Sometimes, I feel like I need a camera crew in my house to capture all of the crazy moments we have. My little guy, Gabe, is 4 years old and is full of “spit and vinegar” as my grandfather would say. Spontaneous, curious, funny, smart, creative, and absolutely hilarious; Gabe never fails to make me proud to be his mom. Something interesting happened this week that I want to share with you all. I let him hold a “Mommy and Gabe Making Session” one night when I got home from work and I was left in wonder and awe over the life lessons my son taught me without even realizing it. That whole thing about messes being bad? That went straight out the window- almost literally. Those lines on coloring book pages? Those are more of a guideline than anything. Mixed media? Oh we definitely covered that with everything ranging from Play-Doh to glitter and even Band-Aids (which surprisingly make a good washi tape like embellishment.) As much fun as we had spending time together, creating chaotic crafts, I couldn’t help but revel in how my outlook on creativity was changing in those moments. Sometimes our biggest teachers come from the littlest of people.
Our making session started off with markers and a coloring book, with Gabe coloring, and telling me why he was coloring each little spot the color he was coloring with. At first, it seemed as though he was trying to stay inside of those bold, black lines that created the picture he was bringing life to. Eventually, I realized that he wasn’t trying to stay in the lines, as he would go back in with a black marker and try to encompass where he had gone astray to create an entirely new black border. “I like it better this way. Monsters shouldn’t have circle noses. They should be more loopy.” He asked me to color with him, and I did, staying inside the confines of those dubious black lines (like a pro, I might add), only to be told, “Mom! That’s not right! He needs bigger arms because he has fur! The lines just show you the skeleton, not the whole thing! That’s why we color! To make it the whole, big, cool thing!” I’m still in awe over that statement now. The lines only show us the skeleton, the bare basics of an idea- we color in the entirety of what we want it to be.
20 minutes into coloring, Gabe got up, ran to his room and came back out, racecars in hand, and a telltale gleam in his eyes that meant trouble was around the corner depending on what he was thinking of doing. “We should paint with these!” He held out two of his cars to me, giggling because he knew he had absolutely befuddled me. “We can do car races after putting paint on the tires!” I looked at the tires of the cars he had handed me. They both had distinct crevices and grooves, and I knew my kiddo was onto something good. “Let’s do it!” I told him. Laying out paper on the floor, we painted the tires and raced our cars across the paper, often finding the cars didn’t go the direction we wanted, and way more often purposely running the cars into each other which gave the paper some pretty cool looking splats of paint. I would have never thought to use racecars to paint, or create a stamp-like effect. Leave it to my 4 year old to teach me to look at things from a different perspective in order to create something truly fun and awesome.
Define the term mixed media. What does it mean to you? What do you visualize when you hear someone say they’re working on a mixed media make? For me, my mind immediately jumps to Tim Holtz, and all of the truly fantastic, intricate makes and crafts that both he and his team have done. Mixed media has now been redefined for me, thanks to my son. After we were done with our racecar paint races, Gabe got out his green markers, his green glitter glue, and his Play-Doh. He diligently went to work, coloring, glitter gluing, and carefully adding tiny bits of play-doh here and there. He looked up at me, beaming, and told me, “We have to make dinosaurs now to go in the tropical jungle land I just made!” And make dinosaurs we did, from thin wood dinosaur pieces we got at the Dollar Store, to making our own dinosaurs from Play-Doh and cotton balls. It makes me realize now that perhaps creative funks happen because we’re too specific with our definitions of creativity. Maybe if we just redefine things, to expand and encompass a larger view point, the creative funk won’t even be a tick on our radar.
Gabe also managed to teach me some craft hacks that night as well. He decided he wanted to make his grandma a card, but he wanted to make something “like you make at your Sizzzles work, momma!” (Sizzix is hard for him to remember how to say correctly.) We cut out and glued down flower and heart shapes and he drew a fantastic stick-figure portrait of her, complete with high heeled flip flops and a big necklace. Suddenly, his face lit up and he was off again, trampling through the house, into the bathroom, swinging open the cupboard door, and running back outside to our back patio. “Whatcha got, Gabe?” I asked him, mildly amused and very curious. He smiled, set down his treasure, and sat down in my lap. “I want to paint with the q-tips to color in grandma’s face. We can use the Band-Aids like tape!” I watched as my son delicately painted in his stick figure grandma, expertly using the q-tip like he’d done it before. Then he grabbed a cotton ball and used it to paint around the cut outs, the texture of the paint left behind was one of the coolest things I had seen, since he wasn’t using very much paint on his cotton ball. He added two Band-Aids to his card, giving it the perfect embellishment as they were both Minion Band-Aids. As impressed as I was and still am by my son’s use of toiletry items, I know that I will never underestimate the artistic power of cotton balls, q-tips, and Band-Aids again.
“Momma, being sad about messes is for silly people. We live loud here.” (Did I mention my son cracks me up with some of the things he says?) These were the words my child told me, with a straight face, as I looked around our back patio, internally cringing at the cleanup job that lay before me. Paint was streaked across the sliding glass doors; glitter was on our hands and faces, in our hair, and on my son’s kitten, Looper. Glue and confetti were on the concrete, and our Play-Doh statues had a fantastic dusting of paint, glitter, dirt and cotton ball wisps. But amid my desire to just walk inside and pretend like the mess didn’t exist, I looked around and realized how truly beautiful the mess was. My back patio sparkled in the setting sun light. My child was happily creating and making. All I could see was the proof of creativity and my son’s imagination coming to life in an almost boundless way. Find the art in the messes- and suddenly you find that you’re a little bit sad when it’s time to clean up.
I never would have thought that my 4 year old would change my outlook on creativity, that through him I would redefine both my perspective and the meaning of what art is and can be. As a child, there isn’t a fear of imagination, or the knowledge of what the world defines as talent or “good crafting”. There’s just the want and the curiosity to make the ideas in your head come to life, without any worry of what anyone else thinks. That’s something I’m determined to get back to in my creativity, to know no limits or bounds, to go with my imagination, and to not let the “rules” be my definition of how I create what I make. My son taught me so much in that time we spent together; and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in our next “Mommy and Gabe Make Session” this weekend.
How do your kids teach and inspire you?