Monday, October 31, 2011

4th Grade Halloween

Ah, Halloween. 'Tis that joyfully spooky time of year when little ones masquerade as pirates, ninjas, wizards, the odd banana, princesses, or in Princess Commando's case, a Pokemon Trading Card- appealing for treats with their utter adorableness. Or, if they are in fourth grade at Princess Commando's school, they parade in the spirit of creativity... as vocabulary words. In fourth grade, the highest level of learning in an early childhood center, the students no longer join the rest of the children in the unfettered pageant of Halloween shrouds. As the oldest children in the school, they must partake in an innovative endeavor to bring to life a vocabulary word of their choosing. Years before his sister was to display her mastery of the English language- Henry, too, walked the halls with his classmates, illustrating his chosen word. He folded an old bath towel in half, cut a hole in the fold for his head, and glued dish sponges to the towel. He became absorbent

As I had already invested a great deal of time and effort into Princess Commando's Charizard Pokemon Card costume- which I painstakingly drew and colored by hand- learning way more than I ever wanted to know about the design of such a trading card, I demanded in no uncertain terms  wished for her to choose something that would be easy and inexpensive to assemble. "Let's do something that is like the word 'soft' but bigger than that word," she suggested. I handed her the thesaurus and she settled on a word which afforded minimally time sucking construction. She helped me hot glue 200 cotton balls and hunks of pillow stuffing to a white long sleeved t-shirt. I stood back, my fingers freshly blistered from unruly hot glue, satisfied with my handiwork. And she gave me the seal of approval- 'Yeah, it's fine.' But, I made a critical error in not having her try on the costume earlier than the night before her school Halloween party. Before her hands were even through the arm holes- the pillow stuffing began to shed and what was worse, she did not look at all like the embodiment of the word she had chosen. If I had not known already what she intended to be, I would have guessed she was 'bloated' or 'pissed. '

I took liberties, of course, with the illustration above. Her real costume was not even nearly as 'cushiony.' It was more mangy. And, I apologize in advance, to the lovely Mrs. F, Princess Commando's teacher, for not creating a reasonable likeness of her. I did not have a picture of her from which I could create an illustration. So I had Princess Commando take pictures of me posing and I reconstructed my face and hair and made myself into a generic teacher.

Below is Princess Commando's 'real' Halloween costume. I can't wait to watch her try to navigate the sidewalks and our neighbors' porches in full body- laminated poster board. Have a Safe and Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2011

winds of change

Last week I had to force myself outdoors. I had allowed myself to grow accustomed to the inertia that endless days of rain bring. I had forgotten how to properly acknowledge the sun- to get outside and bask in it. But, when I took The Baby out for a walk, the wind pressed relentlessly against us- strangling the trees and shaking them of the last leaves determined to hang on. It nearly lifted The Baby's stroller from my grip. I did not quite have the perspective to embrace the challenge of facing the gusts. It had been a trying couple of weeks. I had to make a critical decision regarding Henry's education which led to transferring him from his position in one of the most highly coveted academic programs in our city to a program of less fame but of much greater nuturance. I hoped that with the change, he would learn to smile again. I was already wound so tightly- worried over my child's well-being. I had beaten up my heart, my head, my chest in trying to defend my decision to choose in the best interests of my son over choosing to keep him in an elite program. It had consumed me. I needed justification to allow myself to also be battered by the wind.

I almost turned home as soon as we made it to the end of our street; but, I remembered the sticks Princess Commando wanted to collect to complete her longhouse project. The Baby was not befuddled by the gales which sucked her breath away. She was only concerned with following the moon which floated in a clear morning sky. So, I grudgingly continued onward, bending every few feet to pinch a brittle branch from the sidewalk. I filled the basket of the buggy with discarded frail limbs; but, it felt like it would never be enough. How many branches are needed to make a longhouse? I was propelled with the most overcoming heat and desire to scour the whole neighborhood for every last felled sprig. I imagined the mound of black and grey twigs I could build in my driveway. As I walked on, the wind spoke to me in bitter currents. It gave names to my nerves: school, expectation, doubt, achievement, worth, perception. Each one, a twig I harbored in my basket. I decided that my basket was full enough. It was time to leave some of them behind.

