6.25.2006

Holding Pattern

I took a painting class in 8th grade. I still have the watercolor studies that we did and I still love color theory and I still remember B. Christensen, who I loved and who dated my best friend instead of me, but who talked art and baseball with me across the table while we painted. But I've never really painted much since, mostly because I didn't feel accomplished enough to invest in the supplies...or whatever.

And then I had two little boys, nineteen months apart. I know that's nothing compared to what some moms face in terms of numbers or ages of children, but it nonetheless has been a huge challenge for me - they are busy and smart and busy and naughty and busy and exhausting. In the relentlessness of sleep deprivation and waking up to do the diapers-feeding-changing-running-after routine over and over, and not too long after the Code Yellow day at Target (and subsequent experiences of taking care of one child only to lose track temporarily of the other and not knowing if I would ever be able to do it as flawlessly as everyone else seemed to), I woke up one morning with this image in my head and had to paint it.

Disclaimer: I hold a snobbish opinion that really good art needs no explanation to be understood by the person seeing it, and I find that sometimes an artist's explanation stifles what I might have otherwise experienced if he had let me interpret it myself. If that's how you feel, stop reading here and I will understand. I'd love to hear what you think without reading the following explanation. Sometime after I've polished my technique a bit and fixed it up exactly the way I want it, and if it's hanging on an actual wall somewhere, there will be no mention of Code Yellows or my feelings or thoughts alongside it - people will just be able to look at it and know what I think it's about, and then add their own experience, and it will be a masterpiece because of the unspoken, unwritten link between us.

Holding an infant is an incredible "grounding" experience - your life gets simplified rather quickly into the three main requirements: food, safety, sleep - and your whole schedule revolves around when it is time to feed or nap the little one, because if those don't happen appropriately, ain't nobody happy. Sometimes I felt so needed and sometimes I just felt cemented to the couch, but I always felt that divine calling to hold my babies safe and warm and close to me.

Which is why it was so disconcerting when, at the time when I had an infant with such basic but vital needs, I had a toddler who was ready to test his wings, push all the limits, fly away. He thought he was ready, but I knew he wasn't, or I didn't want him to be. He was my first baby, suddenly a little boy with opinions and energy and I realized for the first time what being a mom is about - it's about holding on until it's OK - or necessary - to let go. Right now, I'm his tether, his kite string, the tie that holds him down and keeps him up all at the same time, but someday it will be time to be more like a ribbon on a helium balloon - untie him so he can float away and see things from a much higher vantage point. I love him so much that I would never want to hold him strictly by my side just because that's the easiest place to keep him safe. Soaring isn't about safety anyway. And my job is to teach him to fly while holding my hand so he can do it on his own when he is a man. While I was painting, I felt his exuberance and his childlike joy, and I wanted to capture that somehow. I hope I can hold on to him in such a way that he never loses that joy and energy, but learns to channel it into greatness of spirit and hope as he grows.

I haven't finished the faces yet, because I am not good at them, but also because I think maybe it's better not to have an expression on them, at least not on mine - I like it better that it's unclear if I'm looking up at my flying boy or gazing down at my sleeping infant...A mother can't really chose between the two, you know.

I could have painted a plate-spinner from the circus, I suppose, to signify what I felt motherhood is a lot of the time - just keeping those plates from slowing or shattering on the ground. But in my mind's eye, the thing that kept coming up as significant was how I would paint my legs. I wanted there to always be a lap for my kids to find and have a safe, comfortable place to sit (it is their favorite place - they have "my mama" wars over it), but I also wanted to be dancing. A jig maybe, or an elegant ballet, just some kind of motion. So I painted half a lap and half a dance dress (in the form of flared jeans) to let everyone know that even when I feel like I'm sitting alone in the dark, I'm happy...rocking my babies and watching them fly away.

27 comments:

Tess said...

that was great. I have to say, the disclaimer intrigued me to take a closer look at the picture before I read on.

Sketchy said...

I LOVE your painting...it so reflects much of my life. Before reading your descriptors, I saw it as this...the Mommy dance. Holding the baby, the joy of that and then watching the other grow and experiment and almost but not quite letting go and the pose is that "Mommy dance" I mentioned, there is struggle to maintain balance, and by ballet standards the technique is not quite perfected - but there is a lot of joy in that dance.

Keep Painting!!

Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

I like it without faces. I thought I was looking at a finished product. I don't think it needs more detail - it was pretty easy to see what its intention was. You're very good!

Katrina said...

I *love* this post, and your painting. And I'm feeling so many of the same feelings, since I recently had a baby (1 month old today) and I have an 7-year-old as well. By the way, having children 19 months apart and surviving *is* difficult and is a great accomplishment - and I certainly could never have done it.

I like it without faces as well - especially because of your point that you can't choose between the two.

Great post!

Gabriela said...

Wow, I really like your painting. I look at it and think, "yes, I totally understand how she feels!"

Katherine@Raising Five said...

