Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Somewhere in between the time Owen dumped handfuls of sawdust onto the just-painted porch and the moment that he decided to paint his own foot, I realized that there was something harder than labor.

Home improvement with a toddler.

We had promised Owen that he would get to help paint the playhouse. I had these crazy ideals about Owen having a sense of ownership as a result. Owen, meanwhile, had a different goal: to paint every surface bright blue. We compromised somewhere in the middle.

At first, I did some prep work. And yes, looking at these pictures, it is clear that I am painting the walls white, not blue. We're priming here. All the nonsense I'm about to describe happened TWICE.

Once Owen joined the mix, my heart rate elevated like James Brown's on his third encore. When Owen paints, there's no room for niceties such as wiping excess paint off the brush, painting with the grain, or keeping dirt and pine cones out of the paint can. Instead of considering drips to be unsightly, Owen finds the dripping and splattering to be the best part. And, splatter he did: on the grass, the dirt, and the pressure-treated deck.

I truly could not stand looking at him. As he dipped his paintbrush into the can, moving past the brush, all the way to the tip of the handle, he asked, "Mommy, what's that noise?"

"Oh, it's just me, honey, grinding my teeth to nubs."

I finally had to give myself a kick in the ass. Painting the playhouse was an opportunity for Owen to play. And learn. If this playhouse is used correctly, it will be full of toys, and marks, and dings, and splatters, and all the blessed detritus of a child's imagination.

I needed to let go and allow Owen his fun. I also needed my mother to come out and help me. Those two things done, we accomplished our task:

And whenever Owen looks at this, I hope he remembers his mother's labor: allowing him, through an extreme act of will, all the messy, joyous fun he deserves:

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