Family Art

This is a follow-up to my “Fall Cleaning” post a couple of weeks ago, in which I mentioned that, as part of an uncharacteristic burst of domestic energy I’ve had this fall, I was planning to work with my daughters to create brighter artwork for our walls.

I did. I dove headlong into my home mania and ordered a large blank canvas from Amazon. (If you don’t live in Vermont, chances are you have an art supply store within easy driving distance and don’t have to support massive, evil, online retailers. I do not have that option.) I bought a fresh pack of Crayola’s Washable Kids’ Paint from the grocery store. There were exactly six colors in the box — one for each member of our family. Perfect!

Armed with these simple materials, I was ready to make my vision a reality. I used pencil to trace the outline of a heart on the canvas. My vision was to have each member of our family — our four girls plus my husband and me — dip their hands into a different color of paint and make two colored handprints on either side of the heart. The finished product would be a heart shape outlined neatly by our family’s handprints.

I decided to start with our youngest child, 17-month-old Abigail (paint color: orange.) She’s the wiggliest, so I’d get her out of the way first. I scooped her up and dipped her palms into the pool of orange paint that I’d poured onto a paper plate. She looked at her hands, looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing???,” then balled up her fists and started yelling. I tried to pry open her palms and press them onto the canvas: no dice. She was all resistance. After a few fruitless minutes, I had two orange blobs up at the top of our heart.

Not an auspicious beginning, but not a huge problem. She’s the baby; one day, we’ll point to those blobs and laugh about her paint panic (this from a child who ends every meal covered with food — I don’t get it.)

Next up was daughter #2: five-year-old Campbell (paint color: yellow.) Campbell was enthusiastic; so enthusiastic that, after making her first two handprints on the heart, she re-dipped her hands in the paint and — before I could stop her — smeared yellow around the inside of the heart.

“No, Campbell, that’s –” I began, then stopped myself. Almost seven years of parenting to get to this point, but at that moment I realized that this was no longer my project. And that was okay. This was a family effort, and if my family wasn’t behaving according to my perfect plan, I’d just have to roll with it.

So I stood by and watched while Campbell made several more sets of handprints around the canvas, until she was satisfied.

Then came Georgia, three years old, who’d be adding red handprints. Her preschool does a lot of handprint art, so I was dealing with a pro. She dipped her hands neatly into the paint, wiped off the excess, and made multiple sets of beautiful red prints across the canvas.

Six-year-old Fiona approached the canvas and wailed, “They didn’t leave any space for me!” When I pointed out the few white patches still visible, she dipped her hands into the purple paint and got busy making her mark, proudly smearing purple around and over everyone else’s prints like a true firstborn.

Our artwork no longer bore any resemblance to a heart; instead, it was a big, colorful, smeary mess of handprints. But I wasn’t giving up: two grown-ups to go. So, Erick and I used our handprints (green and blue, respectively) to trace out the original heart on top of the girls’ impressionistic prints.

Here is the result:


I stood back and looked at our artwork, and it wasn’t at all like my original vision. It was perfect: The perfect representation of our family. There are Erick and I, trying with love to give some shape to the chaos. And the chaos itself: these colorful, exuberant, uncontainable girls. Showing me how lack of control is more beautiful than perfection.

Fiona thought we should write a Bible verse in the middle of the heart, so in light pencil I inscribed her favorite verse: “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Which is also a very accurate representation of our family.


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