The Jar Nebula

Be careful what you write…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about a regression in potty training.

I’m not even sure that is the proper wording for the scenario, since we technically haven’t been “training” for some time.

Like the obsessive mother that I am, I questioned whether there was a larger problem to worry about:  Did my son have some sort of physical problem?  Was his schedule thrown off by winter break?  Was he having a problem at school and didn’t know how to tell me?

Turns out, sometimes you just need to ask the right question.

Kellen keep saying “It just happens too fast.”

Which we all know, in most instances, is not the case.   He was waiting until the last moment and then rushing to the bathroom.  What I needed to know was why.

So instead of asking “Why aren’t you making it to the potty?”  I asked “Why are you holding it so long?”

“Because I don’t want to wash my hands.”


Ok, so we still have an issue.  He has to wash his hands, can’t get around that.  But at least I could set my mind to rest that he was manifesting a huge crisis in the form of his bathroom behavior.

Like all people, Kellen has his unique quirks.  He’s not a big fan of getting wet unless it is an activity that requires being wet, such as swimming or taking a bath (thus, the hand washing).  He is very physical and imaginative.  He is perfectly content to run around pretending to be a Ninja Turtle battling bad guys for an hour or more.  I being a more artsy crafty sort can find this type of play challenging.  Since I’m the sole playmate a lot of afternoons, it can be tough to find middle ground.

My older son, Liam, also likes to run wild pretending to save the universe, but he will also draw and paint and engage in activities that are more in my wheelhouse.  Liam will grab a favorite toy and draw a still life with great detail.  Kellen is reluctant to draw a stick figure.

I began to question if I should keep the pushing the artsy stuff on Kellen.  Part of my parenting style is to provide a lot of creative opportunities and to see what my boys gravitate towards.  If he didn’t want to draw or paint, maybe I should just let it go and get on board with pretending to be Shredder every afternoon.

But I am a huge believer in art being for everyone.  Not people with “talent.”  Not people with training or art education.  Everyone can benefit from creating.  I began to think about how I could provide opportunities for Kellen that work within his comfort zone.

Knowing he did not want to get wet, I first set my sights on activities that are dry.  I found a tutorial on making “stained glass” from broken pieces of pasta.

This required placing pieces of broken lasagna in a plastic bag with rubbing alcohol and food coloring and shaking them up.  Instead of having Kellen help with this, I completed this step.  I then set up an “invitation.”  I placed all the items needed on the counter, and waited for Kellen to see them and gather interest.  This can be challenging for me.  I want to shout “Look at this cool thing! Let’s make it right now!”  But Kellen likes to do things in his own time. By waiting for him to show interest, I was assured of his attention.

Kellen really enjoyed working with the pasta!  He seems to take a more scientific approach to things.  He doesn’t care so much about making something look like a “thing,”  but he does want to examine the texture, hold things up to the light, etc.  I’ve been trying not to snap as many photos of my kids, but I couldn’t resist taking a couple because he just seemed so happy playing with the pieces.

I realized that I had gotten into a creative slump.  I used to scour tutorials for new things to try, but lately I had been relying on the same old bag of tricks.  Watching him create, I felt a resurgence in my own creativity.  I once again started searching for new ideas.

Knowing Kellen’s love of experiments, I found a few activities with a scientific angle. Our favorite has been nebulas in a jar. talked about what nebulas were, and then went online to look at photos.  Kellen picked one that he liked, and then selected paints and glitter to construct a jar nebula that looked similar.  I knew we had a winner when he asked if he could write his name on it, and then wanted a second jar to make one for his brother.

I feel like I am getting a better handle on how Kellen likes to create.  He’s about process not results.  I found another tutorial on painting with ice cubes.  I can no longer find the exact one, but the idea is to freeze water with a bit of food coloring in it, and then let your child paint with the cubes as they melt.

We did this, and Kellen enjoyed it, but his interest really ignited when I added some extra elements.  I set up a station with the ice cubes, rock salt, tempera and acrylic paints, liquid water colors, and a spray bottle of water.  I gave him no instructions.  I just let him select the items that interested him.

For many parents, not stepping in can be a struggle.  Kellen made a GIANT mound of paint.  He just kept squirting paint on top of paint.  My inner frugal was screaming “that’s too much paint! You’re wasting it!”  But I kept it in check.  As he began using a spray bottle to blast the paint across the canvas (and my table and chairs) I groaned about the clean up time.  But I let him go.

I am astounded by the other-worldly beauty of the pieces he created.  To the point, that I set it up again on another day, and tried to follow what he was doing.  I couldn’t do it.  My adult brain thought you need to cover the entire canvas and began squirting paint all over.  Kellen put all of his paint in a mound, not caring if it covered ever spot.  He blasted with the water, added a little dash of another color, and blasted some more.

His eye for color is amazing.  I showed a friend his painting compared to mine, and she said “not to knock yours, but his is more artistically interesting isn’t it?”

Kellen’s painting


My painting

I’m so thankful that instead of saying “Kellen doesn’t like to paint” that I searched for ways for him to express himself within the bounds of his interests.  Which might sound like a no brainer.  I mean, what parent is going to give up on their preschooler painting?  But how many times do we pigeon hole our children and ourselves?  “Oh, he’s not really into sports,” or “She’s a tomboy.”  When we get rid of those labels, we discover the beauty of having many facets to our personalities.  Conjure up your 80’s roots. “You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”  I like to think we can be some sort of Ringwald-Nelson-Hall-Estevez-Sheedy Hybrid.

The best is that I’m finding ways to make our time together enjoyable for both of us.  When we do something that I enjoy, like blowing through mounds of glitter, it puts me in a good mood.  So when I take on my Shredder role and have to run through the house chasing Raphael, I do it with a little more zest.  Both of our needs matter and are met.  Isn’t that that the foundation for good relationships throughout life?  I think so.

Happy creating!



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