A Rookie Move

One of my children: “MOM! Can we paint?”

My bone-tired thought process: Letting them paint by themselves will give me at least 5 minutes of alone time on this couch.

Five minutes later:

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.” —Bill Cosby

Painting In Our PJs In the Morning

Sophie woke up wanting to “teach the boys how to paint.” She’s not the most patient of teachers. She also dislikes mixing colors. Although the pictures depict a rather lovely experience (and for awhile, it was), it did not end well. I suppose, for a more truthful depiction, I should take pictures across the spectrum. Too often, though, I’m solving and resolving at the one of the spectrum, leaving little time for picture-taking—whereas the other end of the spectrum is the stuff you dream motherhood is going to be, with plenty of time for dreamy documenting.

“A child’s attitude toward everything is an artist’s attitude.” —Willa Cather

Our (Tiny) Playroom

In addition to the three bedrooms and one bath on our second floor there is a small, maybe 8×10 room that the previous owners used as a walk-in closet. We live in a foursquare, which means our first floor consists of an entry, living room, dining room and kitchen. There’s no big finished basement. The attic is large and tall and will make a beautiful finished space someday, although Andy keeps reminding me it will be a many-years-from-now someday. In short, we don’t have a lot of extra space for toys. So we decided to turn what was a walk-in closet into a playroom. The kids still have toys in their bedrooms. Baskets of toys reside in the entry. And living room. The play kitchen is in the dining room. And there’s always a block or car under foot in the kitchen. But this room, although small, holds many—if not most—of the toys (particularly, the craft supplies). It serves as a creative space, a space I don’t mind getting messy. And often it’s a quiet space for Sophie to retreat to, when she’s tired of the boys “decorating” her artwork.

The shelving unit is the ever-popular EXPEDIT from Ikea. For storage we purchased eight DRONA Boxes, also from Ikea. They’re fine, given the price, but I often wish the unit was filled with prettier baskets.

My mom and I made the garland, inspired by The Purl Bee, for Sophie’s nursery when she was baby. You can see a sort-of tutorial here.

The artwork is from Trafalgar’s Square by Kit Chase. I ordered them from Zulily but you can also purchase them from her Etsy site here.

We were going to paint an entire wall with black chalkboard paint … until Andy found some old slate roof tiles in our attic. I fell in love with them, and insisted we use them as chalkboards instead.

The eraser, from my mom’s teaching days, reminds me so much of elementary school, clapping those green-covered erasers together, washing down the black chalkboards with a bucket and sponge.

This artwork, courtesy of the kids, hangs on Ikea’s DEKA curtain wire.

This lovely little table was a gift to Sophie several years ago, from Grandma and Paw Paw.

I love Land of Nod’s Art Caddy. Every time I order something from Land of Nod I tend to throw one of these in my online shopping basket. We now own three, and each is used every day.

Some of the storage isn’t quite adequate, but works. Plastic shoe boxes from Target hold shells and snake skin, poofy balls, glittery ribbon and plastic beads. A wooden crate from a Melissa & Doug musical instrument kit holds all the Play-Doh. And dress-up clothes reside in a (very) large basket on the floor.

Two paper lanterns hang in the room. They were a gift from my friend Linda, who found them in a “free” pile at work.

This little handmade wooden toy, which I purchased at Tamarack, often resides on the window sill.

This guy is a handmade toy from Switzerland. My mother-in-law purchased it for me years ago while on a business trip. I miscarried, and the toy sat on our piano in an otherwise toy-empty house for a long time. And now I smile every time I look at it and its surroundings.

Perhaps my favorite decorative element of the playroom, though, is this. Sophie drew it and hung it up on the wall with a red glitter heart sticker. It’s a picture of Sophie and Andy, and when Andy asked her about it she said it was called “Between Friends.”

The playroom small. And still needs (a little) work. But it’s loved and played in every day. Which, I suppose, is the very definition, and purpose, of a playroom.

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


An Example of Poor Mothering


James and Owen (who aren’t wearing socks or shoes) are playing with Sophie’s paint and brushes, and Owen, in particular, has blue paint in his (too-long) hair and on his clothes and he’s not wearing his tot collar … I’m sure if I could zoom out I’d find about 12 other things wrong with this picture as well. Thankfully, it’s a close-up. And if good mothering is judged on how happy your children are, well, despite the flaws shown here, in this moment, I was doing OK.

“The best way to make children good is to make them happy.” —Oscar Wilde

Now That We’re 1 …


Mom decided we could paint! While we sat in our highchairs Mom and Sophie rolled our painters’ paper and taped it to the floor.


After we scribbled for about two seconds (on the paper and ourselves), we decided to suck on the paint.

And then, we decided to crawl.

At this point there are no pictures because Mom lost total control of the situation. Luckily, it was a Sunday and Dad was home, working on the fence. So she yelled for help. Really loudly.


