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Art of Raising Children

By Annie Waddoups

Pieta moments
1pieta1I wake up to a small sound at midnight, my Miss Clavell-like mother sensors detecting something is not right. There it is again–a soft sniffle, a low moan. Is someone crying? I shuffle into the hallway, squinting from the scant hour of sleep and still half in my dream.

Maddy is crying–a soft, forlorn sob that breaks my heart.  I scoot her over a bit to make room for myself under the covers of her twin bed. I fit my legs into the angle of hers (and note fleetingly how her legs have stretched longer in the last few months) and wrap my arms around her. She spills out her worries and disappointments that have been building under her cheerful 12-year-old exterior. Loneliness, jealousy, fear, nostalgia already for her simpler elementary school days, friend troubles, sister troubles, dashed expectations for the glorious experiences she thought would be hers at 12–these are all soured by their proximity to each other and by the late dark lonely hour.

There was a time when my midnight ministrations were easier, when, bleary eyed, I could provide milk and nearness and that was enough to satisfy her nighttime needs. Now my role isn’t resolving or satisfying but simply witnessing & waiting while she resolves for herself.  Instead, with a nod to Mary and her Pieta, I can only keep these things and ponder them in my heart.

* * *

Brueghel days
Brueghel_normalMost of my interactions with Sam are still instrumental, our days and activities Brueghel-busy. Where are my church shoes? What are we having for dinner? Will you help me with this song? Will you play a game with me? Comb my hair? Check my homework? These things I can do, can check off as positive scores for the parenting balance sheet.

Although yesterday, when he hollered up from the kitchen “Can you cut my bagel for me?” I admit I weighed the probability of a lacerated, boy-sized palm versus a few more peaceful moments before I replied a delayed “okay.” Even the simple things are hard some days, their grinding dailiness overpowering my ability to rise to the occasion.

* * *

Modigliani sighs
ModiglianiMy daughter chose 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, the last day of February break, to bring us the sheet of paper.

“I’m supposed to have a conversation with you.”

Distracted by the Oscar host’s banter, I register her request but fail to respond.

“Like, by tomorrow. It’s due tomorrow in Health.”

“Okay…let me see what it is.”

The form lists five questions that students are supposed to discuss with parents about sex and birth control: How should teenagers show affection for each other? What about a couple that loves each other and are going to get married? If a teen is sexually active, what kind of birth control should she use? Etcetera.

This is not the conversation I want to have, on demand, on Oscar night at 9:30. Keep in mind we have had nine unscheduled, unhurried days of vacation togetherness before this. I sigh and manage a smile at her.

“I already know the answers to most of these. We’ve talked about this before” she says hopefully. “Maybe we don’t need to talk about it and you can just sign the sheet.”

This is true, although we haven’t explicitly discussed some of this. I imagine a pregnant child, blaming her parents’ cluelessness: They couldn’t be bothered. The Oscars were on.

So we talk, our glances not quite meeting for most of it, Lauren’s neck angled away in a Modigliani-like stretch. As she heads for bed, she says “don’t worry, I’m not planning on doing anything like this anytime soon.”

Silence in the wake of her departure.

Greg asks, “Did she say ‘not anytime soon’? Because I was hoping to hear ‘not planning on anything like this ever‘.” I’m just thinking why didn’t I turn off the t.v. and spend a little more time? What’s so difficult about that? I sigh again, stretch my ear to my shoulder and wish for a do-over.

* * *

What blessings and challenges have you found in parenting, “aunting”, and loving children in middle childhood?

What aspects of these relationships are kept and pondered rather than fixed and mended?

How do you find the balance between watching/walking with and helping in more concrete ways?

What images in art capture your experience as a mother, sister, daughter?

About Annie Waddoups


19 thoughts on “Art of Raising Children”

  1. I think the picture of Dali's melting watches reflects way more of my mother-life than I'd really like.

    Wish it was more pastural! Or one of those gardens with no weeds?! 🙂

    But the moments I hope will linger in my children's minds are the ones that replicate paintings of sweet mother/child moments — Emma and her baby, Mary and baby Jesus.

    Those are the sweetest ones of all!

  2. Lovely post. I know very little about art, but sometimes my life feels Starry Night by van Gogh(peaceful, calm), and other times it feels like The Scream by Munch (obviously not so peaceful).

  3. I know it isn't fine art but I love the pictures in Kiss Goodnight. I feel like even though life can be dark and stormy, children should always be able to come to mother for refuge. My kids and I love that story and the pictures are beautiful.

  4. I love this lens of art overlaying motherhood. I will take a slightly different twist and sum up my current children's personalities in a piece.

    My first son (8)- a chuck close portrait. Interesting from far off but his amazingness is really in his details, things you'd miss if you're not really listening. With a mellowness captured in the monochromatic scheme.

    My second (4)- dynamism of a soccer player by boccioni- (actually blogged about this recently with a photograph that bears stong resemblance taken by his brother) At four he is always a swirl of motions and repetitions and emotions.

    My third son isn't yet two- for him a kandinsky improvisation. His still baby world of short utterances, fleeting feelings, intense emotions, our days are dramatic compositions and juxtapositions of the abstract marks of a million different moments.

    For me as a mother- I can see myself in a thousand pieces. My truest ideali mothering love is summed up best in Abbott Thayer's serene Angel. My days probably one of wayne thiebaud's late aerial landscapes, rivers and farms, Lots of patches of different things, many colors, a few shadows (the realities of life). A richesness found in the complexity and juxtaposition of all the parts and pieces. Finding greater beauty and color in the seemingly mundane.

  5. Love this post!

    Christy took my first thought, The Scream. That's just the really bad days though, when I wouldn't want anyone to be a fly on the wall.