She is the consummate artist - she writes AND she paints? Wow. You are amazing.

I thought it was finished too. Facelessness makes it transcendent. You are right - you can't ever choose which child you should be looking at. No matter which one holds my physical gaze, a part of me is "looking" at all of them at the same time.

Angela said...

I hold snobbish opinions in general, so I didn't read the last half of your post.

When I saw the painting, it seriously moved me and I am not moved by art. Sometimes tatoos, but rarely art. Anyway, I immediately made a mental note to show it to Jay as a print I would like to own someday. Imagine my utter shock to learn that it is YOUR artwork. Wow. I mean, wow.

I love it. And your description. Okay, okay, I did read your whole post. But I had my nose in the air the whole time.

I love "Soaring isn't about safety anyway".

Give me more, give me more. This post just fed my soul.

Angela said...

Oh yeah, and I totally agree with everyone else---I liked it just aesthetically without the faces, and then your reasoning for leaving it that way just made it all the more compelling. Faceless, faceless, faceless!

MugwumpMom said...

Love it! And also thought I was looking at a finished piece. I like that it's faceless. My first impression on looking at it was "what fun". I see a mom and her two children, floating in rest and having a complete blast doing so. Keep painting. You have a gift.

Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

Yeah, seriously. When are you going to market it?

Jennifer said...

Wow. It really is wonderful. Artistic talent is one thing I really wish I had that I do not. The writing is really good, too. I will say it again--you've really been on a roll lately. Good work!

Gina said...

Beautiful painting. Beautiful description. Perfect portrayal of motherhood.

No Cool Story said...

I'll buy it!
It's wonderful!. As Naddin said, I also thought I was looking at it finished. I'm not a professional or anything at all, but it looks perfect to me. Angela said that it "moved her", I have to agree with her reaction, your paint absolutely moves the mommy's soul.

I have 2 children, 1 ½ apart, so it really speaks to me.
I totally love it without faces, The colors, the position of the bodies. It’s just too wonderful to explain. Congratulations!

Are there anymore? Do you sell them? (for reals’)

txmommy said...

I love your painting! you are really good and I know the sentiment` thanks

Jen3 @ Amazing Triplets said...

I LOVE this picture. LOVE IT. I think it looks beautiful without the faces and like your description of why you should keep them blank. Are you looking at your son holding your hand, or your infant in your arms...???

Although, I don't much like the notion of them "flying away". Naw. It hurts my heart to think of them ever leaving your arms.

Beautiful. Love it!

Stephanie said...

I "got it" as soon as I saw your painting. You did a beautiful job of expressing yourself.

My vote is to leave them expressionless. That way people can put their own emotions into the faces.

You are a fantastic artist!

"Grandi" said...

I love it!! You definitely should NOT put those paints away again!! The hands drew me - not only is the mom holding to the older child, but the child is holding on to her. Our children grow up and if we have succeeded as parents they fly - but they always know the hand of love is there.

GranolaGirl12 said...

Very beautiful... Could this be your new blog banner? I enjoyed reading the description of exactly what your heart was saying when you painted this. Bravo.

Jennifer said...

I have to post another comment here, because I wanted to show dd7 the painting (because I am trying to be artistic and I'm coloring/painting with her). She was very impressed and asked if you were an artist. So, I asked her what the painting meant. She said, "Mothers love their children." I asked what she meant. She said, "Well, mothers aren't just for one person, because she has the baby and the other one. Mothers can take care of two people at once." So, she "got" it. Uh-oh, she just asked if I could draw something like that, and that would be a big no.

EmilyRoseJewel said...

That is an amazing work of art, I would love to use this on my blog. I have been wanting to get it updated and change the look and that picture is just wonderful. Stop by and let me know if it is okay. I will give you the kuddos for it on my site. Wonderful! Also, I don't think it is important to finish the faces, it looks neat without them--just as the Demdaco Willow Tree angels do.

Morning Glory said...

Oh, I love this!! I looked at the painting without the explanation below and my first thought was that although you hold one and reach for the other, there is enough love to meet the needs of both. Then I read the rest of your post. This is awesome. You don't need to fill in the faces. It makes it feel like it could be any one of us.

Moi said...

I've looked at this a couple times today. I'm really enjoying gazing at it.

Nettie said...

I didn't know you could paint! You are a talented woman! I like it faceless, as well. And I loved reading your description. I always love knowing what was going on in the artist's mind when he/she was creating.

S said...

I know I am a littel late in the posting on this but it might be to my advantage- I start the bid at onehundred dollars and willing to go alot higher! LOVE IT! (eighth grade???)

Jan said...

You blew me away! I want a print! My kids are grown, but I still remember that feeling. Thanks for sharing.

Everyday Mommy said...

WOW! Love these! Hey, why don't you let me create a blog template design using these images?

e-Mom said...

Wonderful. I love your blog! I'll keep reading... (Um, when do you have time to paint?)