Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Color of Fear and the Art of Being Brave

What does Fear look like to you?  To my 3 year old son, it looks like a red frog (which we think is his word for a dragon).  For the past 3 weeks he has been insistent that his bedroom door stay closed at night, demanding that we affirm that there are "no frogs" in the house.  It's terribly cute and equally sad, as it tears at my heart to know that he is scared and I cant fix it.  For no matter how hard we insist, nor what karate chopping moves my husband displays to show what happens to scary frogs that show up, neither our dutiful efforts to distract him and never mention the "f-word."  He still starts getting nervous at night-time and repeating "no frogs, mommy.  no frogs, daddy" until we shut his bedroom door.  We've tried putting him to sleep in his room with both of us with him, and putting him to sleep in our bed and then moving him, but both senarios end in a 3am terrified dash into our bed and a burrowing little boy into my side.  So here we are, with an abandoned bed in one room, and a floor full of baby boy and blankets in our own room, trying to find a way to help him be brave. 
the abandoned room
I also have to admit my own weakness for indulging his desire to be close to mom and dad during this phase.  I too had fears as a child, and they frequently brought me to my own parent's bedroom floor to feel safe at night.  Specifically, I had a reoccurring nightmare that would frequently bring me to a jolting wake-up, body covered in sweat and heart pounding.  Nothing would console me except to leave my room and sleep where I knew my protectors were.  Eventually it went away, and I found myself sleeping peacefully again, but I never forgot that nightmare. 
About 10 years ago, I was going through a really hard time emotionally, and started painting one afternoon to distract myself from my situation.  All I had to work with was some roughly cut old wood squares, a bunch of old canvas, and some really old house paint, and so I just started layering and layering, not thinking just painting. 
 I couldnt stop for 3 days, just layering colors over colors, square after square, until I ended up with a 6 square series of black, cream, and yellow stripes.  I thought very little about them, other than I thought they looked neat, and then I arranged them in a line, stood back, and found myself holding my breath.  I had painted my childhood nightmare.
I instantly felt a peace about my own life drama at that time.  I realized I had overcome hard things in the past and fears that was never able to truly understand, and I could do it again this time and grow from it.  I found my courage in those paintings, and I keep them on my dining room wall to this day to remind me that I am strong and brave, and that I can have courage to take on whatever life sends my way.
I hope this same lesson for my son, to find his own sense of courage and place of serenity.  Right now, it's my bedroom floor and that's ok.  One day when he's ready, I hope to teach him how to use his love of art making to bring him new discoveries about his own strength and spirit that he never knew before.  What are your fears?  How has art making been healing for you in those places?  What gives you courage?
 sleep tight sweet boy...

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