’D BETTER GROW UP TO BE BOBBI BROWN FOR ALL THE SOAP YOU’VE USED UP!!”
Last week there was a Connecticut father interviewed because his son was going to be the youngest person competing in his category for the U.S Olympic Team. And his popular Connecticut sport? The luge. Because luging is all the rage in Connecticut? Not last time I checked. Because this father had built a mini-luge in his backyard out of plywood (and fueled by OCD and cheap beer, if you ask me) when his son was six and expressed an interest in the sport. Can you imagine? And it worked! The kid is AN OLYMPIAN!!
So, I had to go to the source for this one. I called my mom to ask her what she’d dreamed for us when we were kids.
“What I dreamt for you? As kids to be as adults? I think I was just trying to get you to survive. I don’t remember any of that. Why are you asking me this, Jennie?”
You know, Mom. I wanted to feature you in my blog again…
“You know, Mom. I think about it for my kids which made me wonder what you thought about for us.”
“Well, okay. Hmm, well, I guess I just wanted you to be healthy and happy. And I wanted you to be friendly to people. When new kids moved into the neighborhood, I always wanted you to be friendly with them, not too gushy, but friendly. You were so lucky because we never moved around, but I always thought moving around would be so hard. Or when someone’s mother or father died, I wanted you to be kind to them…” And then she went into a theatrical monologue about everyone we knew who’d had a death in the family throughout my childhood.
This actually was surprising, and surprisingly moving. I’m not sure what I thought my mother would say, but I would never have thought being kind to others would have come out as number one. I’d been trained in all the names of all the schools in the Ivy League by about middle school, and this from a mother who hadn’t attended college. None of my siblings or I were shoo-ins to be a pediatrician or actuary, Columbia Law School or Yale University graduates. None of us. And in my memory, it was my mother who pushed, pushed, pushed us forward in the achievement race.
I thought she had a vision. A doctor, lawyer, Indian chief (as the nursery rhyme goes.) But maybe she didn’t.
I clearly remember (or at least I think I do) telling my father when I was five that I wanted to be an artist. I showed him a drawing, probably with some pretty believable details. Even as a kid, I always had my picture chosen for the cover of the class cookbook, the concert program, the smoking cessation poster. My specialty was cute people with yellow hair and a pack of Marlboros. Do you want to know what his reply was? “You’ll starve.”
I couldn’t make this up. Mica is sitting behind me as I type. And what did he say to his sister just this very moment?
“You know what Dad said to me last night when I showed him this sculpt-cha? He said ‘Look! You turned gah-bage into gah-bage!’”
Which is true. My husband did say that because my son did turn garbage into garbage, albeit Frank Gehry, Andrew Goldsworthy inspired garbage. And when I asked Mica how that made him feel, he said, “Ba-a-a-a-d,” like a lost little sheep.
The funny thing is, Mica is named after AN ART SCHOOL (Maryland Institute College of Art.) We have major pieces of kid furniture dedicated to making art. We have an art budget. I run a sweatshop for multi-media valentines, Rainbow Loom bracelets, and loom pot-holders. My kids are each on about their fifth sketchbook (bought mostly by my husband, the artist, by the way.) Seriously.
When our children present a skill, aptitude, interest, dare I say, talent, what do we do?
For now, I pick and choose. You think you’d be good at ice hockey? Can’t do it. Mama’s feet get cold. You want to get a sewing machine? Here you go, Tim Gunn. Make it work. You’d like to play soccer Pele´? And the fourth kid in a family plays town soccer for free? Are you kidding?! We’ll ALL play spring and fall. You’d like to be a figure skater? Did you hear me answer your twin sister about the ice hockey? That would be a no.
Honestly, I worry sometimes that I might be holding them back, keeping them from Olympic gold. I sort of worry about it every day; I’m not building a luge run in my backyard, you know? But another part of me has to believe that if we give the love, help build the character, model the passion, remind them to be kind every day, then they will end up right where they should, standing on the podium… or living in a fry-oil powered RV, building eco-friendly, up-cycled furniture out of garbage. Which is fine by us.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?
Or what about a ploughman or a keeper at the zoo,
Or what about a circus man who lets the people through?
Or the man who takes the pennies on the roundabouts and swings,
Or the man who plays the organ or the other man who sings?
Or what about the rabbit man with rabbits in his pockets
And what about a rocket man who’s always making rockets?
Oh it’s such a lot of things there are and such a lot to be
That there’s always lots of cherries on my little cherry tree
~ “Cherry Stones” from Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne (1927)