Tag Archives: Children

Hand Puppets

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I met this week with mentor extraordinaire and best-selling author Jon Katz to work on editing and cleaning up my first full fledged book, “A is for All Nighter”. The fate of the book is in flux as we are still working to find an agent for it and for me. I’m finding the advice of a good mentor like Jon is invaluable as I weigh the options of immediate gratification through self publishing or delayed gratification by trying to find a publisher.

So “A is for All Nighter” continues on the next step of the journey, and a new friend came to find me last week. Her name is Élly.  That accent over the E means you pronounce her name “Yelly”.
she’s kind of a loud little troll, and we had a lot to talk about last week. You see, like most people, there’s a lot more to Élly than meets the eye.

The revelations from the presidential campaign that inadvertently focused the national conversation on latent misogyny and consent brought up unpleasant memories for many women I know and for me as well.  Some people are able to talk about those memories, but sometimes, candor carries too high a price. 

Secrecy also carries a high price, however.  In secrecy there is depression and retreat from the blessings in your life.  There is a constant mental rerun of the memories that encourage self-loathing, and, in my case I began to look in the mirror and see a horrible, ugly, little troll.

That’s when Élly showed up.  Apparently she’s been lurking in the inner world I began building when I was two. She’s been just waiting for the right time to set me straight with some truth about bad things that happen in life and about trolls, about whom there is also much misinformation (they live under bridges, they have bad tempers).

So, like a kid talking to a hand puppet in a psychiatrist’s office, I told her why I felt like a troll and she told me why that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She talked to me about her life and about the strength you find walking through the tears and emerging on the other side into a life you love. 

Élly was so helpful getting me back on track, that we decided to work on my next project together.  She even helped me find it by suggesting that we work to set the record straight about her kind.  Élly’s doing most of the writing, and I’ll be doing the illustrations, and we hope that in a few months we’ll have a kid-friendly book called The Truth About Trolls

So far she seems happy with the first portrait.

 

Yours, Mine, Ours

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For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

B is for Black Hole

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So, I just wrapped up the final rhyme for my parent’s alphabet book, “A is for All nighter”, but I had to revisit the letter B tonight. Because, as anyone parenting a tween knows, in addition to standing for Backtalk and Balk, the letter B also stands for Black hole which is the universally accepted euphemism for “The Kids Room”.

I bring this up because in the last few weeks T2’s room passed Def-Con 4 and was in danger of being condemned (It was even too far gone to use for missile testing). Being one of those creative types who sees a future masterpiece in every dust pile and scrap of paper (not sure where he gets that from), T2 refused to believe us when we warned that the room must be cleaned before our town of 300 people formed a health department for the sole purpose of fumigating his room.

He had tried every delaying tactic in the book for the past two weeks, when I stumbled on a strategy that will someday be be written up in parenting guides–it remains to be seen if it will be under the big Do column or if I’m about to be the most hated mom on Facebook.

Now, H.I. McDonnough once said, “Y’all without sin can cast the first stone.”

See, T1 is getting closer and closer to driving (that’ll be harder story for another day), and like all 15-year-olds he has wild fantasies about what type of car he’ll be driving next year. The older he gets the wilder the fantasy, and the bigger the bankroll he needs, so I withdrew my final bribe to T2 of a trip to the dairy bar and extended a new one of cold hard cash to T1 with one rule.

There were no rules

OK, maybe there was one rule. I mean I did want him to try to steer outgrown toys that weren’t pieces to the recycle bin. And I did suggest he wear safety goggles and a hazmat suit (It was a suggestion born of a similar experience that involve a snow shovel and a black contractor bag six years ago when T1 occupied this very room).

So, yes, I am officially the worst mom in the world, but not for the reason you think. You might say it’s because I sent my first born into the toxic waste dump at the end of the hall, but the pangs of guilt I felt were from knowingly turning T1 and T2 against each other to get the room clean.

But as old toys found their way into tag sale boxes and T2’s collection of microscopic paper scraps were dumped into the firebox, the anguished cries of “No, I wanted to save that candy wrapper” were replaced with high-pitched declarations of “I can do it”.

Ultimately T1 did 90% of the cleaning and T2 graciously took 50% of the credit, and the struggle that had begun weeks ago was over.  It took them less than two hours to get the room clean enough to eat in.

And now I’m trying to decide if the ends justify the means and if Mom is just a nice euphemism for “benevolent dictator.”

Fly

Wave Runner, Watercolor 12x16, Matted to 16x20

Wave Runner, Watercolor 12×16, Matted to 16×20

A few weeks ago an aunt who had been a huge influence in my creative life passed away. Her encouragement was felt even when we didn’t see each other for years.  She and her sister were (and are) not willing to listen to their nieces and daughters downgrade their work or trash their talent, and her words of encouragement are with me every time I pick up a brush.

I found an old black and white picture of her running on the beach where our family has spent the last 80+ summers.  She was so full of joy she looked like she could fly.  Officially I’ve heard that people can’t fly, but my theory is that, instead of keeping the secret of flying all to herself, she shared her joy of life with everyone in her life else so they could soar.

I’m just figuring that out now, and it’s helping me get closer to the secret of flying, of joy and the sharing of it..

$80 Matted Ready to Frame. To purchase the Original, contact me at rachel@rachelbarlow.

Card and Prints of this painting are available here.