from Live Free Learn Free
by Kimberly Olson
I used to be a corporate professional and
proud of it, thank you very much. When I found out I was pregnant, it was an easy decision
that I absolutely would continue working after my first child was born. After all, I had
worked hard. I was doing well. I had come a long way. My customers loved me. My bosses loved
me. I was on the edge of slipping up another rung on that imaginary ladder that would lead
to big bucks and self-esteem. I had a day-care plan, my fetus was already on a waiting list
for a really good private school, and I was secretly practicing for the interview for my
next big promotion. I would take my twelve-week maternity leave and be back in the game.
Sven was born, and one look at that little face told me I could never again step back
into my office and shut off the mother in me to become Manager for ten hours a day. I couldn’t
take my eyes off this beautiful creature and couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else
taking care of him. I couldn’t stand the idea of missing his warm little body next to
me, or having someone else see his first steps or hear his first words. Titles be damned, I
went back to work when my son turned thirteen weeks old – and gave my notice the next
Leaving work was easier than being home. I sat around holding the baby for a
while but found I needed more cerebral stimulation. Grasping what others had always called
my “artsy” side, I painted furniture on walls. I painted frames around prints
stapled to the ceiling. I created a tree from a pole in the house that couldn’t be
moved. I painted plaster walls to resemble brick. I even painted a faux safe behind an
expensive mirror, just for the fun of imagining it being discovered. I found I love to play
with color, with textures, and with shapes, whether in fabric, or pastels, or the frames
sitting on my dresser. And, I love for other people to love what I do. I found myself
agonizing over want of someone to notice me, to give me a label with which to identify
myself. Even while I was employed (with an official title to comfort me), I had dreamed of
both continuing that career climb and passing on my mysterious artistic flair. I listened to
Mozart in the office and changed the art on my walls so the baby could feel the inspiration.
I watched foreign films. I ate colorful food during lunch breaks to inspire creativity in
this fetus. With his father’s sturdy Norwegian good looks and mechanical brain along
with my ambition, determination, and artsy streak, we would create a prodigy more Picasso
than Picasso himself. Now, I wanted everyone to think of me as an Artist.
was beautiful and very early displayed a talent for building with Legos. He communicated a
great sense of humor. But, I was distraught to discover that my little artist-to-be hated to
get his hands dirty. Finger paints, pastels, chalk, and clay were out.
I held onto
hope for other mediums. By eighteen months, he also hated blowing bubbles and coloring pages
with crayons, and he despised markers and pastels. Where did I go wrong? I questioned
whether I should have gone back to work and left him in the hands of someone trained to know
what to do, someone who could educate my child competently as I obviously (to me) was
incapable of doing.
When Sven was not quite two years old, his baby sister was
born. With this second child, I found myself with renewed hope of a tiny artistic genius,
just waiting to learn to sit to reveal her talent. But my Signe ate crayons instead of
coloring with them. She ate paint.
“Non-toxic, non-toxic…” I
chanted, frantically reading the label. “I know I read somewhere that this paint is
She ate clay, Play Doh, and sand. I sighed. I looked in her
sweet face and tried to ignore that niggling feeling that tugged me toward public education.
I wanted to be with my children, to get to know them, and to learn with them. Surely, there
was no one more truly qualified for the job than I was.
queried, but no one answered.
I read a few books for teachers about teaching, and
I decided I could teach my children to love art. I would teach my children to be artistic
geniuses. They would be, under my competent direction, more talented, brighter, more
amiable, taller, more charismatic, and more wonderful than any child had ever been. I needed
charts, graphs, and books. I needed a written review of my plan and someone to pat me on the
back and promote me to Professor.
My third child, Sofie, would be my last. I was
tired. Every day meant just going with the flow, doing what we could manage to keep everyone
happy and learning. I gave away my closet full of business suits. I threw away the charts
and gold stars. We planned two trips to the library per week, mostly because the story time
gave me thirty minutes just to sit. At home, I stocked up on every kind of art and craft
supply item that struck our fancy as we wandered down the aisle of the store, and I got them
out when they requested – or more often when I felt like being creative. I didn’t
care about the potential disasters on the carpet and tile if artsy stuff gave me two minutes
of quiet reprieve. Thinking about and ignoring the disapproval I imagined I’d get if
my husband or mother-in-law knew, I allowed my children do whatever they wanted to do with
their colorful craft goodies. Even when it meant watching them paint the table with glue and
then peel it off.
As my little ones grew older and I regained some energy, the
feedback from my little protégés came. Sven discovered an attraction for blank
paper over pre-printed coloring book pages and began creating movement drawing with pencils.
He has created tomes of his comic characters, and at age eight is seeking publication. Signe
kept eating or gnawing on whatever I gave her, but found comfort in listening to me read
books to her at the kitchen table while the other children created. She is six and now
possesses a phenomenal eye for detail. She is a critic of art and the world at large and
notices balance and colors all around her, both in paintings and people. Sofie found she
liked working with a paintbrush and a blank page, even if all I dared give her was plain
water as her medium. At age four, she is a painter. Poised with a paintbrush in hand and
actual acrylic paint on her brush, she meticulously creates movement, light, and enthusiasm
with her strokes. She is most interested in the canvas in front of her, and delights in
seeing her framed artwork adorning our walls.
I’ll be the first to tell you
as their mother, that these are beautiful, talented children, whether or not the rest of the
world would label them as such. As their teacher, I believe that maybe some of their talents
come from their genes, or parents, or music; I think most of it comes from their own
explorations. They have chosen for themselves to do what they do, which is why they excel
where they do. We all have a lot of learning and growing and exploring to do in the years to
come. I don’t know if any of us will decide to create art for a living when we are all
“grown up.” Signe is working on writing books and wants to hire me as her
illustrator. We shall see.
Lately, I have discovered that my most valued
promotions have come from my children. Every spark of an idea with which they entrust me,
every play they create and perform, every giggle is a success. They are constructive critics
of our field trips, our dinner experiments, and the books we read. They tell their friends
their mom is an Artist. They tell people their mom is their Teacher. I have even overheard a
conversation in which my daughter was consoling her friend, explaining how her mom is her
Best Friend, “and you can only have one best.” I still want to do the best I can
at everything I do, and I still love it when others notice me. My “job” doesn’t
offer flextime or paychecks. But, I’ll never again turn to employment as a place for
encouragement and titles. It turns out the title “Mom” is the only one I really
Kimberly Olson is a freelance writer and community activist. She
enjoys painting in the California sun with her husband, Scott, and three children.