It comes with the change of seasons- this longing for closure before the shift occurs, before we are no longer in a state of transition and become settled into the reality of the season. There is a need to reconcile plans left by the side of the road- a piano still out of tune; stairs still crumbling and vulnerable to the abuse that winter brings; personal growth which is not as expansive as I had wished for in my January resolutions. Along with taking inventory of my children's winter boots, coats, hats- those items which we still need to acquire before the snow falls, I inevitably take inventory of the strengths and resources I need to replenish within myself before I head toward winter-toward a new year. That, invariably leads to a feeling of being unsettled- of questioning my decisions, my purpose, and, once again, my place. Upon catching up with one of my favorite people, my Uncle Mark, on his recent visit home, he asked me who I was, "Are you Amy,' the mother of four children'? Or, are you Amy, a woman with interests, talents, goals and needs who just so happens to have four children?" I had never really considered that there could be a distinction. And it made me realize how easy it is to become one dimensional- with one purpose: caring for the needs of one's children. Caring so much so- that it absorbs you fully until there isn't any room left for anything else. But, I am not sure I truly understand how to be the other version of myself. That requires a level of balance which scares me. How is it that it has become easier to sacrifice everything- rather than to try to hold back bits and pieces for myself?  

I'm coming to understand that filling up a basket with prickly regret and doubt and trying to re-purpose the pieces only perpetuates stagnancy. I know that I need to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone- set fire to that mound of twigs I have collected. I have to walk into the wind and let it rattle every last leaf off of me in order to feel that steady IV drip of creativity that I need to carry me through the winter. I have to learn to stop looking down at the sidewalk and instead do as The Baby does by choosing to follow the moon- accepting the expanse of sky before her without fear of getting lost in it. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

ten o'clock crazy

On Wednesday, this house-which usually gets crazy at three o'clock- got a head start on crazy when my mother delivered my nephews to me for a couple of hours in the morning while she attended to critical business. Mama was getting her hair did. The Baby was overjoyed to be back in the company of her cousins. And, my wish to spend more time with my nephews-who had, until two weeks ago, lived thousands of miles away-was fulfilled.

When toddlers congregate, they seem to multiply, quite rapidly. They are omnipresent. They grow 8 tentacles- and stretch said appendages to reach all four corners of a room. At one point- all three kids broke out into a hybrid tribal/ zombie dance- to music only the three of them could hear. Visiting toddlers are the best child safety experts- they are quick to point out the little spots in your home which leave a toddler vulnerable to danger and leave your home exposed to a toddler attack. They ask for things you have no possible way of producing for them- like 'teeny tiny little giraffes and hippos'- which I later found out might have meant 'crickets and grasshoppers' in Princess Commando's terrarium. Toddlers, also, give your IKEA Tullsta armchair the most action it has ever seen in its 8 years of existence.

But, then they sucker punch you with some divine sweetness. 
These two dragged the blanket up to the armchair, scooted underneath it, made a little nest and just smiled at each other for 15 minutes straight.

Happy Friday!

I was trying a half tone treatment on the toddler illustration. Not sure if I like it for this type of illustration. But, I was pointed in the direction of the online tutorial months ago and I've been meaning to try it. This is the first tutorial I've managed to sit through from beginning to end without scrapping the project-and which yielded the result that I expected. If you are interested, you can find the tutorial here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

it all began with a dog and a baby

One year ago, my blog was born with an illustration of a baby (The Baby) and a dog (our Ruby). Actually, its birthday was last month; but, like all things that end up on my calendar, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the notations in the little boxes are going to make their way into my memory. When I started blogging, I was at a place in my life where the daily grind of being home with an infant was beginning to grind me down. I missed illustrating and writing so terribly that it hurt. It had been many, many months since I had last been creative- my biggest creation having been The Baby. I had something in mind- I wanted to illustrate anecdotes about my family. I had a style in mind- I wanted the posts to be in a sort of graphic novel format. But, it was apparent from the first post, that it was going to go in a different direction. I am happy with what I have been able to accomplish through writing- in the very least, I have created a collection of stories for my children that hopefully will not be looked back upon as the root of their damaged adult psyche. And, I've been able to glean a much greater understanding of the human experience through my connection with other writers and readers.

