In Which Acrylic Paint Turns Me Into My Mother

He is seven! I thought. "You are seven!" I shouted. "You know better than this!" And thus in that moment, my transformation into my mother was complete.

Over the past couple of years I have caught myself saying things from The List of Phrases, things like:

  • When I was your age...
  • Just wait until daddy gets home...

But I was caught off guard by this last one, because seriously. He IS seven, and he OUGHT to know better.

Let's step back, shall we? Yesterday I handed Rowen the delightful book "Wreck This Journal" by Keri Smith. Rowen pretty much couldn't believe her eyes. So it's ok for me to crack the spine? Throw this book off the porch and out into the yard? Best.Book.Ever. Of course Elliott wanted in on the game. So thanking Heaven for Amazon Prime, I hopped on and bought him one, and it arrived this afternoon. Same awesome result: total creative abandon.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri Smith

Wreck This Journal, by Keri Smith

Now I don't blame Ms. Smith for the next bit - she can't have known about my family's unfortunate (dare I say star-crossed?) relationship to acrylic paint. So when the book said to make fingerprints, Elliott dug out a bottle of bright green acrylic paint from some recess in the house (possibly put there by an vengeful angel of the devil), and that's the last I see of him for a few minutes.

I was in the kitchen, dishing out pie and ice cream for an afternoon snack like the virtuous and devoted and spotlessly coiffed and manicured and aproned mother I am, when Elliott comes in from the front door covered in green paint to the elbow. I looked blandly around - this isn't the first time I've seen paint to his elbows - and he said, "I did an awesome fingerprint! The paint is on the patio."

Some of this, especially the sinister phrase "the paint is on the patio" should have triggered something. But I was recovering from last night's migraine and frankly just not feeling as suspicious as I should have been. So a couple of minutes later I head for the front door to ask Rowen if she wants caramel sauce, and WHAAAA! Green paint! In a huge, and I mean HUGE swath on the porch. Some of it was already dry. I say, "What have you done??" (In my best I-just-became-my-mother-shout)

And then. He says (I am repeating this through mental clenched teeth), "I told you the paint was on the patio, and you said OK." I closed my eyes. possibly turned my face to the heavens. I know I sighed in defeat. What I mostly felt was a serious case of déjà vu. Oh there have been other times when I've come stumbling out the front door to the sight of acrylic paint. Yes there have.

We did the only thing to be done. We got the bleach and the spray cleaner and scrubbing brushes and the hose, rolled up our pant legs, and got maybe 80% of it out before the remnant joined the other colors (royal blue and teal blue, respectively - at least my little paint monsters have good color sense) embedded into the concrete on our front porch.


Elliott is super sorry. He said it like 15 times. Of course he has no good reason why, in the name of all that is good and holy, he couldn't have gotten a paper plate or one of the several hundred sheets of newsprint we have just for the purpose of putting paint on. And I guess it doesn't matter. It was, after all, the project I had given him, and I had done so in the name of creative abandon. And really, in the long run, at least from the perspective of someone who is seven, the line between creative abandon and utter fool stupidity is very, very faint.

And there have been, and most likely will be, worse than this. So it won't pay to overdramatize now, and then have nowhere else to go when he reaches 16 and is brought home by the police or the Stake President. Gotta pace myself.

And I do enjoy the irony, that my transformation into my mother has taken the form of spilled acrylic paint, since art and color are my life. For memory's sake, here is the layout I created in 2008 about acrylic paint. (Clearly I have something to learn here?)

Lest you disbelieve me. Here is my record of the event from 2008. Click to read.

For some women it's carelessly broken bones and other preventable injury (as in Jared's mom's case), or spoiled behavior, fights at school, or their child simply hitting 11 or 13 or 15 that triggers The Phrases. It seems to be when we're facing something in our children that defies both logic and reason, when this small human being before you suddenly turns into a stranger, that we suddenly find ourselves adrift. Standing before you, possibly soaking wet, or covered in paint, or tomatoes, or hay, or with green hair, or a new tattoo, is this messy or careless or reckless or just plain stupid stranger - that still somehow you are responsible for - and the ground suddenly becomes unstable. What do you say in the face of utter, blind, inexplicable folly?

How about:

  • "What have you done?"
  • "What were you thinking?"
  • "Don't you realize what could have happened?"
  • "How could you do this?"
  • "You ought to know better!" (ahem)
  • "Just wait until Daddy comes home!"
  • "When I was your age, I would never dreamed of . . ."
  • "What do you have to say for yourself?"
  • "Go clean this up RIGHT NOW."
  • "Haven't we taught you anything?"

And et cetera. Is there a book we all read from? There might as well be. Clearly there have been others who stood on this windy precipice before us. My kids are only 9 and almost-8, and I think ALL of these have come out of my mouth now.

Maybe this is our mothers' ultimate payback. Their reward (whether they know about it yet or not) for the times they stood in front of the small-wet-bedraggled-damn-fool us, with their eyes wild and hair flying, and shouted incoherently about knowing better. And then still let us live to see another day under their roof.

Surely for mothers there is some reward - even 25 years later - in hearing from your kid that she finally gets it. In fact, I am off to call my mom, to give her just that satisfaction. Goodness knows that for the level of restraint she showed in my case - all of my cases - she deserves it.

Happy Mother's Day this Sunday to you, too, mama. May you someday, having slogged through paint and driving and injury and utter blind selfish foolishness, feel the satisfaction of important work well done. As I hose down my front porch one last time, I hope that for us both.

-xo, J