Monthly Archives: April 2017

A Slow, Sloppy, Tornado Spins To Maturity

FullSizeRender 7 (1)What do you do when you have a nice, really funny, and sweet middle-schooler who seems to lead a wreck of a life? Do you step in and organize him and basically sherpa him until he can sherpa himself? Or do you just enjoy him?

The other morning I saw the fellow in question heading up to his sister’s room bundled up in his hooded, fur robe, looking like a giant, skinny gnome. Where was he going? He needed to leave for school in twenty minutes and he hadn’t showered or eaten breakfast. Granted, he has his school work strewn about the house: a math book in the kitchen, a computer in the family room, loose papers on the floor of his room; perhaps he had a project brewing up in his sister’s room. “I have no time for a shower. I’ve got to do my homework.” I know I’ll be getting an email informing me that he has “homework club” that afternoon.

So this is my life with my youngest child. He wanders around eating and watching videos every day after school, until bedtime. He’s the child who locks his long underwear in the safe on a ski trip and can’t remember the combination. He’s the kid who balances a full glass of soda on a plate and then spills it on my newly cleaned couch. He is the teen who erases my list of things to do and draws smiling genitals on my white board. He is my slow, sloppy, tornado (SST) and I alternate between laughing and worrying about him.

I question why some of my kids are driven and organized and he is happy-go-lucky. Has the robe lead to his slovenly behavior? A year ago I was so excited to give my kids some luxurious, fur-trimmed robes but now I just want to burn them. SST comes home from school, strips out of his clothes and puts that darn thing on. I’ve seen him walk dogs in it, shovel snow, and try to sneak a liter of soda hidden in it, up to his room. It is certainly not the clothing choice for a “dress for success” attitude.

Last week he was wearing it while he ran over to take care of our neighbor’s two tiny Papillon dogs, Remy and Genevieve. “R & G got quite the surprise when they looked up my robe,” he said. “I forgot to put underwear on before I ran over!” I don’t even ask why he took his underwear off in the first place. Perhaps I’ll find out when I do the laundry.

What do you do with a kid like this? Try to organize him or let him be? My husband, some of his teachers, and I have had discussions about how to handle our child who seems to be going through life in a haphazard manner. It took answering two questions to figure out what to do. Am I going to attend college with him? No. Do I want to monitor him while he is in high school? No. So when his teachers ask “Will you check his homework each night? The cold, clear answer is “No.” He needs to figure out how to balance his life, hopefully, before he gets to high school.

Aside from trying to persuade me to call him in late on the days he hasn’t finished his homework, he doesn’t want us interfering in his life and had been bugging us for a year to relinquish control over his electronics. We never monitored our more scholastically conscientious kids, I argued, in fairness, why should we supervise him? After going back and forth, my husband and I finally decided to let him run his life.

We agreed to turn over control of his phone, his school-issued Chromebook, laptop, desktop, and Xbox. In return he agreed to keep his grades to a B- or above, clean his room once a week, do his other chores, and make his own lunch for school. We were expecting failure but he has pretty much delivered. I’ll be honest; I’m always a little surprised when one of those high honor roll certificates arrives in the mail.

He is still a disaster. I sip my coffee and watch him whirl around the house, robe flapping, while he tries to cobble together the art supplies that were due last week, and I have to stop myself from helping.

But sometimes I slip back into my old ways. A month or so ago, I noticed he wasn’t making a lunch and asked him about it. “Some of the other kids give me food,” he responded. I could just picture the conversations that may be going on in those kids’ homes about him, and by extension, me. I started making lunches for him and cramming them between the lock and the doorknob so he wouldn’t forget.

“Mom, do you want me to be resilient?”
“You know I do.”
“Then stop making my lunch.”



Art Class: The Perfect Place To Fail!

Kindergarten kids playing with the wolf hobbyhorses that they made in art class!

Kindergarteners playing with the wolf hobbyhorses they made in art class!

I spent all of 2012 building tree houses for my Treehouse show that was held at the Riverside Arts Center in May of 2013. While I’d taken some wood shop classes over the years, I had no formal training in constructing homes, so there was a lot of trial and error. My biggest failure was my Candy House. I spent probably twenty hours covering a tree branch turned mini tree trunk with melted Tootsie Rolls to make candy bark. I then took Lego-like candy blocks and built a house with windows, doors and a porch. I placed the house on the trunk and fashioned branches out of more tootsie rolls and thankfully, photographed it. Days later, like The Blob, the Tootsie Roll bark started migrating down the tree. Somewhat frantic, I showed my husband, who is in the candy business.

“Cold Flow,” he said.
“What is cold flow???”
“Cold flow happens when candy shape changes due to gravity. I’ve only seen it happen in those lollipops with faces.”

Ugh. Experiencing failure in art making is more common than not and I learned that I should’ve prototyped my idea on a smaller scale before investing so much time in that piece. I ended up scrapping the candy house idea and moved on to my next concept. While making art can be about making beautiful things, that can’t happen without a lot of problem-solving which always involves failure.

I try to teach the kids in my Doodle Art & Design classes that experiencing failure is a good thing. It can be tough because we live in a time where we expect a lot from our kids. We want them to take a career test in high school and know what they want to do with their lives before they get to college! There is little encouragement for exploration probably because of the high cost of college. So in addition to exposing my students to art from around the world, and many different materials, my goal is to help them become more creative and resilient, and become comfortable with failure as part of any of their journeys in life.

I’ve been teaching my Doodle Art program for three years and I am always amazed at my students’ interest in each project, the urgency with which they grab the materials, and the calmness that settles in the room as they begin to work. These kids tell me that they’d rather build stuff than draw or paint. Making art allows them to explore their physical world, use the tools they learn in math and science classes, and test out their ideas. A bonus is when they create something they can play with, such as swords and hobbyhorses. Another benefit is that making art allows children to fail in a safe place. Being able to accept failure is so important to becoming successful.

Last week we made birds and birdcages. It was a difficult project and in one of my classes, there was a bit of whining going on. Making the cages consisted of sticking wire into holes in a base, adding some glue and a bead for stability, and bending them out and attaching them with more wire at the top. Some of the kids gave up when the first wire didn’t go in easily. I explained to them that art making isn’t always easy and they need to persevere. Once the cages were built, they were to begin making their polymer clay and feather birds, which I thought was the easier part of the project.

I gave my students some suggestions such as don’t make the clay part of your bird too big, or too delicate that they can’t sit on their perch. Some kids asked me to make their birds before they even touched the clay! When I refused they sat down, got engaged, and created fun and feathered fowl! Some had to remake their birds when they discovered that a long-necked, Dr. Seuss-like bird looks great on paper, but when you build it out of clay, may not be solid enough to sit on the perch. Then you’ve got to tweak your design, and adapt it to fit.

IMG_1942 (1)Interestingly, in another class with the same project, I watched a child take apart her entire cage when she discovered she needed to glue the wires in. She neatly reassembled it and then went on to build very detailed birds with curved beaks to put in her cage. This child had a vision and was enjoying the process of trial and error. Not only did she not mind starting over, she seemed to expect it in order to bring her vision to fruition. And that is the goal of art class.