In honor of my belated bloggy birthday, I am re-posting my very first post, Dog, What Every Woman Needs to Keep Her House Clean. It's rife with run-on sentences.
The baby has just turned 8 months old. She has been practicing self-feeding with finger foods for a few weeks now. Generic crispy rice cereal seems to please her greatly. I only use them when I need a few minutes to prepare her "real" meal. I sprinkle a bit of crispy rice on her tray and she busies herself with her little pinchy fingers- picking at the individual pieces with precision and bringing them to her mushy mouth. For every one in the mouth, ten get brushed to the floor. I've never worried about the stragglers. We've always had a dog or two underfoot to lap them up with relish (yes, sometimes there is relish on the floor). Today, the baby seemed disinterested. She has a new high chair-one that she can lean over-one where she has a terrific view of the dog. And, the game has begun of pinching the food bits off of her tray and nonchalantly, deliberately dropping them for our dog, Ruby, to catch. 

Today, Ruby, also, seemed dispassionate in helping the baby finish her pre-breakfast. Instead of sitting by the high chair- at the ready, she was laying on the living room rug reluctant to budge. I called her over and pointed at the crispy bits on the floor. She sniffed and backed off. The only other time Ruby refused meals or snacks was this past July when she was ill with a horrendous case of diarrhea and depression as she mourned the loss of her companion, Oscar. So, I turned to Ruby,"What is the matter, dear?" Ruby promptly crossed the threshhold to the kitchen and stood before her water bowl. Dry as a bone. I seem to remember seeing it in my periphery last night-less full than usual- as I went about washing and drying the parts to my evening shackle (I mean, my manual breast pump). I made a mental note to fill the bowl before bed. But then my brain farted and knocked itself out. And my poor dog went thirsty. I filled the bowl to the tip- top with cool, fresh water. And, apologized for my neglect. She stood lapping it up for two full minutes and then joined us in the dining room where she effortlessly swiped up the crispy bits with one sweep of her purple tongue. 

In that moment, I realized how very grateful I am for Ruby. Without her, I would actually have to use the broom that spends more time hanging in our kitchen closet than it does on the floor. But, she is so much more than a four-legged Hoover. I feel safe(r) knowing that she is around. For years, the Mr. worked from home. I never worried about armed robberies during the daytime because I knew that I could fend off the burglar while he snuck in the other room to phone the police. But now that my hands are so often tied with baby matters and there has been a recent wave of thievery in our quiet neighborhood, I know that my enfeebled arms have no muscle memory for fighting and my flaccid brain may forget the three simple digits to call for help. I rely on Ruby to be my first line of defense. By physical appearances she looks like something wild. Her muttiness has been construed as both an homage to Muppet Theatre and also something to be wary of. I am certain I have heard more than one stranger mumble,"We don't know what she is, or what she is capable of- we should probably cross to the other side of the street." She alerts me to the changes in the rhythm of our neighborhood. As much as I would love to believe that this Chow Chow/ something mix would protect me- viciously warding off whatever enemy breaches the peace of our home, I know that she would just wag her tail and fold in on herself at the slightest attention from a stranger, from even the evilest of interlopers. She would not hurt a fly, but her high pitched, excited whining, would let me know that a fly has entered the house. Maybe that alone would give me enough time to find the fly swatter-arming myself against the intruding insect before it has time to take stock in our valuables and poop on the bananas we leave out on top of the microwave. 

Having animals reside in your life is expensive to both the financial and emotional pocketbook. When we made the decision to put to sleep the senile creature who barked to go outside and then would forget why he was out there, who then would come in and poop on the floor, and would have intense anxiety attacks even if he thought we had left him alone making him go out of his mind enough to gnaw on the metal support posts in our basement- we felt the blow to our chests. It knocks the wind out of you to walk into the veterinarian's office with this animal who has spent 12 years in your home and to walk out alone( this time the poor Mr. took on the death duty) . I know we will experience that with Ruby, as well. I don't want to think about that now. Our relationship has been symbiotic- we rescued her from the probability of a short life due to abuse and neglect at the hands of her former owners, and I believe that every day she rescues us- possibly from the dangers that would enter our home if she was not here. But, most definitely, she has rescued me from an exhausting Cinderella life (pre-glass slipper)- constantly mopping, always sweeping. What more could I need from her?