I want to share the thrill of setting out with paint on a page, scared that I wouldn’t be able to convey what wanted to express, and then the delight of finding my heart had something else to offer instead.
It started here …
And was inspired by an early morning walk around the Botanical Gardens.
No, earlier, by a dream at about 3am. In the top of this page, there’s a crocodile. I dreamed that my daughter was our local park. It was flooded, she was playing exuberantly at the edge – I called out to be careful, too late, she slipped in … Just as I saw the jaws of a crocodile emerge. My heart froze with fear, terrified of the teeth of the crocodile but even more so of loss. So I dove in … And as you might predict: then I woke up! No wonder I wanted to paint it out. Unresolved …
Then, walking around the Botanical Gardens, I watched a little boy of about 3 years trying to be heard. His mother was talking to his father. The little boy cried: “I skip, dad, I skip. Daddy, Daddy I SKIP”.
Once his voice grew too loud for the adult conversation to continue, he was lifted into the pram. He wailed and arched his back, “I don’t NEED to go back in the pram. I don’t NEED to.”
Threats followed on either side. Mum: “keep your voice down!”. Dad: “you’ll have to stop crying or else …”
I felt tears well up in my chest. I was aching for all of them. The woman wanting to be heard and enjoy connection with another adult, the man torn between his son’s need for play and attending to his wife.
But mostly my chest ached for that little boy who was the smallest and least skilled of them all in knowing and saying what he needed. Thud – no say, just get in the pram, accept it and shut up.
Oh, of course, I must have been aching for me and my own little family – that all too familiar tug between so many different people and only one set of ears and hands and eyes. Impatience, overwhelm, panic, parenting in public.
Then, just a few feet along, a family of ducks crossed my path. My tears became a gasp of joy. I crouched to watch the ducks cross. The mother (I’m guessing) was at the helm, scurrying. The ducklings patterred close behind, then the father bringing up the rear. I could just about feel how their hearts must be pounding in their chest. That tenderness I felt for the mother and father duck, their alert eyes and thudding pulse.
Still, my heart was with that little boy’s indignation at being misunderstood and threatened for expressing his indignation: “I don’t need to go back in the pram”. I wished his parents could help him name his feelings: are you frustrated because you wish you could keep walking? Honey, we want to keep walking. We’re going to put you in the pram now for a bit. Are you so mad about that? You want to keep playing and skipping!
Yeah, easy to see from this vantage point. I’m not the one doing the parenting then and there in that fraught moment. Mourning the many times I’ve expressed my own overwhelm and tiredness that way to my own kids and partner. We’re all in this pain together.
I was thinking of Alice Miller’s work about the powerlessness of seemingly benign childhood moments and how they shape the adults we become. I was imagining this boy becoming someone’s manager, colleague, partner, father in the future … And wishing he could experience compassion in this moment. That they all could. It’s just bloody hard when you want to walk along and enjoy a conversation and some sunshine and one voice is booming over the top. Bloody hard and frustrating and painful.
Now, watching the ducks, I started to savour how easy it is to feel compassion for a family of anxious creatures who seem smaller and less powerful than me. My heart started to open for all of the family I’d been choked up about.
I came home and started to work on a green background that I’d prepared earlier …
Darn, I wasn’t liking this. Okay, let’s mess it up and see what emerges. Let go of the message, let life flow.
Okay ducks, boy, crocodile, me, the mum and dad – all gone. The rich red was fun. And applying the paint with a plastic knife. The buttery texture, the orange, that dark brown – something there about Botanical Gardens.
Hmmm, now what. Let it dry. Do the dishes, some washing. Wander. Eat a bananna. Hmmm – then I passed this picture that I’ve had sitting on the top of my cupboard for a while. I enjoyed making it. However, suddenly, I felt really bold. Yes, collage. Make the shapes out of it. Why not, mess it up. Let’s go!
So I drew on the back, knowing that the shapes wouldn’t be precise to the eye when they were done. This was going to be abstract, impression. I like that wisdom. The eyes that see it will make their own meaning.
Then, finally, I grabbed some wallpaper offcuts and stuck some of the collage onto there. Ahhhhhh. It’s out.
One thing I notice about what’s emerged is that the focus items are the children and animals: the teenager, the boy, the crocodile, the ducklings.
I’m going to guess that’s about wanting to be so strongly connected to feelings and needs the way children and animals are. Unjudging, they express what they want and don’t want.
No, you don’t need to get back in the pram. Your parents want some peace and rest. And that’s okay too. But you’re not bad for wishing you could still be walking and skipping and having some attention too in this moment. It’s just not happening for now. Compassion, understanding … Growing his capacity to know and accept and contain his own feelings as he grows into his own boss, friend and parent.
How about that.