Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Controlling Art Teacher on the loose....

The four of us have been home together for almost two weeks now--for the kids' winter break from school--and Astrid is losing her mind. Actually, I'm losing my mind (I can't speak for my husband) because Astrid is (I think) so bored that her behavior is just awful right now. She's a challenge under the best circumstances, but I don't think I realized what a good job her teachers and friends do of tiring her out. Lately, even when she's exhausted, she still finds reserves of energy for mischief and mayhem.

I'm not sure why it took me so long, but last night after dinner I realized that we needed some serious, kid-focused "project time." I got out the paint-and-glue-covered purple vinyl tablecloth (left over from one of Elliot's early birthday parties)--a signal to both Elliot and Astrid that it's "project time"--as well as a fistful of glitter glue tubes, a couple of shirt box lids from Christmas, and some mosaic squares and strips I quickly created with my rotary cutter and some scraps of paper. I always have a process or product in mind when I get a project going, and, of course, it's never the process or product my children are interested in pursuing---this, obviously, is my problem, not theirs. As a way of making myself feel better about my need to control their experience, I tell myself that, if I didn't go with my own ideas about what might be fun, I'd probably never be able to create chances for them to get their hands messy and concentrate on something other than mentally torturing each other.

At first Elliot didn't want to participate, but he eventually jumped in (more about him in a moment). Astrid, on the other hand, knew just what she wanted to do: squeeze as much glitter glue as possible onto her shirt box, and then leave it there. Controlling Art Teacher (me) tried to get her to spread it around with her fingers (not possible: with the exception of bread dough, she can't stand the feeling of most squishy things) or a paint brush, or to use it as glue to make a mosaic. No: it was, and would be, a mini-mountain of glitter glue, one that would, were the heated air in our house not so dry, be moist for at least two days.

When Controlling Art Teacher saw that Elliot had produced a semi-evil looking face with the paper bits and glitter glue (reminiscent of the face on the peeing Calvin cartoons that some people still have on the back windows of their pickup trucks--not that Elliot probably had it in mind), she decided that he needed to work in a more abstract vein. In order to keep this wish from seeming like a form of negative criticism, C. A. T. gave Elliot an "art challenge": using a 6" X 6" styrofoam square (also from our Christmas trash/recycling pile), he needed to cover the whole space without attempting anything obviously representational. C. A. T. believed that Elliot would relish this challenge. Elliot's pretty smart, though, so, of course, he saw it as an imposition (which it was! Even C. A. T. knew this!). He played along for a while, and then got bored.

That's when C. A. T. made her most desperate move: she told Elliot that the "art challenge" was going to prepare him to help arrange a big pile of pieced strips that were going into a small quilt for Astrid's bed. He needed to learn how to visualize how bits of different colors look when they're placed close together. Yeah!

I have two really good kids. Sometimes I realize how lucky I am that they put up with me. I did let Elliot help me arrange the blocks for Astrid's quilt, and he did a great job--the "art challenge" notwithstanding.

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