catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 5 :: 2014.03.07 — 2014.03.20


Reimagining the picture

She studied the canvas with the seriousness of a 40-year-old. Normally she drew detailed sketches before bringing her plan to painted life. Tears erupted when things didn’t go as planned. “Go for it, honey, you can do it!” My seven-year-old adopted daughter smiled. “Just paint one wrong thing!” Her eyes seemed to question me: For real? “Go ahead!” She laughed. Tossing back her curly brown hair, she quickly painted the head and torso of a person. Giggling, she attached legs from the ears like antennas. Her five-year-old sister proudly lifted her masterpiece — dad, mom and two girls towering like super-sized palm trees over a little house. “Beautiful!”

It’s not that I wanted to encourage my daughters to paint wrong anatomy, or to have inflated views of our family.  Mostly, I hoped they’d have some fun. They needed that after losing their biological mother a couple of years earlier to leukemia. Heaven knows they’d spent much of their short lives visiting her in a hospital. Heaven also knows that I was trying to figure out how to be an adoptive mother. Growing up, my mother had made sure my sister and I had fun although our dad had been chronically ill. And since fun had frequently involved art, it made sense that sunny afternoon to break out the paint. Seated at a plastic table in our driveway, my new daughters and I went for it!

Every time we paint, I remind my daughters that art takes practice. Nobody gets it right the first, second or even twentieth time. There’s no shame trying and messing up only to have to try again. That’s how art goes. That’s also how adoption goes. I laugh about times my daughters first called me mommy, and I scanned the surroundings for their mother before realizing that they weren’t lost! The more the girls practiced calling me mommy, and I practiced answering, the better things fell into place.

Adoption is messy, not unlike the first attempts at bringing a sketch to painted life. I know my daughters never imagined painting anyone besides their first mommy in a family portrait. And, truthfully, I had always envisioned my family including biological children. We’ve all had good reasons to cry. Painting with my daughters reminds me that the first sketch doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome. Sometimes we have to re-imagine the picture.

Attachment blossoms in awkwardly mysterious ways. The more we practice art together, the more our differences collide. My oldest daughter likes purple and blue. My youngest daughter likes fluorescent pink. Is it any wonder that conflict recently arose over what color to paint a dollhouse? My husband and I did not care for purple, blue or pink, and the girls vetoed our votes for white. Heading off a debacle, my husband suggested, “How about yellow?” Since it differed from each of our preferences, it seemed a good choice; that, and nobody felt left out. Satisfied, we all agreed, and took one step closer as a family.

Before bed each night, my daughters may choose to stay up 20 extra minutes if they read with me. Usually we open an old collection of fairy tales that I inherited from my grandmother. The antique, yellow pages smell the same as when I was a girl. My daughters don’t think they smell as wonderful as I do! But when we thumb through the beautiful illustrations, we agree that fairy tales are wonderful.

“Who’s that?” My younger daughter asked one night, pointing at a lovely woman in a golden sleigh.

“That’s the Snow Queen. She’s pretty but not very nice. She likes separating children from their families.”

That night we read of a brave, young girl, named Gerta, who journeys toward the northern lights to save her friend Kay from the evil clutches of the Snow Queen. Illustrations show Gerta’s determination to see her friend again, and for him to be reunited with his family. Cold nights, hunger and danger do not cause Gerta to give up. With the help of friends she meets along the way, she recues Kay.

“Do you know that Gerta is a lot like Jesus?” I asked the girls. “She gave up a lot to make it possible for Kay to be reunited with her and his family. Jesus gave up everything — even his life — to make it possible for us to be with him and loved ones we’ve lost.”

“We will get to see our first mommy again, won’t we?” My older daughter looked hopeful.

“Yes, honey, you will.”

Today, if the subject comes up, my daughters explain: “We have two mommies. One is in heaven with Jesus. She has a new body and is no longer sick.  Our other mommy is a writer. She bakes us bread and makes us smoothies.” I believe that art in many forms — painting, fairy tales and certain movies — has helped them frame this understanding.

Somewhat recently, when watching A Dolphin’s Tale, my younger daughter had tears in her eyes. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked knowing full well that the dolphin had lost his tale. (Briefly, I kicked myself for forgetting the tragic start of a movie that looked so uplifting in commercials.) 

“Is he going to die?” Tears streamed down her face.

“No, Honey, he’s not going to die. This is just the sad part of the story before something good happens.”

“Will he not get to swim anymore?”

“No. I’m sure he’ll swim again, just as strong if not better. Do you remember when our family visited Winter the dolphin at the aquarium in Clearwater?” She nodded. “Do remember what he was doing?”

“He was swimming, even without a tail!”

“Honey, have you ever seen something good happen after something bad happened?”

She nodded, “When our first mommy died, and we got a second mommy.”

When my daughters grow up, I hope they continue practicing and appreciating art. I hope it reminds them that it’s okay to cry when things don’t go as planned. When they’re sad, I hope they remember that something good will happen, even if it takes time. I hope they see that it’s still possible to have a little fun. When tears pass, I hope they learn to re-imagine the future. When they mess up, I hope they keep practicing. When their opinions differ from others, I hope they search for creative solutions that build deep relationships. I hope they remember that Jesus gave up everything — even his life — to make new life possible. And, I hope they remember that no matter how bad things look, we already know the end of the story.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life…neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:28)

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