It’s my worst skill, selling my art work. I have complained for twenty some-odd years that my work never sells, but it will never sell if I never get it out there. I’ve tried craft stores and have met with decent success. I’ve tried some art shows with similar results. There is interest, people ask, people want. So, what’s the problem? The problem is, I have a profound fear of failing to succeed. Whenever my work begins to catch on and demand rises I shrivel away from it and create the very failure that I fear. Why? I know, I know. I can blame the parents for perpetually warning me not to be upset if I failed whenever I attempted some new venture(first girl on the local baseball league, brownies, trying out for sports, submitting to art shows, getting into college, etc). They had low expectations of their kids with good intentions. They wanted us to know they loved us whatever we did. But, this left me believing I was often way out of my league so I would succumb to my insecurities and under achieve.
I’m 44 now, but I still feel as though I am twelve. When does that feeling go away? If my son’s teacher ushers me to the corner of the classroom to discreetly alert me to a problem, I can feel my pigtails growing back and wish I could stuff my hands deep into the pockets of my oshkosh overalls. When sitting in the office of a bank applying for a loan and the loan officer is inquiring of all my late payments from my credit report, I could just as easily be looking apologetically into my mom’s eyes as she berates me for spending all my vacation money on one stuffed bear. It is a hard feeling to shake but as I said, I am 44 now and I can no longer blame my parents for my actions. Even with all my fears of failure, I have to realize that I have been successfully self-employed for fourteen years. I have my own house, car, studio. All without the assistance of my parents. My relationship with my partner is stronger than ever in its twentieth year and we are raising a beautiful boy together.
This has been a year of great shifting for me. Struggling with an illness since April has forced me to let go of my painting business. It is physically too demanding. As hard as this has been for our family, emotionally and financially, it has a silver lining. Being a house painter was never my intention. It was a career that evolved from demand and need and I was growing restless and increasingly unfulfilled. But now, the possibility is within my grasp to take full control of my dreams and realize my potential for success as an artist. I am ready to shed my insecurities and put myself out there.
We have taken great pains to raise a sensitive and caring boy. No TV for the first few years and then only PBS for quite a while. He had a doll as a toddler. We played classical music and went to many art museums. Countless hours have been spent appreciating and caring for nature’s beauty. But, our foremost and steadfast rule has been no weapons of any kind in our house. And to our credit and his, our son is remarkably thoughtful and caring, as nine year olds go.
However, it was around about age six the slippery slope began. His friends had all discovered Star Wars and swords were the rage. Okay, we conceded to a couple of nerf swords. He was thrilled, but being the verbose and precocious child he is, he challenged our judgement. “I thought we didn’t allow weapons in our house?” “No, we don’t. Fencing is a sport and a skillful art.” was our, on the spot, bullshit response. As he very seriously engaged in sword fights with his friends a new personality escaped from deep within his bones. Our delightful son, who loved to change his dollies diaper was the harbinger of a growling, sinister and menacing pirate posturing for ultimate power and domination. I was appalled and distressed. How could this be and how was I, a peaceful, tree-hugging, Mother Earth loving woman going to live with an evil, tortuous villian running through the house brandishing weaponry shouting “Die, you landlubber! Die!”?
Well, the raid was a success. The peace camp has been invaded and taken over by screaming, snarling little packages of pressurized testosterone. A bit of advice, if you should visit the peace prison, don’t even think about giggling or cooing cuteness as he charges past in his little Calvin Klien boxer briefs because this is all very serious business. It’s not funny and he his not cute!
Our hands are in the air, as we surrender to reality that the boy in him needed to be free. He has since acquired quite an arsenal. Nerf guns, bows and arrows and his most recent score, a cap gun. A present from us, no less. I don’t believe I have ever seen his eyes shine quite so bright. Still, that quizzical look seeped in and he turned to me and said “I didn’t think you would ever let me have a cap gun!” I just shrugged and smiled as he ran off to kill all the villains in the back yard. I now knit contentedly as nerf bullets whiz past and caps are fired off in rapid succession knowing I am well protected.