Seriously, Mom, what did you think was going to happen?




the aftermath


the art

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” —Henry Ward Beecher

Note to Self: Respond Sooner

When Sophie feels the boys are doing something she perceives to be terribly wrong she begins screaming “No, Owen! No, James! No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!” When that doesn’t work, she finds me. The conversation typically goes something like this:

Sophie: “Mommy! Mommy! Mom! MOM! MOOMMM!”

Me: “What, Sophie?”

Sophie: “Come quick! Owen is doing something he shouldn’t!”

Me: “What is he doing?”

Sophie: “He’s touching the couch.”

Me: “Owen is allowed to touch the couch.”

Sophie: “Oh.” (And then, to Owen): “You can touch the couch, Owen. Mommy said it’s OK.”

Typically she’s on the verge of hysteria throughout such an exchange—which is why today’s, shall we say, mishap, surprised me.

Everyone was upstairs. I knew Owen and James were either in their bedroom or the playroom. I was in my bedroom, dressing. Sophie casually walked in.

Sophie: “Mom, come look at Owen.”

No screaming. No hysteria. In fact, no sense of urgency at all. So, my response:

Me: “Hold on, Soph.”

Sophie stood there, patiently, while I sniffed my jeans to see if they smelled too much like stale breast milk and contemplated how wrinkled was too wrinkled when it came to my sweater. About a minute passed, though, and she got (only slightly) impatient.

Sophie: “But Mommy, it’s really funny!”

I froze. I’ve been a mom long enough to know that “really funny” = not good.

I ran to the boys’ bedroom. James was playing with a puzzle. No Owen.

I turned around to look into the playroom. And there Owen stood, at the craft table, brown marker covering his entire face. I started to yell “No!” when I noticed something strange. It wasn’t just marker on his face—it was marker dripping off of his face.

At first I was confused. Did he get into paint? But then I saw his jaws move, his tongue working itself around the inside of his mouth. He was eating something.

Most kids color themselves. Most kids chew on markers. My kid, apparently, bites off the tip of the marker and tries to eat it.

I so wish I had a picture of this. But I don’t. I went into auto-mom-fix-it mode. I extracted the tip of the marker from his totally brown mouth. I cleaned him up, as best I could. I was thankful the marker was washable. I wondered just how “non-toxic” non-toxic really is.

And while doing all of this, Sophie, who usually flips out when the boys so much as look at her craft supplies tells me, “It’s OK, Mom. I think he was just trying to make himself look pretty.”

“Coloring outside the lines is a fine art.” —Kim Nance

A Handmade Table Runner


While ripping off Sophie’s latest easel painting in order to pull down some fresh paper, my mom suggested using it as a table runner. It’s perfect. The table is a cheap Ikea pine number with deep scratches on it (Tucker). The painting covers much of the surface nicely and serves as a fun conversation piece.

“Sophie, what’s that?” (pointing to a scribble).

“A flower.”

“And what’s that?” (pointing to a nearly identical scribble).

“A rainbow.”

“And that?” (pointing to yet another scribble).

“A kookalock.”

“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.” —Judith Martin

Refrigerator Art


In the beginning, when Sophie began to draw, we encouraged her by excitedly reacting to each piece of construction paper covered in scribbles and often asked if she would like us to hang her pieces of art on our refrigerator. She always said yes. She always seemed happy.

I don’t know if this has instilled a deep sense of confidence in her, prompting her to further explore her artistic abilities, or if it’s just given her a big head. Because now she puts everything on the refrigerator. After, of course, showing it to us first, eagerly waiting for praise.

I don’t mind when it’s something she’s worked hard on. But I admit, I do sigh deeply when I open the fridge and 12 pieces of loosely magnetized paper fall off, each with a single scribble on it.

Still, though, I have my favorites. Her finger paintings. Her first circle. One covered in marker, crayon, foam stickers, sequins and poof balls. And then there’s her letter, which she wrote to the cast of Yo Gabba Gabba!, dictated to Andy (it’s the bright orange piece of paper on the right):

Dear Plex, Brobee, Muno, Foofa, Toodee, and DJ Lance Rock:

I like to draw kookalocks. Can I have your phone number? I want to talk to Plex first.

Can you make some diapers with your pictures on them? Here is a picture I drew just for you: I like to chalk outside.

Your friend,

Some days I think how nice our refrigerator would look clean, empty. But then, already, a sense of sadness fills me. A deep and scary they-grow-up-so-fast feeling. A I-want-to-hold-onto-this-time-as-long-as-possible feeling. So as much as the single-scribble pictures drive me crazy, I’ve learned to love many of the others. And really, truly, can’t imagine a time in my life when I’ll have an empty fridge.

“It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet.” —Kojiro Tomita

Sidewalk Chalk


Sophie has turned the word “chalk” into a verb, as in “I want to chalk outside, mommy.” She loves it. She especially loves to trace things—her hands, her feet. While Andy’s traced her shadow, one afternoon I traced her and then tried to replicate her outfit. She wasn’t all that impressed.

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.” —Shel Silverstein

On Painting Ankles


Sophie worked a long time on this painting. She kept telling me she couldn’t get the ankles just right …

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” —Oscar Wilde