Saturday, January 23, 2016

How (Not) to Inspire a Child's Creativity

Last week I let my son paint with some oil paints. Art has always been very important to me. I come from a family of very artistic people and my parents never withheld quality art supplies for us to experiment with. Crayola colored pencils? NO WAY. We had Primsmacolor colored pencils - the good stuff - at our finger tips as young children. And I want this for my son too, even at 2 years old. I want him to experiment with all kinds of mediums and create how ever and whatever he wants to.

So back to the oils paints.

I thought this would be a fun idea - something we could hang in his room. And then I immediately regretted letting a 2 year old paint with oil paints. Not only was this messy - like how the hell are you suppose to get oil paint out of clothes?! - but he mixed all of the colors together and the canvas literally looked like a giant poop smudge. And I might not have even minded a poop colored oil painting if there was any kind of pattern or cool splattering effect. But it was all covered in a giant blob.

A few days after letting it dry, that poop colored blob starting me in the face, I decided to make it usable. I couldn't have that hanging in his room...but maybe I could fix it. So I took my son Henry's painting and I used the back of a pen to carve out a big letter "H". Ahhh much better. Now it has purpose. Now it looks cool. Seriously, it looked kinda cool because the colors underneath shown through. So I carved it out and let it dry for a few days.

But each time I passed that big "H" my heart felt heavier and heavier. I had taken my child's work of art and made it my own. My son is only a toddler, but toddlers are smart. This says to him "I'm better at this than you." "What you made isn't creative" "Your vision of art is ugly" "Your art is not good enough" "You are not good enough". 

Henry liked his painting. He smiled when he made it. He laughed when he mixed the colors. He was enjoying being creative. He was delighting in his art. It was beautiful simply because it was beautiful to him. 

And I ruined it. 

I took a beautiful painting and I made it into something I thought had been redeemed but in turn I ruined it. How could I do this when creativity is something so very important to me? Giving my children full reign of their art experience is a core philosophy for me! How could I have done this?

And while I am sad that I took my sons art and made it into my own, I am glad it happened. 

It reminded me of what matters. It reminded me that art and creativity are vital parts of humanity. It reminded me that art is about the process, not the product. And if art only exists to please others, we've missed the point. And I never want my child to make art solely for others. I want him to do it for himself. Because he finds joy in the process. Because he laughs when he experiments. Because HE finds it beautiful. 

I decided to take a better look at his art area in our house and make it even more Henry friendly than I had it set up like before. My goal is for him to have an creative space where he has: 

1) Access art materials at his level at all times and that

2) Those materiel be appropriate for use without close supervision.

I removed all of the art supplies that were at his reach that I could get frustrated over ending up on the walls or floors: basically I only left washable materials at his reach: ultra-washable crayons, markers ink pads and stamps. If any of these get on the walls or floor they are very easily wiped away! No problem!  

I moved the sheets of paper down at eye level so he could grab one whenever he wanted. I moved all the paints, watercolors, colored pencils and other materials that needed more supervision up high so I could bring them down when we wanted to try a new art medium with careful supervision. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Down to the River to Pray - A Self Weaning Journey

My sweet babe has begun to self-wean. I have been asking my husband Wes to take pictures because very soon, any day now, I will look back and realize it was the last day I nursed him. So I am cherishing these moments. Remembering the long nights of nursing every 45 minutes during a growth spurt. Nursing to sleep every nap and every night and every wake before the sun came up (until just a few weeks ago).

For those unfamiliar with breast feeding beyond a year, it is commonly referred to as extended breastfeeding. The World Health Organization recommends "Exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond." There is no real number for when a child is ready to wean on their own, but it's generally going to be between 2 and 3 years old. 

Extended breastfeeding looks much different from the early days of nursing, but it is still very important for the toddler as well. We often see breastfeeding as purely nutritional—only nurse to feed the baby—but nursing is calming, centering, and soothing too. My child will nurse when he falls down, when he's having a tantrum, or when he is overwhelmed and just wants to be close. I am a centering figure for him to look towards to feel confident and independent and curious and adventurous. And I am blessed to be that. I know not everyone is able to breast feed, for various reasons, but if you can breast feed—do it! It is messy, it is frustrating, it is beautiful, and it is glorious. Now my child is finishing this journey. And all children do. I am so thankful that I’ve been able to wait until he is ready to wean on his own.

It is a hard journey to breast feed. It is one of the most tangible ways a mother gives of herself. It is giving your body up to nourish that precious baby who needs you to live. What a wonderful gift that is. An amazing thing to go body sustains life! I remember being pregnant and thinking "Yeah, sure I'll breastfeed. It's cheap - it's FREE." (If you know the penny-pincher I am, this shouldn't surprise you). I had no idea. I had no idea the power it would give me. The love it would trigger. The bond it held together. The sisterhood it created.

I could not have gone through this journey had it not been for the amazing women who came along side me, who told me it was okay to text them at 3am if I didn't know what to do (and I did text them!), who skyped me and watched me nurse and helped me position my baby in a more comfortable way to promote a better latch—the women who came over the week after his birth and listened to me cry because it hurt and because I didn't know if he was getting enough—and the women who told me it was okay to nurse as long as both my child and I wanted to. (Thank you. All of you. You know who you are).

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, my family was sitting around and singing (as we often do). My brother and Aunt and I started singing "Down to the River to Pray" and we began to sing the verse that says:

"O Mothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O Mothers let's go down
Down to the river to pray"

Just as I started singing the words, my sweet baby came up to me and asked to nurse. I cradled him in my arms and sang these powerful words about mothers as I looked into the eyes of my child. Love overflowed in my heart and tears welled up in my eyes. Everything else faded away as I sang about mothers while participating in a part of motherhood that is as old as they come. That ancient practice that connects child and mother to one another. It was as if the voices of those women of the past enveloped me with love and courage, swirling around me, binding us all together in beautiful harmony.

That night I felt incredible joy as I reflected on my story of breast feeding and the community of women who surrounded me in love and wisdom. I have had a beautiful breast feeding journey. Everyone's journey is different. And this is mine. 

Just a few days old

Look at those eyes!
Look at dat latch! :O
One of my favorites - a candid shot
Beautiful Photoshoot I got to be apart of for Breastfeeding Awareness
taken by the amazing Kristy Powell
(Henry and I are on the far right)
Self Portrait for World Breast Feeding Week
All the laughs
My happy boy
Early morning hammock nursing - relaxing!
I call this "Selfies and Nursies"
More Selfies and Nursies
Most recent (and probably last) picture of Henry nursing
"I'll love you forever, I'll love you for always
As long as I'm living my baby you'll be"