    Any Mary Cassatt painting would be my youngest daughter. She's been so easy going. Fitting into our family life like a dream.

    Mondrian would be my son. Exactness and linear, he likes legos and math. Tell him exactly what to do, not sort-of what to do. Yet that doesn't mean he isn't sweet and beautiful in his own right.

    My second oldest daughter is difficult to pin down. Probably something Gothic or Rococo, ornate and compicated. In the end very well done and beautiful with few flaws. Time consuming though 🙂

    My oldest daughter reminds me of eighties rock and Andy Warhol. She of course would look at his work and say, "What are you talking about Mom!?" It makes me smile that she loves Converse when I would have loved to own a pair at her age but didn't have the money back then. Now I tease that I may buy a pair just to bug her. We are alike, but not alike. How confusing it is to parent a teenager while still feeling like one yourself. Yes, definately Andy Warhol.

  6. Just dashed over in between a zillion other things, so no time to comment about children=art. (+ I'd have to think about it a bit. And right now, alas, there's not even time for thinking… just one of those days!) I loved this from you the first go-'round. You are one of the best mothers I know & have the privilege to "peek in on".

  7. FNF, I love the image of the Dali's melting clocks…that's what I'm feeling these days, too. Somedays time seems to drip by and then the years slide by and my daughter's getting her driver's permit.

    Christy, I'm laughing out loud about The Scream. Also very true…I'm sure.

    April. I think children's book illustrations are especially evocative. As you say, it's art experienced together on a daily basis.

    Leslie, you've had me on a google search enjoying some of those wonderful artists! What a nice way to think of each child and their uniquenesses.

    Jendoop, amen to this: "how confusing it is to parent a teenager while still feeling like one yourself." There's a lot to say there but Andy Warhol pretty much sums it up 🙂

  8. Love this post Annie. We have a huge print of the Bruegel "Children at Play" upstairs.

    I went to my 15 and 17 yos "Fine Wall of Fine Art" (yes, I am raising nerds) for inspiration. One of their favorites is the Nike of Samothrace— it's evocative of mothering to me because she is battered, broken and has lost her mind, yet remains regal and beautiful. Yep, that's mothering.

  9. My favorite painting which has described so perfectly my current state of motherhood is found in a small museum in Southern Sweden. You won't ever find a link to it on the internet–I've searched. The painter is Bengt Nordenberg and the title is "The Morning Meal". It depicts a peasant woman, with three children clustered around her. She nurses her baby, feeds milk in a bowl to a toddler and helps the oldest child with a slice of bread. My children are growing, but we still have so many moments where I'm attending to them all at once, as they each clamor for my attention.
    The first time I saw the painting, I looked at it for at least 10 minutes–which is saying something because my children were very antsy that day. But I had never seen anything that so perfectly transcended time and art and reached out to grab me at that moment.

  10. My eldest is turning 12 next week, and I'm more and more aware of the care and attention warranted for such an amazing son. I don't know how to balance the walk with/give wings demands, but I'm looking forward to learning. I tend to think forward to how I'd like him/us to be, and work backwards from there.

    As such, my main art inspiration for being a Mum is "Peace" by Dan Gerhartz. The woman looks tired, yet peaceful, and resting on her source of strength. I love so much about that picture. The representation of my prayers as a parent is "Watchers In The Night" by Thomas Blackshear. The angel watching the sleeping boy was the first (expensive) framed print I bought and I've never regretted it.

    For some reason, the art for being a sister is Shaun Tan's picture in "Tales from Outer Suburbia" where the dogs are watching the house burn ( click "Tales" then scroll down a bit, http://www.shauntan.net/books.html) or his two creatures in the "dinner" picture from "The Arrival" (again, "Arrival", scroll from the link). Shaun's work is amazing, so detailed and emotive. (The Arrival doesn't actually have ANY words, just pictures. I cried at the end of it!)

  11. Thank you so much for this beautiful, thoughtful post! My twin daughters–my oldest children–turn 12 tomorrow and I feel we are at a turning point in life. Your Pieta moments experience will certainly help me soon down the road, as I remember being that despairing teenager all too well. For now, I'm hoping for some energetic, colorful Matisse moments(though no nudes, please!)

  12. Annie, this was such a beautifully written post! I'm going to think about the art angle, but right now I'm appreciating the art you created in this post.

  13. Love this and the replies. Especially Escher! That might be how I see my parenting of my oldest, who is 16 and has his driver's permit and is playing in a band!

    My second son is so much more dependent on me than my friend-based teenager. A Mary Cassatt for sure with him.

    My oldest girl…perhaps something impressionist, Van Gogh? So many things are unclear, but still beautiful. I wish I knew how to be a good mother for girls since I have three now.

    So my two year old would be something spunky—Matisse or Chagall even.

    And my three month old–total serenity: Mary Cassatt giving her child a bath comes to mind often when I bathe my chubby little girl.

    Thanks for this blessing to picture (literally) my feelings towards my children.

  14. Annie, your post called up a memory form earlier this year
    Feb 5. 2009
    I woke thinking of Michelangelo’s Pieta this morning and thought of Mary holding her boy’s body. I wondered how many mothers have carried thier son’s lifeless bodies utterly bereft. Did Mary grieve as I do? Did she feel the presence of angels as she held him, sense His spirit had left and know she wouldn’t be able to hold Him again as he smiled and responded to her love? Did she caress his cheek and kiss His head? Breathe in his scent as deeply as she could so she would never forget? Did she wash his body and notice all that made Him him? Did she stroke his hair? Wrap her fingers into His?
    Yet she had peace. It was natural to hold him. I’m sure that though her heart was broken she knew it was out of her hands and that though she didn’t want to, she must somhow call up the courage to say goodbye. She knew who He was. She was sure of His love.


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