We Came , We Saw, We Painted, and We Set Them Free!
I truly love my family, even though over the years I’ve chosen to live over a thousand miles away. Since the recent death of my youngest brother who lived in their vicinity, and the realization that my beloved mom is almost 88 I have been making a more concerted effort to “drop by” to visit more often. The challenge I have is that despite my love for them, it can be difficult to maintain the positive attitude that I am learning is of fundamental importance to growing this new life I am creating.
My mother’s view is that the world operates by Murphy’s Law. For those unfamiliar, Murphy’s Law states that, ” Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment.” She has trained all her children to actively assume that dreadful things are guaranteed to happen, so why try to accomplish anything. She is however, extremely intelligent, funny, creative, caring, an excellent writer, and knows who she is & what she wants. My disabled brother Allan lives with her. At 88, she is his primary caretaker. For them it works. Allan has multiple physical challenges (he had a stroke at 2 and was paralyzed on his right side). He has difficulty walking and controlling his right hand and arm which is very frustrating to him. As such he is more than content to be waited on. He has other issues, & don’t we all… He is also wickedly funny (if you pay attention), very artistic, loves puzzles and word games, is somewhat of a cross dresser, and is so used to being ignored that he has learned to always carry some form of game or puzzle with him to entertain himself.
It is always with some trepidation I head down to visit them. They live in an apartment so packed with STUFF, there is no place for a visitor to sit. The TV is on constantly, this is as far as I can tell their only form of entertainment, besides grocery shopping, Dr’s visits, and occasional dinners out for family events. Neither is physically able walk any distance which eliminates most other outings. This truly creates a challenge for connecting as the only opportunities involve one restaurant visit after another, expensive, challenging, and fattening.
The last time I was down for a visit, I arranged to do a small art project with them so that we would have an opportunity for some actual quality time. I was staying at my older brother’s house, so I had the time and space to spread out (Thanks Ken!). It seemed to be a success, everyone one got their hands a little dirty, and was pleased to leave our ‘Gifts’ in the garden there. This trip I was determined to do something similar. #PaintedRocks seemed to fulfill all the criteria, art, positivity, creativity, and above all letting the STUFF go at the end.
To back up a moment, my introduction to the Painted Rocks craze was inspiring. I had signed up to do the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run/Walk last Fall. It is a 6.5-mile course that takes you over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Having been very out of shape my goal was to make it as far as the middle of the bridge, able to look down and take pictures of the water below. As a Bay sailor I had often been under the bridge, this time I wanted to be on top. I had been assured that if I couldn’t make it to the end, there would be transportation from the organizers to the finish line. I was delighted that I had made it up and over the bridge only to find that there remained an additional mile to be traversed. Yikes! As I rounded the corner at the end of the bridge, exhausted, and a bit worried I wouldn’t make it, I looked down and saw this…
It was a small smooth rock with this message painted on it. “You are so close to the victory, don’t you dare give up now!” I giggled and took the message to heart. Even though no one was monitoring me (I could have taken a short cut, or given up, I continued around that last mile to my own internal cheer, all from the gentle chastisement of that rock, and the person who had placed it there. I didn’t keep it, I did take this picture to remind me of the difference a little encouragement at the right time can mean.
So back to the family trip. I gathered some supplies, paint, brushes, and even bought some rocks (they sell the smooth ones at Michael’s), picked up my mom & brother & headed back to Ken’s house. I proceeded to tell them the story of my experience while spreading out newspaper & putting out the supplies. They both seemed a little dubious as I explained the criteria for the sayings, short enough to paint on the rock, and a positive message.
We brainstormed a bit coming up with some funny but not very inspiring, “The Fashion Police are Everywhere.” The more esoteric, “Life is a Bubbling Brook,” a saying favored by my late stepfather (A story for another day). And finally coming up with a list of acceptably interesting sayings. We voted for our favorites, and while doing that, unbeknownst to me Allan had already begun painting a few of his own. We ended up with 7 rocks, painted legibly. Even more important we had a conversation. We talked about might happen to Allan when my Mom passes, what his living situation might be. We talked about the school my mom had with my stepfather, and she shared the evolution of their deciding to start it, we talked about my brother David and how we missed him. All in all, we had a couple of hours of quality interaction, an anomaly of late.
As we finished up Allan started to gather up the rocks to take home. I explained that the point of the exercise was to send our messages out in the world, he relinquished his hold and let me keep them.
Two days later, I came by and picked them up, and while I drove I encouraged them to direct me to the spots we would leave the rocks. This was an important completion, the letting go.
We had a rock that said, “Are We There Yet?” and Mom determined the bus stop would be a good spot. Another said, “To Plant a Garden, is to Believe in Tomorrow,” that of course was placed in a public garden. At their condominium there was a perfect location by the community mailbox where a rock regularly was used to hold down flyers and such. Allan put his, “Thank God” rock there. You get the idea.
We had fun, spent 2 days together uncomplaining, laughing, connecting, and hopefully also spreading some laughter and joy in the world. It was a powerful paradigm shift, at least for me. It was a concrete way for me to share time with them in a positive, uplifting, and creative way.
So often doing art together gets relegated as something only for small children. Doing art together is an activity that is a part of our tribal past. Making allows us to step outside of our regularly scheduled programs of interacting and connect in a more meaningful way. For me this art activity allowed my family and I to spend time together that was more satisfying than chatting over a pastrami sandwich surrounded by curious onlookers. Try this with friends or family next time you get together, you might be surprised.