DRAWING ON INNER STRENGTH
(NOTE: I wrote this story many years ago. But as I start this Lent I’ve been setting up classes to teach Sacred Art and it reminds me of these earlier days. God, the Creator, likes when we use our God-given ability to create in order to heal the times of brokenness.)
We were done eating and I told my son he could play in the tunnels of the fast-food playground for just a few minutes. “We’ll stay for ten minutes. But when I say it’s time to go, I mean it,” I warned him. In my mind I could see all the things that needed to be done at home. I wanted to get going.
My three-year-old sat in the “ball pit.” He just sat there as the time ticked away. Other kids jumped in near him, then they moved through the tunnels and down the slide. They laughed and ran. But my son sat there throwing balls in the air. He didn’t look like he was having much fun.
“It’s time to go,” I called out. He didn’t move. I knew other parents were looking at me. Transitions are never easy for young children, I thought. “Honey, I know the balls are neat. But why don’t you throw them a few more times and then go through the tunnels? It’s about time for us to go.” He still sat there.
“You have one more minute and then it’ll be time to get out,” I said. I waited a bit and then began counting down from twenty. “When I get to zero it’s time to go.”
He still sat there. He didn’t yell, “No,” as I’d seen other kids do. Instead, he simply refused to move. He ignored me.
And being ignored is really irritating when you’re supposed to be the one in charge.
I could feel other mothers watching me. I knew we had entered the Power Struggle Zone. And I hated being here. None of the tricks I knew how to use at home would work at the ball pit.
The sign overhead glared out at me. “No one over sixty pounds is allowed on this equipment.”
Finally, I ignored the sign. I climbed up the steps, went through the dangling plastic, stepped onto the padded flooring of the ball pit and picked up my son. He started yelling.
And he cried and yelled all the way to the car. “Let me go. Let me go!” he screamed. All heads were turned toward me. I said nothing. But my fingers held him tightly and I could feel my face turning red. I was sure I was being judged.
Now, I am the one who needs help with this transition, I thought. So, when we got home, I pulled out a large piece of paper and taped it to the wall. My son sat pouting and sniffling in a chair by the TV. I could tell he was thinking about turning it on without permission.
I said, “Come on. Let’s draw. You get to be first!”
He knew this routine. It was one of our special times. He would scribble with a marker all across the paper and I would follow his line with a different colored marker. It always made us laugh.
He didn’t want to laugh. But he came over to the paper.
He picked up a black marker and furiously moved it back and forth. I picked up a red marker and went over his black zig-zag.
“Humph,” he grunted. He moved to drawing jagged lines. I drew jagged lines near his.
I began to feel the tension of the afternoon flowing out onto the paper. Finally, I called out, “My turn. You follow me.”
I took a blue marker and drew circles. He drew black circles. Finally a smile crept across his face. “A cat. It’s a cat,” he called out excitedly. With the circles and the zig-zags near each other he could see a cat. We added whiskers and a nose. I drew detailed eyes. They were big. “It’s a scared cat,” I said. “What’s he scared of?”
“Just scared,” my son said.
At that moment I realized that the Power Struggle Zone could be about fear as much as it’s about control. When my son was in the ball pit he just sat there — because he couldn’t get past being afraid of the tunnels! He couldn’t tell me that at the time. But now I knew.
And when I was carrying him out to the car I was afraid of the judgement of others. Fear makes everything worse.
Next time, I told myself, I’ll help him find a friend he can follow through the tunnels. And I won’t care what other people think about him or me. As long as we can draw our way past the fear, we’ll be ready for anything. In the Art Zone we can see that all things are possible.
I changed the cat’s mouth to a smile. “He’s not afraid anymore,” I said. “He can do anything. See him go?!”
And we began to draw again.
Copyright Judith Costello, 2015
Image copyright 2015 Judith Costello. All rights reserved.