Yesterday morning I set up a quick painting activity for my 3 year old, Sam. It was a bubble wrap printing activity that was going around Pinterest last year, and it seemed simple enough to set up and finish while his baby sister napped.
(I changed this activity to make it a bit more low key than the original plan. First, you squeeze some paint onto a surface. Then you dip a bit of bubble wrap into it, creating a stamp. Finally, you stamp the design onto some cut-out paper Christmas trees. The little dots resemble bulbs on the tree.)
The thing was, Sam was not at all interested in this bubble wrap stamping. You know what he was interested in doing? Coloring on the bubbles with a Sharpie. Because, when does he ever get to use a Sharpie? (Cutting the bubble wrap with scissors was also a hit, because scissors are the bee’s knees around here right now.)
I spent about half a minute trying to convince him to try dipping the wrap in the paint. I enthusiastically showed him how easy and fun it was (it really was). And I tired to convince him that the trees looked good (they really did)!
Then, I decided to let go of my own expectations and let him use the materials in the ways that he really wanted to. We reached a happy place where he used the Sharpie to draw on the wrap and the trees, and then I would stamp them. It was great. We listened to Christmas music while we worked. Later, our day would devolve into of the most intense and challenging days Sam and I have ever had together; but that 30 minutes we spent quietly drawing, and painting, and cutting, was perfect.
Sometimes, especially around the holidays, some of us get caught up on wanting things to be a certain type of perfect. We develop expectations that are impossible to meet, and we end up spending much of the season disappointed. The painting this morning reminded me that making something beautiful means going outside of the plan and letting the anchors of expectation go. Had I kept that same attitude through the rest of our day, perhaps it would have gone more smoothly (I know the napping hours would have).
Our next art activity (calling this Christmas tree project “art” may be somewhat of a stretch) will be set up as an invitation. There will be a table, some materials, some guidelines (for safety and/or mess), and little else. Maybe Sam will be drawn to what I’ve provided for him, and maybe he won’t be. Maybe he’ll look at the materials I’ve provided, and decide to use them in a way I hadn’t thought about. Whatever happens, I hope to approach it with an open mind. And perhaps that mindset will stay with me as we continue with our day. It’s a good goal, anyway.
I hung our collaborative Christmas trees today. When I look at them in the following, ever more intense weeks, I hope I can remember my goal of letting go. And if things get tough (which just seems to be the case right now), I hope they remind me to make time for quiet activities with Sam- it might just be the best part of our day.