So this happened today:
No, not the marker on her face. That happened yesterday. The hearts happened today.
My initial reaction was to be upset. There was paint on the floor, the wall, her . . . It was a mess! I took a breath, looked at her, and said, “Babe, we put a lot of paper in your desk for painting.” It was a toss-away line–something I said, hoping I sounded neutral, to buy myself time to think about what to do. Have her help me wash it off and explain that we don’t paint on the walls? Give her extra cleaning chores as discipline? Take her paints away for awhile? . . .
We’d never made a specific rule about not painting on your walls, although by the look on her face when I entered the room, she was expecting a negative reaction. When I mentioned all that paper we’d bought for her in a calm and normal voice, her relief was evident. She went from tense to relieved to excited in the span of a second. Jumping up from her desk she went to the wall and said, “I really love my hearts mom!”
I replied, “They’re beautiful, baby, but we should get them washed off before they dry.”
“NO! Pleeeeeeaaaaaaaasee? They’re beautiful and I want to keep them!” she didn’t say it with attitude, just genuinely begging to keep her work. She’s always liked to have her room her own way. I’ll hang something up and she’ll move it or put it in her toy box and replace it with something else. And she’s always loved any form of art, but especially art that involves lots of bright colors.
When she was three and Carl had to go back to work after the boys were born, she painted the bathtub in all blacks and browns. And when she was four and Orion was on his last day, she drew him pictures of them together to thank him for being such a good dog. Now that she’s in school, she comes home almost every day with a new, colorful picture that says “I love you Mom” on it.
Out of nowhere, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery came into my mind and I thought of “Drawing Number One” and “Drawing Number Two” (if you haven’t read it, please do, it’s beautiful.) . . .
And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I decided to let her keep it.
Of course I want my girl to grow up respectful. I also want her to grow up with seeds of joy in her heart that she knows how to tend. I want her to know how to make her own moments of sweet, happy freedom and you can really only get that feeling from things like roller skating in the kitchen, having a mud-fight, jumping in puddles, or painting on the walls. And it only works if you don’t have to feel mountains of guilt afterward.
I did have her help me clean the paint off the floor and explain that if she wants to do more painting, we’ll wash off the hearts first and put any new artwork in the same spot. She agreed and then, so happily and so proudly, told me more about her hearts and how much she loves her room and paint and the color pink . . . and somehow, those hearts don’t look like a mess at all to me now.