Be an Artist
By: Leah Abraham
It's mid-morning, and I'm walking through my house, tripping over the remnants of my daughter's creativity.
In our house, we clean up every day, (yes, that's once a day--I'm not cleaning the hurricane as it's storming,) and every morning, the bits and pieces have taken over again. The kids play, create, destroy and build, and the mess steadily conquers the expanse of our living room until 5 pm. At that point, regardless of how many trains still need to pick up cargo, or baby dolls need feeding, play time is officially over (for all of us), and I bring out The Broom to begin my grand sweep.
I'm sure there are more efficient ways to tidy up, but I have minimal patience for piles of inanimate objects, and so I do it this way. I sweep the whole room into one big pile and start calling out my kid's names. They (usually) come running. They know the drill—if it doesn't get picked up in the next 5 minutes, it's going to the garbage (or away until they earn it back). I know, I know, I'm supposed to take one toy out a time and not let the kids play with the next toy until it has been put back. Been there, done that, working on cutting out sugar instead!
Realistically, every evening, all the toys that suited their fancy are out at once, and since I prefer not to police my kids creativity and shockingly allow the toy animals to visit the lego firehouse, which was built on a magna tile road, the pile resembles a demolition site. The cleanup begins simply; the toys are returned to their boxes, the books go back on their shelves, I sweep everything that's left into a now-smaller pile, and then I call her name.
I can't possibly make sense of the papers and paper towel rolls, and why some crayons were broken in half but are not garbage, and half my plastic cups have been used for everything but drinking, and now are. So, she directs me, as she works through the pile with vigor. "I need this", "I need that", "Don't throw this out", "Don't throw that out".
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. That was my GARBAGE pile.
But you should see her gather those scraps of papers and peeled crayons like she is saving them from an untimely death sentence. I cringe, because I know I'll be seeing them again—
in tomorrow’s sweep, or under her bed, or in unsuspecting coat pockets. I question their purpose and their value, and my daughter looks at me, sincerity on her face, and a pleading in her eyes. "Mommy, it's my art stuff."
Where I see mess, she sees purpose. My daughter is an artist.
I walk past her playing, and I see empty cereal boxes and wonder where the contents are now. I see diapers being used as packages, and toy bins as mailboxes, and I think about how much time it's going to take to reorganize the toy bin system that preceded her post office. I see silver foil presents, and tissue paper projects, and half a dozen popsicle sticks glued to the floor, next to her brown box castle.
I'm tempted to say something, and I have often enough, but today I hold back. I watch an idea develop in her mind; I listen to her work out what she can use, or what to use instead; I see her eyes light up as she finds solutions and brings her imagination and creativity to life.
I close my eyes to the waste and to the clutter, and give myself credit for not opening my mouth, either.
But the credit is all hers. Her eyes are very much open.
Open to the endless possibilities that lay within each mess and every scrap. She sees things broken or crumpled, and she is not deterred. She sees potential. She doesn't just see it as good, she sees it as valuable. She sees mess as Art.
I may be her mother, but I have a lot to learn from her.
I am a realist. I don't see the cup as half empty or half full; I just drink the water.
I understand there are some things in our lives, some projects, some goals, some relationships that are just a mess. They clutter our minds and our time, and I take out my broom. I don't need this, I don't need that. I have all these bits and pieces lying around, and I crave order. This didn't work out as I thought it would; this is taking up too much time; this is getting too complicated: trash, trash, trash.
What I need to do is to embrace the mess.
Some of life is neat and tidy—it fits into boxes and systems, and it is perfectly predictable. We know what it is, we know where it goes, and we know what it's there for. It is clear that we need it. We keep that schedule, those jobs, that project, those friends.
Then there's the rest. The messy reality of unfinished businesses and undefined experiences. We question: Why this? Why me? What for? This person drives me crazy; that traffic jam was ridiculous; the schedule switch is ruining my day. This kid is up all night, teething, that friend is always complaining, and I can't ever seem to remember to silence my phone. The mess is accumulating, and you want to do a grand sweep. You want to get rid of everything and anything that doesn't have a clearly marked bin or obvious value.
You have it all labeled. Waste.
Waste of time, waste of money, waste of effort, waste of resources.
Now, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is your garbage pile, but there is so much that can be saved.
Even my five year old knows that.
Think like an artist. See the potential. Imagine the product of your creativity as you find goodness and value in what you could have easily thrown away.
Artists don't see things in black and white; they see things in shades of colors. There is no good or bad; there is only how you chose to blend the hues. Art is alive and vibrant and invigorating.
Be an artist.
And on behalf of your Mom, please clean up after yourself.
is a motivational speaker, freelance writer and the curriculum director of The Nagel Jewish Academy. She resides in Brooklyn with her husband and children.