Empty

My toddler loves to empty things.

If she sees any type of container–a laundry basket, a box of tissues, her diaper bag, a bucket of toys–she seems compelled to remove the contents and toss them on the ground. Children can be so unpredictable, but this emptying out compulsion is something I’ve come to count on.

I step away to make the bed (miraculous), only to turn around and find that my nightstand is bare and a scramble of pens, post-its, books (bookmarks no longer in their places, of course), tissues, and chap stick litter the floor. And there she sits, munching on a tissue, the proud monarch of mess on her throne of debris.

It drives me nuts.

But this morning, I challenged myself to hone in on one of my daughter’s activities and allow it to inspire my creativity in some way. After all, children are creativity masterminds. There were so many actions to choose from–wiggling, waving, putting anything and everything in her mouth–but a vacant tissue box on the floor jumped out at me. Why is she always emptying things? How is that useful? How on earth could something so frustrating inspire me in any way?

As is often the case with that kind of thinking, I immediately came up with a string of answers.

We empty things to make space for new material. This tiny human I am raising is constantly discovering new things. Doesn’t it make sense that she acts out that magical process by picking up and putting down objects? It’s as if she is sorting through her educational encounters. “This is a thing. Got it. Next. This is another thing. Got it. Next.” She is processing information at super hero speed and constantly desires to make room for more. She wants to experience each item–even if only for a moment–before she discards it for the next thing, so of course she touches things and tastes them. She empties things out so they can get filled up again. If only we did the same sort of thing in our artistic practices.

As adults, we tend to clutter our lives. Often creativity gets crowded out. If we clutter every vessel we have with junk–even supposedly useful junk like laundry and dishes, facts and figures–how are we supposed to find room for our creative endeavors? What’s more inviting (and perhaps intimidating) than a blank slate? A bare surface beckons to be written, painted, or danced on. But we can be pack rats when it comes to our lists and insecurities and empty spaces can be hard to find.

So let’s relearn how from our little ones. They let it all out. They cry with every fiber of their being. They exude joy. They notice and touch and taste everything. For better or for worse they are ready to soak up anything the world has to offer because they know how to be both empty and full at once. After all, emptying out containers isn’t a tidy affair. The stuff has to go somewhere and an empty vessel can mean a messy floor. Creativity itself is clutter if we let it. The longer we deny ourselves creative outlets, the more gummed up we get with projects we could have, should have, would have done and we just keep cramming creativity into every crevice until we are so overstuffed that we can’t move. And we wonder how our children have so much energy.

I am still in my pajamas. I didn’t shower yesterday. My bathroom needs to be cleaned. I’ve got a stack of procrastinated paperwork. I am overwhelmed with to dos, but I feel like I am running on empty, because I’ve given my all to so many scattered parts of my life. But I chose to follow my daughter’s example today. I opened my laptop. I acknowledged and exited out of every document and browser tab except for this one. My playground. I opened a blank blog post. I smiled at the empty space and started writing.

And it is enough.

No matter what else happens today, I will go to bed knowing that I accomplished something creative. And I will try to make room for more tomorrow.

***

TAG! YOU’RE IT! 

*What’s an action that your child does that you could allow to inspire your creativity today?

*Take just 5 minutes out of your day to sit with a blank sheet of paper or a blank document. Doodle, write, scribble, fold–do anything you want with it. The product doesn’t matter. It’s about the process of making time to do anything at all.

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Photo-synthesis

Tag! You’re it!

Calling all photographers–from anyone with a half decent camera phone to those who never leave home without a priceless bag of lenses and other gear in tow. This tag is for you.

Artist Parent PLAYground is in its fledgling stages, but eventually I hope to be posting at least once a week and would love for every post to include a photo of a playground. I plan to walk all over my neighborhood snapping any playground shots I can get as the weather warms up, but a lot of the playground equipment around here looks similar, even at different parks. I would love some more variety–different places, different visions, different people playing–to share along with the posts that appear on this blog.

Does this sound like fun to you? If so, please consider going out to a local playground on your own, with a friend, or with your kids and go snap happy. Send your favorite photos (with or without people in them is totally cool) and how you would like them credited to ArtistParentPlayground at gmail dot com. They just might get featured on the blog!

Thank you in advance for collaborating with me. I love the power of synthesizing words and images and I hope we can create some playful work together.

Jared on Slide
My husband about to take our infant daughter for her first ride down a slide.

Just you wait

Just you wait.

I hear those words so often. And for the most part, what comes next isn’t meant to inspire excitement, but dread.

Just you wait…

…until she starts crawling.

Just you wait…

…until she can stand up.

Just you wait…

…until she’s walking.

And after they’ve filled in the blank with some baby milestone that’s meant to spell impending doom, they usually top it off with, “Then you’re in trouble.”

Um…thanks?

Why do more experienced parents do that to newer parents? My daughter is coming up on her first birthday, and the “just you wait” warnings are only escalating. It’s as if I’m meant to live in fear of every milestone that lies ahead. As if my daughter’s increased independence and mobility are going to temporarily ruin my life.

I might be a new mom, but a handful of these milestones have come and gone and all I can say is this; they are freaking fantastic! I waited for these moments with baited breath, fearing the worst case scenarios that my all too active imagination had conjured and then they arrived. And they were beautiful.

It reminds me of giving birth. There was plenty of “just you wait” hype. Yes it was hard. Yes, it could have been a lot worse and I ache for the moms who have had it far worse than I did. But honestly, my anxiety far outweighed the reality. I labored hard and then a brand new person arrived and my life changed dramatically. It was exactly how it was meant to be.

So what if I now have to use the ottoman as a makeshift baby gate so our little crawling machine doesn’t escape the living room too easily? So what if we have to push our water glasses away from the edge of the dining room table? So what if I have to constantly take the heating grate or paperback or power cord away from her curious hands and mouth? It’s all part of the process and as inherently creative beings–aren’t we meant to revel in it instead of dread it?

It is my belief that we were all made by a Creator. And that being made us to be creators. One of the single most incredible things we can do is procreate. So how can the act of procreating do anything but enhance our creativity? Why do we talk about our children as if they hold us back?

If we’re going to use this “just you wait” narrative, let’s nix the negativity. Let’s talk about every milestone and every challenge we encounter in our parenting journey as fodder for our creativity. We have to do the same in our art-making processes, otherwise we’d just give up. Let’s embrace the process. Granted, this is so much easier said than done when you’re covered in poop or you’re cleaning up the floor under the high chair or scrubbing marker off the walls, but problem solving can only nurture our creativity. We just have to keep the negativity at bay long enough to let it. Let’s love the surprises.

And beware of the unnecessary way that “just you wait” thinking takes us out of the present. Let’s not fear the future at the expense of the moment. We need to enjoy what we can in every stage in our children’s development. You can wait or you can play with what you already have. It’s going to keep changing. And that’s exactly what any creative endeavor needs.

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