The art of motherhood

A week ago, I joined a Watercolor group. My mom is an active member (and a wonderful painter) and she encouraged me to join so I could enter this painting of mine into the member show. I did enter, somewhat reluctantly. I’ve always loved to paint, but it has been a tumultuous love affair. Still, it is love, and in really subtle and encouraging ways, my mom won’t let me forget it.

This week, the group hosted a demonstration by the watercolor artist, Thomas Schaller. He describes light and mood and emotion in his paintings so beautifully—I love an artist who has something to say, especially if there’s some color and some abstraction that helps capture the emotional message. I planned to go to the demo even though it was on Sunday, generally a day when the girls and I hang out at home and don’t schedule stuff. Hazel had to go with me (she prefers not leaving the house) so I tried to prepare her for our change of plans with plenty of time.  Preparations began the night before. I told her that she and I would be leaving the house to attend this event, and in her 10-year-old way, as expected,  she expressed her displeasure. She said she didn’t want to go and she huffed and grumbled. On Sunday, I gave her a two-hour notice. By then she was really mad that she had to go and in a 5-year-old style, she crossed her arms and curled up into a ball on the couch while she yelled about how unfair things are and how I must not really love her, or I wouldn’t make her go. In the half hour before departure, it she was outright obstinate. We had a full-on 2-year-old temper tantrum. She refused to go.   Unfortunately, this was not an option.

During this digression, I responded to her as I thought appropriate—calm and unemotional. I let her know that she couldn’t stay home this time for a variety of reasons and that this was important to me and we were going to go. I tried to remain neutral, but here’s the thing. It was an act. I wasn’t neutral. On the inside, I was really angry that she was being difficult and uncooperative.  I was also upset with myself that I somehow failed to anticipate her needs. And I was uncertain. Was I handling this well? Is it fair to make her go with me? I felt a little like a pressure cooker of emotions. By go-time, I was working very hard to keep all this in as she yelled and stomped and slammed doors. We had to leave right then or we’d be late. “Hazel, can I help you get art supplies or books so you can read outside?…. We have to go now.” She was so mad at me that she didn’t want any help but wasn’t exactly moving with appropriate haste for our timeline. I went into her room with a bag for her stuff and she looked at me and slammed the sock drawer closed and then the front of the drawer fell off loudly onto the floor. Loud noise and breaking things set me off. I was, in that instant, completely fed up and I went from relatively fake-calm to freaking out mad in 2 seconds flat. She could see she crossed some line and she was in a big pile of trouble. She just stood there with tears in her eyes while I yelled about being a cooperative member of our family and why are you acting like a 2-year old and this is important to me so can we just go without the dramatics??!!. Ugh.

The whole thing felt really familiar and icky. I’ve done this kind of thing before (see post from two weeks ago) and then, as now, I didn’t shine as a parent and I didn’t understand how I ended up screaming irrationally at my really awesome kid, again. We got in the car and as I looked up directions to the place, I got a text from my mom,“I hope you are coming. You won #1.” I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded promising.

We drove out to the place, Hazel still unhappy about going.  I was embarrassed and a little ashamed that I lost my cool and I was glad that I was going to watch someone paint and that I had won #1 for something. I wanted to enjoy the happy feeling and relax around the other stuff, but it was hard to move on and let that go.  I’m sure Hazel was just as confused as I was. The car ride was long.

Hazel and I made it there just as the demo began. She stayed outside and I went in.  My mom saved a seat for me next to her in the second row. After an impressive introduction and some applause, Thomas Schaller talked about his background and his process. I always love hearing people talk about things they love – especially artists. He talked about what he looks for in paintings: being interested in a painting’s emotion or story, then the design, then the color and last, the technique. He talked about what an honor and a challenge it was to judge the member’s show, and he went on to talk a little about the winners—why he chose what he did and what he looks for in a painting. My painting was in the lineup with some other really wonderful work and it won first place.

The painting is of Hazel, and in one of those miraculous confluences of watercolor and paper, ideas and artist, this painting really does capture some of our relationship’s story and emotion.  When I look at it, it says something about the feelings I imagine she’s going through and some of the feelings I have about being her mom. I catch glimpses of her evolving and complicated emotional life and her changing roles and the beautiful growing pains of toggling between being someone’s child and being her independent self right there in the drips of paint and colors on the page. I’m not sure that’s exactly the story Mr. Schaller saw, but it’s so cool that there was something in there for him, too.

