Friday, November 19, 2010

Paint Stress

On Friday mornings, I take the little man to an art class called "Paint Playground".  A room is draped with tarps on the floor, and filled with low tables containing different art supplies each week.  Some Fridays, we roll spiky balls through paint and across paper.  Some Fridays we stick feathers and googly eyes onto contact paper.  It is almost always a good time.
The one downfall of the class is the teacher, who is getting her masters in art education, and has a lot of knowledge to share.  I am all for learning more about developmental psych and how different art activities will effect the growth of the little dude's brain and creativity; however, a room full of paint-y, screaming, running two-year-olds is not the best place to impart knowledge on their paint-y, over-stimulated, under-caffeinated, chronically sleep-deprived parents. Also, sometimes she takes it a tad too far.  For example, did you know that if you draw a picture of say, a boat, while you are coloring with your child and it is better than a boat that they could draw, that it shames them, stifles their creative process and traumatically prevents them from having their own artistic growth?  Well, now you do.  You can see how this is not information easily absorbed while your son is chucking "moon sand" at other toddlers. Often, she laments that she is just talking to herself.  Because she is.  Anyway...

Today was our last class before the holidays, and we were encouraged to bring in canvasses for our children to paint, which we could then take home as keepsakes or give as gifts.  Little J's aunt brought him two canvasses on Sunday, and I was so excited by the idea of him painting art for the whole house and family, that I made an ill-advised trip back to the art store in a wind storm, getting lost in the Fenway neighborhood, inadvertently pulling into an expensive parking lot, and ending up walking about five city blocks holding little J and four awkward canvasses to get back to the car.  It would all be worth it, I thought, when our wee Picasso went to town today and made some cool prints.
Outside the paint room is a room with toys and a big wooden school bus to "drive", which little J adores.  We arrived early.  He drove the bus.  We went into the paint room.  I set up canvas #1.  He got a small dump truck and rolled it across the canvas once.  He filled the back of the truck with paint.  He took the q-tip intended for paint-smearing and pretended to clean his ear.  He shoved his hands wrist deep in green paint, then ran them through his thick, curly hair.  Then he looked at me, started screaming, and ran for the door.  The next five minutes were spent with him frantically trying to get out of the gate and back to the bus, tears rolling down his face.  The other parents looked at me with a mix of sympathy and disdain.  I worked to get the paint out of his hair and off his hands and the gate so he could get out.  It was then that the art teacher approached me.  Certainly, I thought, she's going to tell me to stop cleaning the gate and just go comfort my son.  Whew.

"He can feel your stress", she said.
Say what, sister?
"He feels your stress.  These canvas painting days are really stressful.  Parents expect a finished product, and the children just feel the pressure, and it is too much.  Buddy, are you stressed out?  I'm so sorry", she said to my howling child.  I promptly swiped my rag over the gate one last time, scooped him out, delivered him to the bus to play (where he was instantly happy), and gave myself a bit of a time out.
Here's the thing: people have been telling me a lot about my stress lately.  I've had comments from people of all stripes, some of whom don't know me all that well (the art teacher, for example).  These comments range from helpful to didactic to judgmental to sympathetic.  I've been given advice on how to diffuse the stress, why the stress exists, why it should or shouldn't exist, and how it may or may not be effecting my health, my son, and my life in general.  My usual Libran approach is to consider any advice or input I'm given, taking it with a grain of salt but trying to be open to the thoughts as well, with the idea that the opinions of others are valuable.  And to some extent they are, but today this went too far.  The only thing stressing me out in this situation was the art teacher, and I knew exactly what I needed to do to soothe both myself and my son. I just needed to tell her that and go do it.

I've decided the only way to be less stressed right now is to become more centered and sure of myself and my own life.  Yes, I'm stressed, but what working mom, what mom in general, isn't?  My stress is normal, and it isn't all-consuming.  If I'm seen by someone in an off moment of an off day and they choose to weigh in, I can't let it derail a certain sense of my own capability and solid foundation as a mom, a wife, and a grown woman.  If my green-haired son doesn't feel like painting, perhaps it is because you people have structured this studio so that the kids can still see all the cool toys in the other room while they are meant to be painting, not because I expected my boy to turn into a one man print shop and he feels the pressure from me.  And even if he does, he'll get over it.  He's resilient, I'm resilient, and stress is part of life. 

So, I am now making a declaration:
I hereby accept and embrace the stress in my life. The husband and I have stressful lives because they are rich and full with devoted friends and family, interesting work, stimulating creative outlets and our beautiful son and lovable dog.  We load our plates with these things because they interest us and make us feel alive and complete.  And sometimes they cause me stress as well.  But I can handle it.  I am handling it.  And I will continue to handle it with the help of friends, yoga, wine, music, running, cooking, and the love of my husband. Art teacher, thank you for your input, but we're doing just fine.  I'm going to keep on doing my thing, and so is the little man. 
And we're going to be great.

*Photo credits and thanks go to my sister-in-law, who agrees that the art teacher is a bit much.


  1. Oh, thank goodness, SMJ. Reading your post, I was feeling afraid that you would let the stress of all of the stress-feedback get to you. And I was going to have to call you and tell you what's what. But I don't need to because you've worked through it, and you're right. Now I can call you and talk about something else.
    Your friends, family, and blog-followers love you dearly - your stress included. You make us feel real, and reassure us that all of our insecurities are shared by others, and are normal. Thank you for your unique gift of self-reflection, and your courage to share this with all of us.

  2. The teacher sounds like a nut job to me!! I am guessing she doesn't have kids. You are awesome Jane! :)

  3. I love this post! I have actually been feeling very similar to this lately. I had Nick tell me earlier this week that I am becoming increasingly negative. This sentence made me want to cry! I don't want to be that person...but at the same time, there are things that life throws at you that you just have to deal with....the best way we can. I might need to work on how I handle it (maybe more wine? haha), but it can be dealt with. Thanks for the reminder that I'm not alone in this. xoxo :-)

  4. You couldn't have said it better! Being a working mother today is incredibly stressful--we have to manage it with humor and perspective. I think that the art teacher is still working on that (she takes herself way too seriously), but you've got it all figured out. Take this brilliant piece and send it to a magazine. Every mom would benefit from reading it!

  5. I agree with Anna. Send this funny poignant writing somewhere. See what happens. Laughed and sighed all the way through it.

  6. Thanks everyone. I love your support... it is more comforting than you could know.

    I'd love to get published, but where to send this? Enraged Mothers Quarterly? :)