By Claire Bischoff
My best friend growing up was not into the usual play date fare; no Barbie dolls or playing school for her. What she really loved was art, so when we knew she was coming over, my mom would let me pick out an art kit at the local toy store. A go-to favorite was a pin making kit. We would pour the clay into the molds the night before, so that when my friend arrived the next day we could get right to painting our new jewelry. Try as I might, my pin never turned out as cool as the box made it look like it should be.
Unfortunately, “try as I might, but never” became the refrain I associated with most of my artistic endeavors. Try as I might, my coloring never looked as beautiful as my mother’s, who outlined each part of her picture with a firm bold stroke before coloring in the space in between in a gentler hue. Try as I might, my construction paper snowman was never as cute as the model the teacher had taped to the board for us to copy. While other students struggled with reading and multiplication tables, I inwardly stressed out about art class, since I could never make the product match the vision in my head. By the time I got to high school, I had given up on artistic creation completely, electing to take art history and art appreciation courses rather than studio arts to fulfill that portion of the graduation requirements.
Despite my own uneasiness with producing art, when I had my first son seven years ago, I anxiously awaited the moment he would be old enough to grasp a crayon or run his pudgy fingers through finger paint. This felt like a second chance to get good at art, and in my impatience to recapture (or maybe experience for the first time) a child-like joy at creating, I picked out projects that were wildly beyond his ability level and then felt frustrated and disappointed when they did not hold his attention for more than thirty seconds or when the final product was not aesthetically pleasing enough to hang on the fridge for all the world to see. Fortunately, I had wiser friends around me, and from them I learned some crucial lessons about doing art with children, namely, to follow my children’s lead in terms of their artistic interests and to focus on the process more so than the product.
It is with great joy that I have watched my two sons blossom into artistic creators as they have grown. This past weekend, as we were getting ready to leave a restaurant, my four-year old leaned over to ask if he might bring the discarded pull-tabs and drink coasters from our table home for an art project. Where most people would see material destined for the garbage, he envisioned a new pig he could make for the live-action Angry Birds game he plays constantly. With a piggy nose drawn on it and googly eyes glued in place, the coaster became the pigs’ face, and taped to the back of the coaster with green washi tape, the pull tabs became ears and a hat. With a huge smile of pride and satisfaction on his face, he emerged from the basement art room, saying, “Mom, look at what I made!”
When I see the joy that my sons take in making something new, I can better understand what it means to affirm God as Creator, not just at the beginning but as an ongoing force in the universe. Rather than being hemmed in by fear and uncertainly, as I was growing up, God (and my sons) create with excitement, with hope, with an eye toward possibility, and out of the desire to see what might be and with the trust that what might be will be good because the Creator wills it to be good. Like my son gathering up the waste from our table and making something new, God nudges us to remember the parts of ourselves that we would rather forget and empowers us to use them to make the world new. God is present with us in the times of the deepest sorrow and biggest regret and finds a way to make something beautiful out of the tears and ashes, because that is what Creators do.
In an effort to tap into the joy that comes with creation, last week I met a good friend at a craft store, and she helped me pick out yarn and needles. This weekend she is going to give me my first knitting lesson. It is my fervent prayer that I can learn from my sons, focus on the process of creating something with my hands rather than harshly judging the product as not quite good enough, and connect with the Creator who knit all of us together in our mother’s wombs and who continues to fashion us in Her image.