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The Creative Family Life

Over the past week, I have quite enjoyed myself while blending, mixing and pouring a fair bit of botanical skin balm and soap. Recently, my son has taken to regularly asking questions such as “Why do I like coding so much?”, “Why am I interested in airplanes” and “Why do I like making video games?” These are questions I don’t have an answer to. Yes, I bought him Dash the robot, his first coding toy, but hard as I try, I cannot get his sister to sit down and apply the necessary logic to make Dash roll and talk and flash his lights. She is just not interested. In fact, each person in my family is fulfilled by something almost entirely different. Most of the time we are all engaged in our own projects and pastimes, though still together. Among us, my son’s are the most unique and I think this is why he sincerely wonders why he likes what he likes.

A worthwhile question. And as I wrote, I don’t know why. Does anyone have the answer?

My husband is a painter. Not once have I entered into his studio to stretch a canvas, pick up a brush, and begin a painting, even though every tool and colour are at my disposal. Some might suggest that I am intimidated, but it is not that. I am simply not interested. A couple of years ago, at a family program at the Vancouver Art Gallery, we were all supposed to use water colours to paint still lifes of flowers. My painting was going okay, It wasn’t as bad as I would expect, but after about five minutes I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to put the brush down. I stood up and went for a walk. I left my family to their fun. Rarely have I felt so overwhelmed by boredom. Yet this is how my husband spends the bulk of his time. Painting is his struggle and challenge of choice. Painting is his zen.

My husband recently asked me with incredulity if our son actually, truly enjoys building video games. After this conversation, my husband began to understand how complicated the codes are that our son is building and now appreciates the focus and drive our son has, to keep going on his projects. Yet he knows that he, himself, could never find joy in this pastime. My daughter loves to go rummaging in the recycling bins whenever she feels like making a craft. But more than that, she is all about drawing and baking. I am an okay baker, but my baking is passionless. My husband loves to cook, but he doesn’t understand baking at all, and really doesn’t want to.

I mentioned to my husband, while putting aside the laundry I was folding in order to rescue a cake my daughter had spontaneously thrown together, that it would be so much easier if our children were passionate about gardening and painting. He wisely commented that we all complement each other. He seemed to pull that out of nowhere and it completely gave me the outlook overhaul that I needed. I much prefer to see our family in that light than to see us engaged in a struggle of competing needs. I find that any kind of competition in our family leaves someone feeling like the loser. This is not what I aspire to for our family.

Prior to meeting my husband, I was known by others for my creativity. I was always making something and I always had been, for as long back as I could remember. At the time that I began to date my husband, I was in school for fashion design and I was thoroughly enjoying the challenge of coming up with sewing and knitting sketches, meticulously drafting them into patterns, and making them come to life. The more challenging or more detail oriented my designs were, the more I enjoyed what I was doing. I put together complicated patterns and embellished the clothing in all sorts of ways, including intricate beadwork and hand quilting. And I confess I enjoyed any attention and praise that I received.

By the time my boyfriend, a well known Canadian artist, became my husband, I no longer received inquiries from anyone about what I was up to. No one was interested in anything I made. Not my family, not his, not our friends (save for one or two from my own past). No more attention. No more identity. I was relegated to being no more than the wife of an interesting, prolific, and successful artist.

This is the kind of moment that teaches you where the drive comes from. I kept on creating quietly. I had one child and then another. All the while I kept designing and sewing for me. I designed and sewed for them. I knitted, finding ways to work with woven fabric as though it was yarn. I learned to needle felt. I sewed my first almost-Waldorf-style doll – which my daughter has no emotional connection whatsoever! I knit and wet felted a playscape blanket. I created terrariums. I threw myself into family Christmas ornament making. I kept on imagining and creating and making. All the while, excited and interested people asked me everything there was to ask about my husband’s art practice.

We moved to a new location. Now that I could be surrounded by plants, I put all my energy again into creating from botanicals in all sorts of ways. My son wonders why he loves what he loves. I wonder, too. It seems that we are born to be who we are. I understand that nurture plays a part…but it seems we are made to be a certain creative type and no amount of exposure to another endeavour is going to alter that one bit.

With every passing year, my husband has become more interested and encouraging of my own personal avenues of creation. In the beginning of our relationship and marriage, my artistic life was so far removed from what he did, and his art world, that I don’t think he understood my creativity at all. Back then I think that in our personal life we were personally living out the hierarchy of the world around us. Now it is anything but. Sometimes my husband tells me that he thinks my projects, what I am currently putting out into the world, are the most interesting project he knows of. While I don’t agree, I do appreciate how much our definitions of and perspectives on the creative life have expanded to include what everyone in my family engages in. This week I read a quotation shared on Instagram by the Sustainable Arts Foundation. The quote is part of a conversation led by art critic, Jerry Saltz, and reads “…the vast majority of children of artists have amazing lives. They have “studio practices” by the age of two. They grow up thinking that being creative is normal and something that everyone always does”. This rung true with me. My kids don’t know how unusual our family life is. (And I recognize that every family is unusual in its own way!) I don’t think that they realize that not every family’s daily orbit rotates around what the creative experiences of the day will be. I feel we do a check in with each other each day as we share and negotiate what we will each get up to, trying to fit in all our desired projects. Not everyone comes out the winner each day, but we do our best to make space for each other. Maybe we don’t know why we like what we like but at least we all know exactly what drives us. This feels good because we have reached the point where, as my husband pointed out, we complement each other. In our family we have grown to create a culture where all of our individual forms of creativity are on equal footing, and of equal value. I didn’t see that coming. All the same, it has arrived. For that, I am grateful.

Wishing you a wonderful and creative week, being you!


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