For years my daughter has kept a nature journal. When she returns from one of our little nature walks she often sit down with a treasure we found on the way to sketch it and examine it more closely indoors. It really is a lovely practice. I know that it gives her a deeper respect for our observations and discoveries in nature.
For a time, I kept a journal too and would sketch alongside her. However, I always thought of it as something I was doing "for" her and didn't take it terribly seriously. Then something changed. One day, I discovered that I yearned to sketch the melting snowman in our backyard. I wanted to capture the moment when winter decided to become spring at our house. My daughter was nowhere around. Nonetheless, I picked up a fine point pen and some water colour and went to it alone. And now I can't stop! I am taking great joy from keeping a nature journal and I wanted to share it with you since it has taught me a lot about learning to enrich my own life alongside that of my children. In the past I've had a tendency to reserve beautiful things like this for my kids and to leave my own appreciation of the arts and nature for "another time." I'm beginning to realize that time is now.
Do you forget to pursue your passions in favour of your child's? Here are three signs you need to focus on bringing beauty and art to your own life too:
1. You ask, "Wouldn't You Like To?"
A friend of mine loved the idea of having a cello in the house. She asked her daughter, "Wouldn't you like to play the cello?" ... She got - at best - a kind of mixed reception. In fact, the more she asked, the more she discovered that, in fact, her little musician preferred the idea of playing the piano. My friend's disappointment was visceral and the moment she realized this was the moment she got on the horn and rented an adult-sized cello - for herself! That enormous instrument sat in her home for 6 months. She learned many beautiful pieces and, in the end, decided not to pursue strings. However, she felt gratified that she had explored that avenue and hadn't simply dropped the idea because of her child's disinterest. Indeed, her daughter grew to love the cello herself simply by watching her mother pursue her own musical passion.
2. You pretend to care.
"Let's get a magnifying glass and examine that centipede closer!" Now there's a phrase I never imagined myself saying but I actually heard myself saying these very words in the garden with my children last summer. My children were excited to check out bugs for two reasons. The first was that almost all kids love bugs and the second was that they knew that I was genuinely enjoying the process myself. You see, there's the thing about little observers. They know when you're not really into it. If I was actually revolted by garden crawlies but simply put on a brave face, my kids would know it at a glance and likely the game would end there. It's so important to be aware of your limits and not to pretend to care when you really aren't feeling it. It's perfectly fine to say, "Mommy doesn't want to check that out right now but here is your magnifying glass! Have fun!" Freeing yourself up to pursue what you enjoy not only gives you space to be an individual - it gives permission to your children to do the same. Having a passion that is unique is a novelty for children who are just at the outset of developing their artistic personalities and independent explorations.
3. You spend more time researching than playing.
You've developed a pin board on Vincent Van Gogh crafts to do with your children but when it comes down to it - you've not yet actually done any of them together. Here's a moment to take pause and ask yourself, "What exactly am I waiting for?" Don't get me wrong. There is nothing the matter with taking time to plan activities for your little artists. By all means, research artistic projects to undertake together but when you find them tugging at your sleeve and wanting to do something with you - just go for it! Maybe you don't have all the materials required and maybe the circumstances aren't quite perfect but who cares? Take a moment to show your child some images of Van Gogh's work online and get your starry night on! But don't stop there! There's a reason you're pinning and researching all these good ideas - not the least of which is that you are probably very interested in the work of Van Gogh yourself. And why shouldn't you be? I say take this as an opportunity to pursue your interest. Try some of the techniques Van Gogh used himself. Take out some books on Van Gogh's art. Tour a virtual gallery of his work. Fulfilling your own love of the arts is just that easy and wonderful!
I'm not sure how long I will continue to keep a nature journal. It may just be a passing phase in my life but at least I know that I didn't give it up in favour of developing my own child's interests instead of my own. In fact, my daughter has expressed great interest in watching me sketch and write in my journal but right now she would rather collect items in her nature basket. The fact is that she knows that I love nature and want to take time to celebrate and record it joyfully. I can't think of a better way to spark her own curiosity for the natural world than this.