The demo began and from our folding metal chairs we watched Mr. Schaller draw, paint and talk about his process. Over the next hour and I could feel myself settle in to the words, the movement, the water and the colors and finally let go of the stuff from earlier. When it was over and his beautiful painting sat, finished on the easel, Hazel came inside. All of this time, she had been outside care taking of her own letting go.  She did this as she scratched a compass into the hard-packed dirt and picked a nosegay of wildflowers for my mom and read her book in the shade. Earth and nature settle that girl. She came up to me and once she saw how glad I was to see her, she sat on my lap, put her arms around my neck and leaned into me. We had a quiet conversation and I soaked that up as best I could so I could enjoy closeness with her in that moment.

"Blue Landscape" Watercolor, Helen Faythe Green
“Blue Landscape” Watercolor, by my mom, Helen Faythe Green.  Click image to visit her website.

Since Sunday, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what what went on that day. There’s so much that feels really significant and important and I don’t want any of it to slip past me unrecognized. Here are the two main things I’m taking from the day’s events:

1. I want my dynamic with Hazel to improve and I think I need to express my feelings as they are happening in a real way.  Next time Hazel and I have a battle of the wills going on, what if I didn’t hold in what I’m really feeling, and instead find ways to express that stuff in healthy ways? I think it would be helpful for her to know and to see, where I’m at as we are working through something difficult and it would be less of a pressure-cooker situation for me.  I’m not always calm and acting that way just isn’t very honest or productive.

2. I want to paint. Perhaps now, because I have this practice of yoga and couple of years of blog practice, I could spend some time painting and not be so hard on myself. Maybe I could paint and enjoy the process while being less attached to the results. Painting has always been so connected to my ego.  If a painting went bad, then I’d feel bad. But I’m not equal to the result of my paintings just like I can’t measure myself based on the amount of students I have in my classes or how many people are reading this blog.  Do I want to do it?  Am I learning and enjoying the process (even the hard parts)? Is it satisfying? Yes, yes and yes.  Okay then.

I’m going to give these things a try. I’m so grateful that I have two awesome and amazing kids in my life who have made me a mom and made me a person who wants to be better.  I’m so glad that I have a meditation practice and a great yoga teacher and dedicated students (who are mostly teach me) along the way. I’m glad that I have a watercolor group to be a part of and a mom who encourages and inspires me.  I’m grateful for all of this and so much more.


"Hazel," Watercolor on Paper
“Hazel,” Watercolor on Paper


16 thoughts on “The art of motherhood

  1. hi Amanda, i love all three of the paintings you included in this post. I can relate to this story well, and was feeling, as it progressed that you were coming to this new place with Hazel, where ‘acting calm’ won’t get it done. My children have both turned a corner and being more forthright with them is working much better than any pretend-ish parenting i thought i was supposed to do, because i read about it in a book. Lately, i have come to realize how cathartic it is for me to say, “I am very angry that you did X, because that creates Y situation, that is bad for all of us.” Instead of Being Angry, i let myself express that i am angry in this moment, and i move on so quickly. And if i don’t remain Angry (the way my mother parented), both the boys move on quickly too. Hope you are well. congratulation on deciding to paint more.

    1. I’m so glad you are in my life, Rebecca. I imagine you as paving the parenting way for me, because I so appreciate how you are with your boys and your family– thoughtful and real. This thing about moving on and not remaining angry– this is going to be my work. I can see, especially on this day I wrote about, that moving on was really hard for me. I got a little stuck then had to make an effort to et it go. I can see that not hanging on would be helpful in this process. Anyway, thanks for your comment and your support. Good food for thought. xo

    1. Parenting is soooo interesting. I am continually reminding myself of tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara-pranidhana: make some effort, reflect, and trust that things are going to work out for these little people.

  2. You know, Amanda, YES. The first part of the story i know totally. I love your idea of ditching the fake calm and being emotionally honest in a constructive way, and i will definitely be trying that as the other way doesn’t work too well, as we both know 🙂 your paintings…wow 🙂 Thanks for sharing that with us, it’s lovely to have an insight into your life xo

  3. ❤ oh beauty-love. this resonates. yes.
    from the preparations involved in changing the plan to being "real" with kiddo. absolutely yes.
    I believe I believe I believe there are ways that we can hold space for ourselves and our children that sustains everyone. And that we have so many opportunities to begin again.

    1. The opportunities to begin again… aaah, so beautifully said. That is one thing being with children does offer and sometimes it seems a little annoying, but moments like these, where things don’t go quite right, I see that beginning again is actually quite a gift.

  4. Thanks Amanda for sharing your parenting and your beautiful painting -your mum’s too. It’s all hard as a yoga teacher to know all the shoulds and then fall short of all our ideals in daily life. I share your struggles! And my recent attempts to be more creative again resulted in my son using my brand new sketch pad as he had run out of paper for his drawing! Keep up the painting….stunning!

    1. One of the beautiful and oh-so-challenging parts of parenting is the opportunity to try out these ideals over and over and over again…and I haven’t managed to keep my art supplies from the hands of my aspiring young artists, either. 🙂

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