I became slightly obsessed with collage this weekend. It all began with the warm temperatures and shining sun. My kids wanted to be outside, and so did I. But, I didn't have a current knitting project to keep me company as I sat in the yard keeping an eye on the kids. So, I brought along my art journal, some scissors, a glue stick, an old magazine, and some nature guides for inspiration. Let me tell you, cutting up magazine pages and gluing the pieces onto paper is highly satisfying.
I'm particularly happy about this bird, a barn swallow. I worked quite diligently to cut and paste the wing feathers. I also learned an interesting fact from my little "Dell Encyclopedia of Birds." Barn swallows inhabit open and semiopen country throughout the world except New Zealand and Antarctica. I have strong memories of watching the barn swallows that lived in the barns of the farm I grew up on. I admired the nests they made of mud and clay, perched high on the beams of the hay barn.
I recently found this book, Gypsy Girl's Best Shoes by Anne Rockwell, at a local Goodwill store. I had this book as a child and hadn't thought of it in many years. Finding it brought back a flood of memories about books in my childhood. My mother belonged to a Parents' Book Club. Every month a hardcover children's book or two would arrive in the mail. After all the years my mother belonged to that club we had many shelves of books to enjoy. I remember one rainy Saturday my brother and I tried to read every book we had. I think we failed, likely distracted by some other amusement.
This portrait is an effort to capture the impact of breast cancer on my life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just one year ago, at age 41. Getting that diagnosis was one of those completely unexpected, out-of-the-blue experiences. Yes, I had found the lump (small) myself, but I truly didn't expect it to be cancer. Most of the lumps I have found on women in my work as a midwife turned out to be benign, so why not mine?
We don't always get to choose what we get. Sometimes things are simply dumped in our lap and we have to decide where to go from there. And here I am, on the other side now. Cancer-free. From time to time I feel that the cancer must still be lurking around somewhere, but I don't let that thought go very far. Most of the time I am just thankful to be here, to be here for my family, and to be here to see what more there is for me in this life.
The cancer was in my right breast. I had to have a mastectomy to remove the extensive tumor (that small lump I found turned out to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg). I chose to have a reconstructive procedure and now have an implant. I am glad I decided to do this, because I can wear clothes comfortably and I feel "even." I do have scars, across my chest, and under my arm. The scar you can see in the photo, peeking out from under my arm, is where lymph nodes were removed to see if the cancer was invasive. Fortunately, it had not spread.
In the photo, I am wearing a bathing suit. I don't want to hide myself away just because my body has changed. Yet, I am not looking at the camera. I definitely have moments in which I am disappointed life brought the cancer to me, and I want to look away from the suffering. Ultimately, the way I am gently resting my hand on my chest reveals the true outcome of my experience. I find that I am easier on myself and others, and that I love myself and others much more deeply.
Here is a recent snack eaten by my 5-year-old son. Whole wheat toast with cream cheese and jam along with a glass of milk. I show you this because from time to time food can be such a big issue in our family. Really, it is a big issue for me, the mother. I want my kids to eat healthy food. I want to teach them about food: where it comes from, how it nourishes their bodies, how food production effects the health of the planet, how it can bring pleasure. I want them to know how to cook.
But, too often, I end up sounding like a nag. I tell them to eat their vegetables. I tell them that they eat too many sweets. I tell them to, please, just try one bite. Does this sound familiar to any one else?
Well, a gift came into my hands just the other day. I checked Ann Hodgman's book of recipes for kids, "One Bite Won't Kill You," out of the library. Initially, I thought the book would simply add a few more dishes to my repertoire. Rather, it has turned out to be transformative to the way I will forever after think of the tangled relationship of food and mothering. Hidden away at the back of the book is the last chapter, a mere two pages in length, titled, "Why None of This Matters." Here are the words of wisdom that woke me up:
"If you are reading this book, you're probably a fairly comfortable resident of the richest country in the history of our planet. Your concerns about feeding your children are therefore rather trivial compared with those of most of the world's parents, past and present. You wonder how to provide your kids with food they like - not how to provide them with food.
Keep that in mind the next time you worry that your four-year-old doesn't get enough vegetables...Give up the notion that having a child who's a picky eater is a problem. It's not a problem. It's a luxury. True, I wrote this book to make your life easier. But you and I already have easy, easy lives compared to most people, and we should keep that in mind every time we offer our children something to eat.
I'm not saying you should pull out the old "starving Assyrians" line every time your kids refuse to finish their supper. Parents are right to feel a pang when their children snub perfectly good food that could save other children's lives. But the pang should be one of sadness, not guilt. It's terrible that so much of the world is starving. But it's not (directly) your fault - and it's not one bit your children's fault. Not liking a certain food is not immoral. What's immoral is that this world could, right now, grow enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Your energy is misdirected if you heap sorrow on your children's shoulders because they don't like broccoli. Teach them to help the poor instead.
Global issues aside, having a child who's a picky eater is not and never will be your problem. If it's a problem at all, it's the child's to deal with, when he or she decides she's ready. Your job is putting the food down on the table. The child's job is eating it. And "job" is too serious a word for the process anyway. Your kids probably won't reach adulthood never having eaten a bite of salad. Or maybe they will! Do you really care?
If you do, I don't want to know you. Our children are only young for a little while. If we can give them enough to eat, we're lucky and so are they. Let's enjoy mealtimes and not waste anyone's time trying to fix a situation that, for most of us, is already pretty great.
And then let's push in our chairs and go on to more important things."
Food for thought, indeed!
Take a look at this music video by Andrea Dorfman for Tanya Davis' song "Art." It is so inspiring. It reminds me to keep my kids engaged in the creative process even if it seems tiring to haul out the art supplies and clean up afterwards. I have tried to have our house set up in such a way that using art and craft materials is a relatively easy thing. I also recognize that kids do not need a lot of fancy materials to get into the creative groove. Plain white paper, markers, and colored pencils go a long way to occupy the young hands in our home.
My kids have recently found Barbara Soloff Levy's books. While I'm not big on interfering with a child's creative process, I have to say that Levy's books have been very satisfying for my kids because they give the basics for drawing people and animals. I have noticed that once these basics are mastered, the kids improvise in their own direction. Happy creating to you and yours.
I'm going to be participating in Abby's "Five Senses Friday." The basic idea is to write about how my senses are engaged at some point in the day. This is a wonderful exercise, as it eases me into the moment, asking me to discover what exactly is going on.