By Anne Trisler
Web Exclusive – August 14, 2007
When I was in first grade, the other girls exclaimed over each other’s sketches of tiny pink hearts and ridiculed my fat, misshapen attempts at the same. Perhaps it began then, this aversion to visual artistic expression, but for as long as I can remember, I have steered clear of oils and watercolors that seemed always to turn my pictures brown. It did not matter that I began with the purest pink, the most vibrant maroon; every attempt was bound to end as a soggy disaster in which my mother would search for something to compliment.
Who could have guessed that I would be the one to turn into an artist? Yet here lies my masterpiece, across my lap, thin lips soft and parted, balled hand under cheek. His usually vivacious blue eyes are closed, which is good since at seven he often is wary of my stares. Gone are the days I used to wish he’d grow a bit so we could have a conversation; now he cannot wait to ask me questions, to share what he has learned about Ancient Egypt, dragonflies, or the Mayflower. His cries and coos have turned to words that lengthen with each passing week. Michael said something inappropriate at school, he announced just yesterday.
Over the years he has changed much, yet he is still the same sweet baby who was warm and content in my arms, the same wild boy who used to roar instead of talk. He has not forgotten how to try my precious energy—days exist when we face off as bulls in battle, only now we are better matched, inch for inch and word for word.
I know that I cannot take credit for all of his characteristics. I know about biology, psychology, and everything else that has a hand in who we are. I am not solely responsible for his zest and fiery spirit, his clever wit, his steely nerve. And it wasn’t me who put the stormy scent into his golden-feathered hair. Yet some of him I’ve molded; my milk-dirt fingers have pinched and pulled his manners to my liking, and when I have seen something emerge—a flaw in the artistry, some sass, or selfishness—I’ve gently rolled him flat as best I could and tried a new approach. I have sweated, like a welder, over his conscience in helping him to hear it, and I have whittled down his competitive nature that seemed to scrape too much against his generosity.
And what are any of us if not artists, we mothers who begin with only a tiny newborn canvas that we must help develop into an exquisite success? Sometimes our strokes are confident as Picasso’s, when we administer needed discipline or deny candy to the cavity-prone. At other times we falter; we sling drops of green across the floor; we make a terrible mess and stain our children with mistakes. All the same there is beauty in our very effort, and each day, thankfully, is an opportunity for further attempts at triumph.
My son is my proudest feat, even while a work-in-progress. Certainly, some of his traits will change as his height slowly trumps mine, but some things will remain the same—his refusal to conform, his impulsivity, his sympathetic way of thinking. Already I know much about the adult he will become—I have seen his face under beards of witty, caring men—and I look forward to getting to know him. How rewarding for me, to watch his life-—his becoming—unfold. After so many years of failed art, how easily I seem to have fallen into this new role—the sculptor of a man.
Anne Trisler is a musician, writer, and poet whose work has appeared on Mothering.com, in SheMom Magazine, Struggle, and is forthcoming in Barbaric Yawp.? She is a full-time student and mother of Zachary, seven, and Ella, four, with whom she lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.