I’ve come to realise that there are some parenting things I’m surprisingly good at. For example, I have discovered that sometimes I seem to tap some secret, bottomless well of patience in circumstances where, some inner detached part of me observes, I should by all rights be losing the plot and tearing my hair out.
I have also, completely unsurprisingly, discovered that there are some parenting things which I am shockingly bad at. I can get distracted easily. I need good long doses of non-parenting time in order to be a decent parent. I cave too easily when the toddler refuses to brush his teeth.
And I’m obsessively perfectionist when it comes to arts and crafts.
This might be a good trait when you’re busy handcrafting some amazing home made project for yourself or as a gift, but it’s an absolute disaster when it comes to parenting. I sometimes joke to my husband that I definitely have a touch of OCD and he always rolls his eyes and contradicts me. Well, he’s right of course. And it’s not a fair joke to make to someone who actually suffers from real obsessive compulsive disorder, which is a pretty terrible thing to have to live with. But I am, truthfully, obsessive about certain things.
For example, whenever I do lunchtime pilates in our office, I try to claim a particular corner spot by the mirror near the instructor, where I usually have to roll my mat out at a 90 degree angle to the rest of the class, because of the way our gym is arranged. I don’t mind my position being at odds with every one else and I like the spot. Sometimes though it’s not available and I take one of the other regular spots. I unfurl my yoga mat and start stretching and then I look down at the floor….
… and all my concentration flies out the window. I try to ignore it and look up, but every time my eyes fall downward it feels like someone is drilling the back of my teeth. Eventually I huff and give up trying to do whatever exercise I’m in the middle of and I bend down to adjust the mat. You see, if I’m in a position where my mat is parallel to the floor boards of the gym floor, I just. can’t. concentrate if the mat doesn’t line up perfectly with the line of the floor boards. I just can’t. It hurts me to see the uneven lines on the floor.
In the corner where I have to roll my mat out sideways (i.e. perpendicular to the floor boards)? I couldn’t care less about how my mat was laid out. Whether it was a perfect 90 degrees or at some other weird angle. It just doesn’t bother me. I don’t even think about it.
Same thing with the photograph above. We were trying to paint at home and I was trying to teach a not-yet-three-year-old (at the time) how to clean his brushes between different paint colours. Not a very interesting lesson. As soon as I saw that red-soaked paintbrush dip into the pot of green paint my teeth were on edge and I was trying to take deep breaths to calm myself down. So what did I do? I changed the project to doing handprints, because it let me be in charge of the paint brush.
Yeah…. not a very adult or parent-like reaction.
The most recent arts and crafts project I tried involved a lot of double-sided tape. You see, every time I drop Hawkeye off in creche or pick him up, I am endlessly amazed by the rows of relatively neat art work covering the walls. I have often asked the staff how they achieve this. I have gotten various answers ranging from just a long-suffering roll of the eyes, to the philosophical “with great patience” to the more helpful “by controlling where the glue goes.”
The last one caught my attention and I decided to try a project where I covered some paper in double sided tape, and then peeled portions off one at time, giving Hawkeye various materials to stick to it – multi coloured tissue paper, bits of yarn, twine, feathers, felt, etc. Then I had the bright idea of creating deliberate pattern or picture with the double sided tape and only giving him one particular kind of material at a time while peeling off specific parts of the picture.
This worked for all of ten minutes. The toddler soon began to have his own ideas about which things should go where, and I began to get more and more frustrated with myself and with him as the image of the project as I had envisioned it was receding. By the end, I was taking deep breaths and counting to ten and seeking rescue from The Mister.
I couldn’t stop myself. He just wasn’t doing it right. What’s right? Right is the way I want it to be done. Because it’s crafting and apparently I have ZERO tolerance for being involved in an arts project where I don’t have creative control. And this is, of course, a problem. It’s my problem, not my child’s problem. It’s not helpful to either of us and it’s not going to teach him anything useful, other than to be weary of mommy when she’s on an arts and crafts bender.
So I step away. Unlike the images I used to have of me and my kid messing around with paper and markers and what have you, I just engage him in completely different activities. I read with him as much as possible. I do jigsaw puzzles. I play Lego with him (though even here I sometimes struggle to let go of my control and let him build as he wants).
It makes me feel like I am leaving something vital out of our weekend parenting routines to not have this sort of messy activity be part of our lives, but I have not yet learned how to control my own temper and my own compulsion to take control and reorder his work to my own liking. And until I do that, neither one of us would get much enjoyment out of such an activity.
So what am I doing?
I’m anxiously waiting for the coming week to pass until my mother comes to visit for a few weeks because she’s totally good at this sort of thing so she can do it with him to her heart’s content.
Yeah, I know, really mature of me, no? Adulting like a pro by ignoring the issue in the hopes that it goes away.