When I Grow Up

When my son Brian was just short of his sixth birthday he came to me with a very earnest look on his face. “Mommy”, he said, “When I grow up should I be a taxi driver or a science test?” I told him that I wanted him to be a “science test”. He is now studying to be a sommelier. The memory of that conversation came to me in the middle of another sleepless night. I really believed for a very long time now that I never figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. There were of course flashes of interest, in the sixth grade it was archeology. I read everything I could get my hands on to do with ancient Rome and Greece. I knew Greek Mythology by heart. Then there was the realization that it might just involve science, somewhat doable, but in a round about way it might also involve (cue the dramatic music of dread)…math…Done! No math, no how! Then there was of course (as any good Catholic girl will tell you) the call to God. I thought for a very, very, very short time about becoming a nun. (Didn’t we all?) Trust me as a romanticizing, day dreaming, fourteen year old, the idea of becoming a “Bride of Christ” sounds wonderful and mysterious. You find yourself praying a lot and feeling very pious. I think a very short reflection on some of the bitter and angry nuns I had dealt with in my academic career brought that idea to a screeching halt. Don’t get me wrong. I have had the immense pleasure of being educated by some lovely human beings, who also happen to have been nuns, but in my young mind the bitter and angry ones far outweighed the nice ones. For a while I thought I might want to be a teacher. I think I would have been a good one, but in the summer that I was fifteen I taught art in a Chicago Park District program to children four through eight years old. I was bitten, kicked, and had my glasses broken by an obnoxious five-year old who thought that while flying high on the swing set it might be fun to hit my face with his feet. I was done yet again. The honest truth was I never really thought about an artistic career. Since I had no training I had no idea of the endless possibilities that were available to me. I did always have a flair for design. I think I may have mentioned here before that I didn’t like playing with Barbie dolls as much as I enjoyed decorating their house. In my sleeplessness last night I did a lot of thinking. I had a complete meltdown right before bed (which robbed my dear husband of some much-needed sleep, sorry Honey). I was bemoaning my fate as a lost human being wandering the earth with no focus, no plan, no home. (OK, so it wasn’t quite that dramatic) It’s just that I, like so many other women, are our families. We lost ourselves somewhere along the way of countless hours of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, laundry, homework, bedtime rituals, etc., we are made up of the pieces that address our family needs, and forget our own. I was feeling angry and frustrated last night. Last year when I started this blog and art project it was the first time in my adult life that I was solely focused on something for myself. Then fate stepped in, appearing in the form of unemployment, it laughed in my face, and it filled my mind with fear and worry and not so much with creativity. So many times over the course of the year I found myself pushing the project to the back burner because guilt wouldn’t allow me to put myself first. I wouldn’t let myself be first. Now Dan has a new job, Jessica has moved away, I am moving away from Brian, and I am also moving away from Gabby and Kingston, the motherless children I care for and have grown to love. The only thing I have been in thirty years is a wife and mother. I dabbled at my art, but I never fully committed myself to me. It all came to a head last night. As I sat here all night (quite frankly despicably full of self-pity) I remembered what Brian had said. In the last few weeks as I have been packing up our lives, I came across my diary. It’s the one I mentioned here before. Along with it were pages from other older, younger diaries. Amongst the writing on those pages were some dreams for the future. First and foremost was my goal of becoming Mrs. Robert Redford (Don’t worry. Dan is well aware of my love for “Bob”), but there was also an entry that while it has the day and month, it does not have the year. My Aunt Bernie had just given birth to my cousin Michael. In my little girl penmanship I wrote about what a beautiful baby he was, and that I wanted to be a mom when I grew up. So maybe I did know all along. I think I was pretty good at it. I’d like to think I’m still good at it, trying my best to not interfere, but to gently guide and suggest. I’m sure that many people would chalk this up to “empty nest syndrome”.  Sure, some of that might be true, but with me there has always been this feeling of unfulfilled promise. God-given talents that are sorely untapped. Dan got angry with me last night, and that isn’t something that happens often, but he was right. He said that I keep throwing up roadblocks for myself. He also said that I won’t let myself be first, and that he is my biggest supporter. All of that is true. It really is time to figure things out. I know I can’t blame anyone but myself, and I know only I can change me. Time to grow up, time for a new dream, and since Bob and I are both already married to other people, that ship has sailed. (Oh come on, Dan knows he is the love of my life.)

After my meltdown and sleepless night I sat on the couch this morning with my coffee and watched last night’s Project Runway. I love the show. I love to see the creativity and imagination at work. I also envy the amazing sewing talent. One of the lovelier nuns I have run across is Sr. Janelle. She was my sophomore year sewing teacher. Try as she might, as kind and patient as she was, I wasn’t very good. I have amazing talent in these hands as long as there isn’t an iota of math involved. Sewing can be very mathematical. On a commercial break in the show came an ad for AARP. (We are not members. It’s honestly a little upsetting when you get your first invite to join. You find yourself feeling angry and insulted that they would presume to think you are that “old”. I know there are many benefits, but my brain just doesn’t want to go there. I am after all, only 54!) The ad featured Tim Gunn, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. He talks about reinventing yourself, rolling the dice and taking a chance. He was a teacher for twenty-nine years, and he was fifty when Project Runway came along. It was just what I needed to hear. Maybe my former fiancée (God) is trying to send me a message. Now if He could just send me some movers….

And Now For Something Completely Different

2:45 in the afternoon and I’m ready to post. What happened you might ask. Full moon? (I have no idea.) Has Superman in an attempt to save yet another damsel in distress spun the earth back on its axis? (Don’t know, don’t care.) What has happened was the epiphany of yesterday. I talked to, (and cried to) my wonderful, supportive husband last night and told him how I was feeling. He asked me why I was putting it off to the end of the day. He essentially made me give myself permission to do what I need to do. The funny thing is that I am a morning person, it is when I am at my best. I wasn’t doing my best, I was doing what I have often referred to as my homework. He has fallen asleep at least twice on the couch in the last week waiting for me to finish my project and post. Ridiculous I know. It felt good to get it all out. As a result of last night I woke with an idea for an illustration. It’s something that encompasses all of what is getting in my way, well almost, I didn’t throw in the mountain in the background with the giant chip on it (like my shoulder). I think I might just call this “Fighting the Current”. I am fighting myself and negative thoughts every day, and if I can just get past them all I believe I will have something really great at the end, me! Self denial, guilt, your basic Martyrdom (it comes quite easily when you are raised Catholic), all have played into my not allowing myself to grow not only as an artist, but in other parts of my life too. I know there will be days where I will have to force myself to indulge my creativity. Days when the laundry needs to be done, bills need to be paid, or worst of all, my house with its three cats has to be cleaned. (Has anyone seen the “Crafting with Cat Hair” book? If you are interested, and I am most definitely not, I can supply your cat hair. I could sweep a small kittens worth at a moments notice.) I have to learn to put art first. A very long time ago my mother in law told me that women cannot be good artists and good mothers. I thought she was crazy, but now I agree with her. Kids take a lot of creative energy. My two are older now, and one is gone, the other not in the near future, but old enough to feed himself, (well OK, I do have to put the food in front of him), but I have time now. I no longer need to make Halloween costumes, or paint the character of the month on their bedroom walls. The thing is that I’ve been a mom as long as I can remember, it’s going to take some time to readjust to focusing on myself.

Inspired my the process, here is something for today. It is marker on Bristol paper, something I never do, and much more in the form of a cartoon than I would ever do. However, it serves its purpose of getting my thoughts on paper, it’s not half bad, and most importantly…I had the supplies! (Unfortunately my scanner cut off just a little but for the most part it’s here.)005