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Kelly: Let the Crap Go

Spill It OOlivia created this canvas with me on Saturday. I was working on my Spill It! assignment for Carmen’s class, and Livvie decided she wanted to try along with me.  (Sarah chose to paint an “Open” and “Closed” sign for their room instead.)  She was following along with me for the most part when I looked over at her and realized she was crying. Oh goodness. I immediately went over to her with my paint covered hands, tried to give her a hug without getting paint all over her, and asked her what was wrong.

“I keep messing it all up, Mama!”  Livvie is a bit of a perfectionist.  The one thing she was doing differently than me was that she was using a paintbrush, not her fingers, because she didn’t want to get paint all over her fingers (which surprised me because the child has no issue getting completely covered with mud in the back yard). But I guess—maybe because of her art resource period at school?—she thought that painting with a paint brush was the “correct” way to paint. I quickly took her over to my laptop and showed her some of the canvases our class had posted in our ning group…to show her that, like mine, none of them were “perfect.”  (No offense to my Spill It! friends!)  After that, I asked her to consider putting her paintbrush down, and I helped her smush some paint around with her fingers. Then I showed her how we could take the opposite end of her paintbrush and draw smiley faces in the wet paint.  That got her. 🙂  From there, she tried a little of the bubble wrap method and then dipped the heart shaped cookie cutter I had given her into her pink paint and added the heart you see in the middle. After the addition of the stickers, she declared it done with a quiet smile on her face, remnants of tears still on her cheeks.

I’ve been thinking about that all week, particularly in regards to the expectations we put upon our children and our selves. I didn’t have any expectations for Livvie’s painting; I just wanted her to have fun. But because of her own expectations, she wasn’t having any fun at all at first. She’s been struggling a little at school, and we’ve had to meet with her teacher.  Boy, did that break my heart. I was heartbroken for her because she was struggling, and I know that she notices that Sarah hardly ever struggles with her schoolwork, and I was heartbroken for me because she wasn’t meeting the “standards.”  Terrible of me, huh. What standards? My standards? No, I guess they weren’t my standards, they were the school’s standards, but I realized my standards when it comes to academics are probably pretty high, too. She’s in first grade, for Pete’s sake! I have to admit, I never struggled in school. Not even through grad school. School just always came easy to me. But I see that it doesn’t come easy to Livvie just yet. She’ll get there; we’re committed to helping her at her pace, in whatever way she needs, providing mountains of encouragement and positive reinforcement along the way. We’re spending more one-on-one time with the two of them while they are doing their homework, so Livvie doesn’t have that in-your-face opportunity to compare herself with her sister.

Back to my expectations of myself…  I guess because I was always good in school, I expected that I’d be able to help my girls be good in school. I’m finding that that’s going to be a big learning process for me. And then I think about my expectations in regards to all this art stuff. I’ve always played with art. But when I started playing with mixed media, I realized I was definitely going to have to lower my expectations for myself.  The first mixed media piece I created with Wyanne taught me a big lesson. Like Livvie, I too, was a perfectionist! Wy sweetly told me that I was just going to have to let that “crap” go, just play, and not worry so much about the end result. Maybe that’s a really good life lesson too.  Let the crap go…just play…and maybe everything will fall into place as it’s meant to be. That’s definitely a good lesson for me right now.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. poor livvie! i kow just how she feels. i still struggle with the perfectionist that lives within, but it doesn’t dictate to my productivity, or lack thereof anymore. it is usually the culprit in my lack of productivity.

    livvie, your canvas is BEAUTIFUL! and it’s so much more fun to play, isn’t it?

    s has struggled with other aspects of school to a great extent, and that is what affects his academic success. he has an amazing talent for memorization and recitation, which helps for a lot of the standardized tests. he scores high when he can focus on what ‘they’ want him to rather than whatever is foremost in his mind. i’m sure livvie will be very successful in school, when she doesn’t feel pressure from others and is able to let go of pressuring herself. it’s really amazing what kids can do when they give themselves a chance.

    k used to have horrendous anxiety episodes over homework when he was livvie’s age. hours of crying and yelling rather than 30 min of work. by second grade, i finally figured out that if he got it done as soon as he got home, he didn’t fear not finishing after dinner. it also helped if i let him do it independently, mistakes and all, rather than do the parental hover and fix suggestions.

    good luck, kelly, that expectation voice can be a real beast.

    October 9, 2009
  2. My oldest (six-year-old) daughter and I both have those perfectionist expectations in ourselves too and have to constantly battle them. My youngest (three-year-old) daughter is able to let things go a little bit more and revel in the messy unexpected, which I love about her, even if I struggle with it myself.

    Cathy, we figured out the same thing with homework. Right after school works best. Otherwise, it takes five times as long and usually ends in tears. Being tired seems to add to the stress. If she’s fresh and feels like she has time though, it’s a breeze.

    October 9, 2009
  3. each kid is different. s needs transitional down time after school and does homework after dinner.

    October 9, 2009
  4. Such an important reminder, Kelly. Brings to mind this video from Elizabeth Gilbert, which I blogged about earlier this year: “Relieving Yourself of Genius”

    So interesting that little Livvie feels the pressure so intensely. Kids are all so different, aren’t they? It sounds like you were able to turn the situation into an affirming experience for her.

    October 11, 2009
  5. Things everyone. I’ve been out of town since Thursday afternoon, so I’m back to playing catch up again. DH usually does try the homework right after school thing since he gets home with them about 4pm. Though now that their teacher has suggested we split them up for homework time, that’ll be the juggle. We’re going to try encouraging one to go play independently while one of us works with the other and then switch out. It’s a learning process for all of us !

    October 11, 2009
  6. Oh Livvie, I can so relate! I am not sure where you were going with your painting, and I know art is very subjective–that means that we all see different things in different people’s paintings.

    Your abstract piece reminds me of the circus and oh, the circus is so much fun! When I look at your painting, I am transported back to a time of laughter, bright colors, and exciting entertainment. When I look at your painting, I see an elephant with a heart encompassing the head, and a trunk just exiting the heart. And the background reminds me of a circus tent. And the heart, oh that heart tells me that the elephant just LOVES to perform for the children, for he loves to make them happy.

    Keep painting dear one. I think you have a talent just waiting to grab hold of the world. Enjoy the process, don’t worry about being perfect. Nobody is perfect. And sometimes, the mistakes are the MOST BEAUTIFUL pieces of all.

    Editor, Writer, Artist.

    October 24, 2009

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