4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
This morning, as my husband walked out the front door, he reminded me that the painters were coming tomorrow and that we needed to vacate the house. They would come in and move everything away from the walls and they would paint the downstairs walls and baseboards for us. Tomorrow.
“What?!” I replied, stomach clenching, eyes darting.
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “They’ll just move everything away from the walls and paint and then move everything back. Like new. That’s what they do.” And then he left.
I stood in our pristine living room. “But they expect it all to look like this,” I said out loud, gesturing to the artistically displayed pile of books and the plumped cushions displayed neatly on couches, “and it really looks like this.”
I turned and walked dejectedly through the piles of Legos on the floor into the family room/kitchen area, the place where the actual living happens. The bookshelves piled left to right and up to down, every square inch covered with old Highlights magazines and art books, early readers and overdue Diary of a Wimpy Kid books from the library.
I looked at the “art supplies area” a lopsided pile of Hello Kitty coloring books, pipe cleaners, clay building kits, airbrush marker sets and water color paper and canvas board for tempera paintings, the bucket of hot glue guns and wood stumps, googly eyes, sequins, felt.
Then into the mudroom. “Oh, my god.” The mudroom, it defies description. The boots, the rain jackets and bags on bags on bags of Little League and tennis and. Oh. My God.
Even our windows around the kitchen table are covered, absolutely covered, with the artwork the kids have made this year, their first writing, Thanksgiving turkey hands, a tempera Christmas tree, window sills littered with little sculptures and clay doo-dads and things made from clothespins.
And the problem here, the real problem is that it is August, mid-August. And August is the cruelest month. It is the Sunday night of summer. It is the beginning of the end.
And this August I prepare for the youngest of my children to begin kindergarten. I had no time to prepare for this by the way. Last year I sent the twins to kindergarten. The year before, my oldest began kindergarten.
I have not processed this.
And suddenly this morning, in a matter of minutes it washed over me like a tsunami. Like the tide had been pulling away, away and I had looked curiously at the bottom of the ocean, the little crafted treasures lost there, the fish flopping around in surprise to feel the water receding. And I had turned my back on the crashing wave that loomed just over my shoulder.
So I began with the “art area” and I tried to be ruthless. This is where I have tucked away their little rainy day moments of hot glue and feathers, have tossed the sewing machine and the patterns we made for their first sewn stuffed animals. I grabbed the pile of painted wooden bird houses, low hanging fruit. I took the wooden disc with my son’s name on it from his first day of kindergarten last year, and with arms filled I walked over to the trash can.
I sorted through the coloring books, some filled with hasty, crazy scribbles, others carefully filled in as their confidence and skills grew. I set aside workbooks they might still use, a few books teaching beginning math, the alphabet.
While I stacked and sorted (be ruthless, be ruthless) the four of them found my youngest’s farm pre-school “graduation book” from this past May, the thing painstakingly made by her pre-school teachers, filled with photos of classmates, first poems and stories about the gardens, the butterflies, the ocean. My four children sat in their makeshift pajamas, mismatched tees and pants and my husband’s old cast-off t-shirts, and they remembered their own pre-school graduation books.
Meanwhile I gathered a stack of paper drawings and dog-eared coloring books and walked to the recycling bin. I took the sculpture made from old styrofoam meat containers and added it onto the pile of birdhouses and (heart clench) my son’s wooden name tag. all getting buried in the trash can.
I walked to the windows to begin removing the artwork from the windows, the chatter of my four children in the background continuing, and I gasped.
The pain in my chest is too much right now. August is too much. The first words they wrote, their first books, the painted portraits, the drawing of my handprint next to my son’s handprint turned into talking monsters that say, “For Mom,” and inexplicably, “Begin.”
I stand staring at the print my youngest and I made from styrofoam meat trays this past Spring on a rainy day while I was printing a woodcut. She’d made this beautiful amazing thing, two artists working closely together, mother and daughter. For a minute I have no idea how I’m going to do this. I do not feel equipped for this. I am paralyzed.
The kids have moved on to singing songs now. Shut Up and Dance, actually.
I am sitting writing, trying to catch my breath. The air conditioner kicks in and the drawings on the windows flutter behind me.
I am no closer to getting prepared for these painters. But every minute September 9th moves closer to me nonetheless.
They are going to arrive tomorrow, these anonymous, efficient, professional painters, and they are going to paint over all the fingerprints, they are going to repair the place on the wall that my oldest son’s head dented when he fell out of his highchair, they are going to remove the sneaker scuff marks and crayon scribbles.
And then in a few short weeks I will dress my kids in cool new outfits, strap shiny backpacks on their backs, line them up on the porch for a first day of school photo, a first day of school for every last one.
And I know that these piles of papers, these wooden birdhouses and pipe cleaners, tiny sculptures and handmade books about robots and butterflies, cannot protect me from the changes that are coming. The fingerprints on the walls, the marks made along baseboards by tiny just-crawling babies, these things cannot hold back the tide.
I send the kids outside in bathing suits, turn on the sprinkler. They dance and scream, shimmering in the August sun, and they thrash through the droplets of water, moving forward, always forward.
I’m going to the trash can to get my son’s wooden disc from the first day of kindergarten last year, the one with his name on it. And then I am going to return to the windows and take down the artwork.