I called my son a jerk.
Ok, the exact wording was “you are acting kind of like a jerk.” I know, semantics. But maybe it makes me sound a little less like an asshole. No, not really.
In my defense, he was being a real pill. But in saying he was a jerk I only proved who the real dick was.
The day prior, we had a play date at a friend’s house. I noticed some really exquisite artwork created by the kids. The children had glued squares of cardboard to create 3-d architectural sculptures. I had never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t wait to try it with my own kids. As soon as we got home, I began to prepare the materials.
I know that the best time of day to try a new activity with my boys is in the morning. They are in good moods. They have energy. Their attention spans are at their best. So I laid out the materials in the afternoon to boost their interest, but I waited until the next morning to get to work.
As I drank my coffee, I began gluing a few pieces of cardboard, waiting for them to take notice. I thought if they saw me creating, they would be more interested in joining me than if I issued a forced instruction. It worked- for a few minutes. Kellen saw that I was making a house and decided that that the house need a pool vacuum even though we had not yet made a pool. Liam began imitating my movements, and discovered he could make tents by gluing three pieces of cardboard together.
They lost interest before my coffee could turn cold. Our scenes looked pretty meager- a half made house without a pool for its vacuum, and a couple of tents in a barren land. I should have been happy they created at all, and left them to follow their daily path of inspiration. Maybe I could return to the scenes in a day or two and have them add to the landscapes.
But I didn’t do that. Over the course of the day, I pushed them to glue rocks, add trees, cut sleeping bags, and make a roof. It became drudgery, pleading with them to finish the scene so it would look cute and I could put it on a shelf to be admired. The boys resisted my pleas. They wanted to play with Legos and superheroes, but I persisted. By the end, everyone was miserable making these things. Yes, they looked adorable- particularly the camping scene. But when I look at them, all I see is my failure to listen to what my kids were telling me.
I described the fiasco to a friend. She attempted to comfort me by saying “It’s tough when you spend time getting the materials ready and then they don’t want to use them. It feels like a waste of your time.”
That wasn’t it. I wasn’t upset that I had cut all these scraps of cardboard only to have them go unused. It was that I really wanted to make one of those houses. I felt like I couldn’t just sit down and make one for me. That’s silly. It was an activity for the kids. Yet, I really wanted to do it. Instead of putting pressure on them, why didn’t I just get over my defined terms of acceptable behavior for adults and enjoy making one?
We spent some time in a cabin in the woods this week. Like all little kids, my boys collected sticks, rocks, and other found treasures. I came home inspired to make a forest with this collection, but I didn’t want a repeat of the house incident. I gave myself permission to create what I wanted to while also allowing them to take part.
The forest has now become a full blown project. I’m hoping to use it as a scene for photographs or a stop motion piece. I got the idea to create play dough mushrooms to add to the natural elements we had collected. While my kids squished and cut play dough to their hearts content, I crafted tiny colorful mushrooms. Blending the colors and bending the dough became a moment of peace in a chaotic day.
This morning while I added coats of Modge Podge to seal the mushrooms, my boys painted some of the rocks and sticks they collected. I offered no instructions- just set out paints, brushes, and materials and let them do what they wished. There was no complaining or crying or calling small children “jerks.” We all worked together in our own ways and enjoyed what we made.
Adults need to play just as children do. We need to give ourselves the freedom to do it.