Okay, so, long story short, I’ve been sick for about nine months now, wrestling with an unknown. I have seen many doctors, pumped copious amounts of blood into little vials, been strapped into loud machines, shown more of my body to strangers than my partner has even seen, but this last visit takes the prize! It started as the most pleasant doctors visit to date. I’m sitting on the crinkly paper with a New Yorker from 2010 and waiting. Fully expecting to wait another ten minutes in the exam room on top of the half hour previously spent in the waiting room, I was anxious to get back to the article on bug eating as a sustainable earth friendly thing to do. To my surprise, I could not find where I Ieft off before the doctor came into the room. Dressed all in black with thick black glasses, his fluffy snow white hair dolloped his liver spotted face like a pile of whipped cream on a scoop of raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. He spoke like the Grinch when addressing the children of Whoville, all syrupy and thick, drawing looooong and throaty on key points whilst peering over his glasses at me. He was plump and jovial with a charming sense of humor. If he had carried a little black doctors bag, instead of that cell on his hip, I might have Thought he arrived from quite earlier in the century. He listened. He made eye contact. He poured over sixty pages of my charts. He even knew I was a fiber artist. “A little birdy told meeeee.” he gurgled as he peered over his glasses at me. I found myself craving a cup of tea and some cookies. More cared for I have not felt in any other office. As he narrowed down to the beginnings of the first diagnosis I have heard in seven months of illness, his cell phone beeps. He looked at it and said humorously, “Go away, I’m busy.” Amused with himself he lets out a little nasal chortle. You know, just short of laughing, you exhale abruptly through your nose with a hmmph sound. Well, this abrupt exhalation produced a round yellow boogie the size of a large pea on his upper lip. My eyes were tranfixed on that boogie as he quickly wiped it from his lip. It disappeared into his right hand which then went directly to the computer mouse. I nodded absent mindedly at all he had to say, but was hearing none of it. I needed to know where that boogie went. When he finished on the computer I searched frantically around the mouse. No boogie. Where is it? He stood, so I stood taking the cue that the appointment was over, although I missed most of his conclusions. To my horror he reached out that hand to shake mine. I hesitated, but could not be rude. I returned the gesture. Not only did he shake my hand, but he clasped on tightly with his other hand. He held my hand firmly in both of his for at least a very long minute as he wished me well. Smiling and nodding I could feel a transference of moistness upon my wrist. I continued to smile, surpressing my gag reflex, said thank you and hurried to a box of tissues in the waitng room. Not only was the boogie stuck on my wrist but it was trapped under a friendship bracelet which my son had made for me. Wretching and frantic, that little yellow boogie was reluctant to leave my skin. I washed my hands many,many times that day and still I felt the sensation of a cold and slimy thing slithering about my wrist. Ugh.
After one too many rides home from school with tears in my son’s eyes because he couldn’t read his own handwriting, my partner and I finally requested an iep meeting. He has non-verbal learning disorder and this was a long time in the solving. He is nine now and his frustrations are just coming to a head academically. Socially he is so gregarious and fair that he has been able to muddle passed most non-verbal cues. This diagnosis reaches me with both sadness and absolute relief. Sadness for the lifelong struggle my son will have. The relief is many fold. One that we might begin to teach and learn some strategies for coping with this. Two that our instincts about our son were not in the wrong. It is very difficult to barrel forward ignoring family and friends who are rolling eyes or worse yet commenting on our shortcomings. The boy has needed extra explanations, time and patience. He does not have the graces of inference or body awareness. He misses most of that and it has been our task to verbally explain the visual. Thus, we are accused of talking too much. Lookers on wish that we might be short and succinct, but we have learned that this only leads to broader frustration and often lengthy outbursts. I have fallen prey to insecurity, embarrassment has seized my judgment . I have lashed back at my son. Prior to this creatures descent on my space I barely raised my voice above a mumble, now I find I am capable of spewing putrid parental esteem crushers at top volume. Buying whole hog my parents theory that children do what they do just to get a rise out of you. For a solid two years between 5 and 7 my son could not even pick his nose without my launching into a lecture. Thankfully, with maturity, his and mine, has come more pleasant moments than not, and as we sit in the eye of our storm, I am digging deep to find my peaceful place again. It is my job to push ego aside, return to my instincts and parent as the person I am now and not the frustrated child of my past. Through the eyes of myself in a state of confidence I am able to see what a beautiful boy my son is and I would be honored to be his ally as he ventures forward.