I sit with my daughter in the backyard on a balmy Sunday afternoon, watching her creative side come to life with a paintbrush. Coming off of a week filled with less than desirable behavior, we both need a break from the trying and not listening and stressing and missing out. It’s a great relief to see her engaged and enjoying her little life.
The trouble my little free-spirit is having right now (always?) is not following instructions that allow her to participate. This issue comes and goes, and only concerns me when she misses out: leaving gymnastics class early, bailing on birthday parties, getting picked up early from school. She is 50% FOMO (fear of missing out), but 50% rebel. Because she’s human, it floors her when she misses something she wanted to do. Because she’s three, she cannot yet recall the upset and use it to change her pattern the next time.
It would be downright hypocritical of me to begrudge her non-conformity. Her will is strong and glorious and inherited from her mother. I rarely care if she behaves for the sake of behaving; she has plenty of time to learn about “the way the world works” and other valid but mundane concepts. I just want to see her happy. She has plenty of passions and hobbies that require few rules or other humans, though. She’s an artist, a reader, a chef, a storyteller, a make-believer, a lover of glue-based projects, and a dedicated snuggler.
I let out a breath held with concern for a whole week as I watch her paint. I admire the way she studies the blank paper with steady eyes and pursed lips. Her little hands work with ease to dip her brush into the clear plastic cup of water and glide it across a light blue watercolor paint until it has the right saturation.
“I’m making a blue sky …” she says absentmindedly.
Bouncing lightly from one jelly-sandaled foot to the other, holding the brush in front of her with both hands, she contemplates her next color selection. She reaches across to the palette of pearlescent paint.
“I need all these dark colors to make the clouds.” You sure do, kiddo – you need all the colors.
“See, it’s an island. Of beautiful stuff.”
By this point she’s filled the entire page with shimmery opaque neutrals, but sure enough, I see her island take shape.
“My island needs some water to drink” she says with a splash of aqua. “A thing for the sun to set on” with a dash of purple.
She works intently, chatting the entire time, pausing briefly to see what her brother is painting (nothing – he is dumping cups of water on the grass and cheering “dump it out!”) I offer her his untouched paper and she says “oh yes – will you help me make a rainbow on it?” My pleasure, sweet girl.
She stays absorbed in painting the two pictures (and a discarded piece of fence board) for an hour or so. By now, the freedom and flow have loosened her up, filled her needs, led her naturally back to cooperation. “Mommy, is it okay if I dump the water onto the wood?” “May I use this stick now?” These requests from the girl who looks me dead in the eye while refusing to put on underwear.
Whatever is making her temporarily (or permanently) adverse to structured group activities, she needs more of THIS now. The rest will follow. Or maybe we will all follow her when she becomes the boss of the world.