There are two things that are almost always true for me these days:
1. I miss performing.
2. I’m tired.
But then I consider that maybe I’m tired so much of the time because I am always performing. Sure, I haven’t starred on a conventional stage in a little while. But I am constantly performing even if it is for an audience of one tiny person who can’t even talk yet.
It’s common knowledge that children learn from their parents. They watch us. They notice what we do and say. Or what we don’t. They pay attention, even if it’s not always in the ways we want or expect. Like an audience, they let us know if what we are doing is working or not. They laugh if we’re funny. They cry when we disappoint them. They even clap when things are particularly thrilling. Or throw things when they’re not.
On her fast-track of toddler discovery, my daughter is becoming more and more of a mirror for me. Of course she is her own independent little human and I know we’ll have plenty of differences. But she reflects what I am modeling for her.
Right now, everything is a cell phone. A wooden block, my shoe, the rubber door stop–any small item becomes a phone in this little girl’s hands. She holds them up to her ear and starts to jabber away in the language that only she understands. It’s adorable. And terrifying.
I love that she is using her imagination already. Yes! The block can be a phone, a piece of a house, a bed for a doll–anything! But what am I teaching her? Am I on my phone so often that she thinks pretending to talk on a phone is the best way to imitate me? Phone equals mom? Phone equals grown up? Yikes. That’s not a lesson I intended to teach.
I might watch her all day, but she’s also watching me. I have to be careful about the performance I’m giving.
Sure, performing the role of mom is not the only role I want to play. I can and will make time for conventional performance again. But for now, I want to put a little more intention into this performance of role model for my daughter. I want her to equate me with courage, kindness, respect, honesty, playfulness, imagination, creativity, curiosity. Not my cell phone.
Every day is a new performance opportunity and my daughter is both my audience and my improvisation partner. She wants to eat what I eat. She wants to wear what I wear (my scarves and bras are apparently the coolest things ever). She wants to read what I read, even if I know how to flip the pages gently and she doesn’t. Whatever I do, she is going to imitate me. And that intimates me.
She might rebel and eventually make conscious choices to not do as I do. And sometimes, that will be a blessed relief. I don’t want her to be exactly like me. I can’t perform my best all the time. She’s going to see the failing and flailing and I’d rather she didn’t replicate those. But like it or not, she will. She will reflect my shining moments and shortcomings back at me. And she will choose her own costumes, say her own lines, and play her chosen roles.
For now, I need to perform the best I can. I need to avoid the pitfall of “do as I say, not as I do.” If I’m going to be on my phone in front of my little girl, I want it to be more than a mindless distraction. I want to teach her that it’s a tool for communication and knowledge. The same goes for my computer. I waste plenty of time on it. But what I want to teach my daughter is that it is a magic box for creativity and self-expression. Yes I use it to watch Netflix, but I also use it to write and to find inspiration for crafts and to reach out to other artists.
I can’t fix everything, but I can make a point of trying to use these devices more conscientiously. After all, that’s an easier, more tangible effort than, say, working on the emotional outbursts I might occasionally be modeling…
Week 2 of The Artist’s Way is about recovering a sense of identity. Some of us are blocked artists who know we’re blocked. Other artists don’t know they’re blocked and some don’t even know they’re artists. It is important to take the time to sort out who we are and what we want. How can we be positive role models for our children if we don’t take time to be the kind of people we hope to be?
Here’s what I know about my identity so far; I am an artist mom. And this is the role of a lifetime.