Saturday, October 6, 2012

Painting Pumpkins (and a lesson for mom)

Yesterday I posted a photo of my daughter painting a pumpkin. It was definitely the {this moment} I wanted to share on Friday but I have to admit the picture is a little misleading. It looks like such a clean, orderly project. It was for a while...but then it wasn't. There was a lot behind that image.
This particular moment deserves a little more explanation.

First, painting pumpkins: I know it's probably the most unoriginal fall activity in the world (aside from carving jack-o-laterns) but it's a lot of fun. It's easy and it has the potential to be a little messy.

To paint a pumpkin you need:
Pumpkins, any size
Brushes (or fingers)
Additional decorations (optional--glitter, googly eyes, etc.)

First, wash and dry pumpkins to remove any dirt. I also recommend covering the workspace with some paper. Second, give your child(ren) paint and brushes. Third, see what they do...most kids will smear the paint around with the brushes or their fingers. If desired, sprinkle with glitter while the paint is still wet (I suggest carefully supervising this bit) and shake off the excess. We skipped the glitter yesterday. When the pumpkins are dry, glue on googly eyes for some super fun pumpkins.

Here's a more realistic view of our painting session. It started out like this:
Fairly quickly it got a little messier:
By the third pumpkin, she was in total body painting mode:
And this is where I have a confession. I wanted her to paint pumpkins because I knew she would really enjoy it. However, I was hoping this painting activity would keep her occupied while I did dishes and tidied up the house. I needed to clean and do laundry and pack and sometimes (a lot of the time) it's difficult to clean with a toddler following you around.

My plan was derailed immediately. She wanted me to paint with her. I sat with her for a while and painted a little, trying to encourage her to do it on her own. She was fine painting independently. She just wanted company. I tried to be a good sport and enjoy myself. I made fingerprints on the paper when she moved on to painting her hands and making hand prints. I was still thinking about the laundry. 

Finally, I left her work on the last pumpkin while I went to start the dishes (I was five feet away from the table). This is when she started smearing paint on her arms and her t-shirt. She was clearly done with the pumpkins. She started peeling at the paper I had taped down to make clean-up easier.

I asked her to stop. She ignored me. I asked her again. She ignored me. I sat down next to her and gently took her hands off the paper, demonstrating how I wanted to her to stop what she was doing. I asked her to listen to me. She wouldn't look at me. I explained that I had asked her to stop, look at me, and follow directions.

And she looked at me. 

She gave me a look. That stone faced, "I'm-shutting-down-now" look. That one look made me realize I was being completely ridiculous.  Her look very clearly said, "I heard you and I ignored you because you're being totally unreasonable. I quit listening because it wasn't worth listening. Think about it mom."

I paused and I thought about it. I had no valid reason for asking her to stop tearing the paper.

I told her to stop because it pushed my buttons. It irritated me. It made me that much more aware of how my plan to entertain her while I accomplished something else had failed miserably. I set her up for a painting project on a day I didn't want to deal with an extra mess. When she didn't follow along with my script and paint neatly--when she acted like the two-year-old she is and made a mess--I got frustrated.

Did it make any difference if she tore up a piece of paper that was going to be crumpled up and thrown in the trash anyway? No. Did it add significantly to the mess? No. Was it worth getting all worked up about it? No.

So, I apologized. I told her I was sorry I got upset and that I had been frustrated because she hadn't listened to me. I asked her if she still wanted to tear the paper. She said yes.

I told her to go ahead and tear the paper as much as she wanted. She grinned and began ripping the paper very slowly. Then she ripped it a little faster. 
After a minute she looked up and smiled--and then she said, "See mom, I'm listening to you!" Then she asked me to take pictures for her dad. She asked me if I wanted to rip the paper with her. I did. 
Lesson learned: She listens to me and she does what I ask...when I'm being reasonable.

She's smart. She called me out when I asked her to do something without a valid reason. I think she knew I asked her to quit ripping the paper in a feeble attempt to regain a feeling of control over the situation. She knew I was desperate. She knew I was frustrated that our activity had not gone my way. I hadn't done any cleaning and she'd made a mess. But the situation was entirely my creation. I should have expected this activity to get messy. Because I was frustrated I asked her to stop simply to make myself feel in control--and she knew it. She knew I was being absurd.

Please don't misunderstand. This wasn't the moment I realized my daughter calls all the shots in our house and I bent to her will. This was the moment I realized that I need to be okay admitting when I've made a bad choice. I need to show her it's okay to admit when I'm wrong and fix it. Our parent-child relationship is a learning experience for both of us. It's not just me teaching her--she can teach me too. 

And if I hadn't addmitted my mistake, if I hadn't retraced my steps and tried again...I would have missed this wonderful moment. Yes, those are scraps of paper stuck to the wet paint on her arm. She placed each one very carefully and made sure it stuck just right.
Later I gave her some containers and she spent some time filling them with the scraps of paper and dumping the paper from one container to another. During that time I was able to wash the dishes. While I was washing dishes I reminded myself that seeing the joy on her face as she crinkled and ripped the paper and explored the textures of the dry paper and wet paint was so much more important than an empty sink. 

When she was finished. She dumped all the paper in the trash and I gave her a quick bath.
It was simple and painless. In the end it was a successful morning and I'm looking forward to our next pumpkin painting session. 

Editor's note: Posting so many pictures of my daughter makes me a little nervous. I'm a paranoid mom. In case you haven't read the "about me" page recently, please remember not to use or reproduce images or text from this blog without express written permission from me. Thanks! 

This post is part of Seasonal Celebration Sunday, and the Tuesday Baby Link Up.  


  1. how much do I love this entry--such good mommying going on, both for her and for yourself :) xoxoxo, Hanna

  2. It's true! You will learn so much as you go when parenting. Half the things you will learn will come from your child (or children), and many times these lessons will be in the middle of a parental meltdown. I want to hug you right now. This is such good writing! Posting pictures of perfect activities is all well and good, but anyone who has parented for any length of time will know that you are leaving out something. And that something is often where the real story shines through. Bravo! I like your writing tonight!!

  3. admitting we are wrong teaches so much

    thanks for this beautifully written post.

  4. I remember my mum letting my brother and I do halloween painting when we were little, she left us to it for a while and when she returned there was red and black paint everywhere (including in my brother's mouth!).

    It was part of the deal that we'd help tidy up (and did so)...but next time we were alot more careful with where the paint went because the tidying up part was horrible! Lol.

    I loved today's post! :)

  5. I will have to show you pics of my art desk right now. It is new and white so I am ordering a tempered glass piece to use on to of it. Right now it is covered in brown craft paper. I have turned over ink pads and am grateful it was covered (hubby did it..) One of my favorite finds for crafting though, is a craft mat by Ranger. Is is a nice large size and non stick, and heat proof and WIPES off with any cloth. In case when she gets older you want something on top of the paper to save your table. I carry little ones with me to classes etc. They are not expensive either. Your daughter is adorable and her joy in her time with you and creating is obvious.

  6. Have I mentioned what an awesome mom you are?! I can't say that I'd have seen the situation with as much wisdom as you. I have daily power struggles with my daughter, in part because she's so strong-willed and intent on doing what she wants, but in part because I want to contain messes and control certain aspects of our life whether it's reasonable to do so or not. I need to sort this out and be the 'bigger' person. I try to always give a reason when I'm telling her to stop doing something, but sometimes I just need to let it go and focus on the precious moments I have with my little girl. Thanks for the reminder!



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