Being an artist means turning inward, to create something outward, on a regular basis. Being a parent makes this first step damn-near-impossible, on a constant basis. When you are not dealing with the latest whine-fest, snack-demand, or cute-explosion, you are trying to make money to feed the kid’s face and send them to school.
Every summer for the past 3 years, I have repeated The Artist’s Way program, because it is a systematic path to demand space for your art, no matter what your personal constraints are. This year, I decided to try the new book Julia Cameron wrote, The Artist’s Way for Parents. At first I was a little disappointed, because it focuses much more on raising a creative child than cultivating your own creativity in the midst of parenting, but now that I am halfway through it I am really seeing the magic of it.
TAW for Parents asks you to take a weekly artist’s date with your child. This can be something as small as going out into nature and seeing what each of you notice, or as big as taking an art class together.
Earlier this month, we spent a week in New York City as a family, visiting extended fam and attending a beautiful wedding in the Botanical Gardens. I was excited and nervous to share my 2nd favorite city with Olive – what if it were overwhelming for her and she didn’t like it? I needn’t have worried – she was ecstatic to be with her cousins and adored everything about New York – the hot dogs, the pizza, the bagels, okay maybe just the food. We spent a lot of our days doing things that suited children, which is cool because I like Rockaway Beach and Central Park too. On the one day we took to do something just the three of us, I was tempted to take her to a Children’s Museum, but since I am following The Artist’s Way, I decided to instead follow my instincts and take her to my favorite museum, the MOMA. The SF MOMA is closed for several years for renovations, and I have been sorely in need of a modern art fix. We spent four hours there, splitting up gallery walks with trips to the balcony cafe, the sculpture garden, and the kid lab. It ended up being our favorite day of the trip.
The following week, in Cape Cod, it was a little harder to find something to do that specifically fed our artist selves, as we were too busy stuffing our faces with quahog and beach pops. The answer came when my mom bought Olive a Frida dress-up magnet set — I’m not sure which of us enjoyed it more!
After two weeks away, I was really happy to get back to San Francisco living, and into our rhythms. Thursdays are one of the days we spend just the two of us, and our first week back we stayed in the entire morning, listening to our favorite songs, and following one art modality into the next. Drawing led us to painting which led us to making a diarama, which led us to clay.
There is a lot in TAW For Parents about letting your child make their own art, and make a mess, and getting out of the way of their creativity. My mom got Olive a creamy white ceramic angel wish box on our trip, and Olive has cherished it from the moment she saw it (We had a laugh when my mom pulled it out, as Olive said, “I’ve always wanted this!” even though she’d never seen anything like it. She is the best person to give gifts to). At one point of our art morning, Olive took out her colored pencils and drew all over the box. Then she showed me, a bit nervously. Honestly, my first instinct was horror, but I quickly hid that in delighted surprise, praising Olive for taking a risk and making her own mark on the box. She said, “I thought you would be mad!” and I felt a little sad, that she expected that, and that if I hadn’t been reading TAW For Parents, I probably would have been! But I said, “Nope, if it is yours you can draw on it all you like. You can design your own things.” Then later I suggested we put her glitter paints on top of the colored pencil design, and she said, “Yeah! Let’s do it together!” So we did.
This week I took her to visit my favorite murals, in Clarion Alley. Some of them sort of freaked her out, but we did get to take a photo with one we were both drawn to as the background:
It’s quite thrilling to share these arty things I love with Olive, to stop being worried she won’t get it, or that I won’t be able to fully enjoy them with her there.
I am about to put this theory that my artist self does not have to exist separately from my three year old’s, when I take her with me on a writing retreat later this week! The good people that I take online classes with in the Lit Kitchen devised a kid-friendly writer’s weekend, so those of us with kidlets don’t have to unduly rearrange our lives in order to be there – we can just bring the kids along! I am not sure how she will take to all the new people – will I really get any writing done? If there’s anything I’m learning about my child, it’s that my fears about her are rarely based in reality. I’ll be sure to report back on whether the writing comes, or if I just enjoy some time in the mountains with Miss O!