So young Ethan and I are working on Christmas Crafts this week and I let some small expletive slip when one of my reindeer's google eyes slid down his clothespin face and landed on his felt tongue. Curious to know what prompted my outburst, Ethan glanced over at my handiwork and asks "What's the matter, Mommy?".
"Oh, nothing. It's just my reindeer eyeball fell off and now it's stuck to his tongue and I can't get it off and now this one is going to be a reject."
And my sweet little boy looked at me with a solemn countenance and said "Art is never wrong, Mommy." and then went back to his work. And it's a good thing he did, because if he had continued to look at me, he would have seen Mommy's teary google-eye sliding down her cheek onto her tongue. He's such a great kid, that one.
And it made me thankful for the wonderful preschool he attends that encourages him to be his best, to express himself, and to strive for pride in his work - rather than perfection. But it also reminded me of a different experience I had with art.
Back in high school, we were forced to take a creative arts class to fulfill our graduation requirements. Possessing neither a musical nor artistic bone in my body, I was pretty much fucked from the get-go. But, I figured it would be easier for me to fake it through art rather than band, since I may be tone-deaf, but I'm not blind.
So here I was, super-Mathlete stuck in an art class trying to draw flowers and whatnot. Eventually we graduated from pencils to paint and I thought I'd be golden from here on out. I mean, I was a faithful viewer of that painter guy on PBS - the white dude with the afro that painted "happy little clouds" and "happy little trees" all the time. You know the guy, right?
So I started my painting with a happy little stream and added lots of happy little trees and happy little clouds. I layered my paints, trying to emulate my happy little painter dude. I spent two weeks working on that damn painting and by the time I was done, my 8x11 masterpiece must have weighed about ten pounds with all the happy little layers of paint. It was the first artistic thing I had created that I actually liked, although, admittedly, there hadn't been many attempts.
So I'm showing my painting off to the folks at my art table, and most likely bullshitting a bit and talking about whatever party was coming up that weekend. Apparently, I was being a bit boisterous (I know, you're SHOCKED to learn that I'm loud-ish) because the art teacher was getting a bit testy, telling me to sit down and finish my work already. I held up my piece to show her how magnificent it was and doesn't she say - and I am not making this up - "That looks like shit."
Yeah, public education is great, ain't it? Now, while she didn't come right out and say my art was "wrong", I did get the impression that she didn't quite think it was "right" either. I was intuitive like that, even back then.
Well, I don't have to tell you that my inner happy-little-artist died right there on the spot. It's not like I ever would have been a career artist, but that bitch sucked any possible future joy out of it like a Dyson. And from that day forward, any art class homework assignments were completed by my good, and artistic friend, Heather. And I never had to hear another criticism of my artwork - because there was none that I had done.
What's my tragic life story got to do with the environment? It's this: whether it's a passion for art, a love of music or a concern for our environment, it is absolutely imperative that we give our children the encouragement they need to at least TRY. They need to be empowered so that they can find their own solutions, to create their own sonata or to paint their happy little clouds. And they need to do it their own way, which may not necessarily be your way, but it's not the wrong way either.
So the next time your three year old picks up some trash on the playground, don't freak out and scream "Ew! Gross! Put that down!!". I mean, come on, unless it's a dirty needle, I think they'll survive. Instead, help them find a trash can to put it in and tell them how good it is to clean up the playground so animals don't accidentally eat the litter and get sick.
Or if your teenager is complaining about all the soda cans that get tossed into the trash at school, help her find a solution and present it to the school board or PTA. It may take some time on your part, but your involvement will help give her the courage to make a change in her community. And that is huge.
So keep on making eco-changes in your life, but help your kids make their own changes too. It will boost their self-confidence and will help instill in them a sense of pride and a love for the environment. What a great gift to give your children.
And PS? The next time your friend gives you a Christmas tree ornament with a google eye on its tongue, smile and say "What a happy little reindeer!" and let it go at that.
This is my submission for December's APLS Carnival, Children Are Our Greatest Natural Resource, which is being hosted by Robbie at Going Green Mama. Check it out.