Years ago, when my husband was still in college and I was a young mother of two running a licensed day care home, I was always tired. I think most young mothers are, so I was no different in that respect. But my husband went to school from eight until five, then he went to work until midnight. After midnight he’d come home to do his homework. If I didn’t wait up for him, I never got a chance to have a conversation with a grown-up, let alone the love of my life. My first day care child came at six a.m, and my last left at six p.m. Yet my own two were very early risers.
Tammy Sue was not yet three years old a the time of this story, and Danny was fifteen months younger. Too young to be up alone and unattended. What can I say? I was young, tired, and overwhelmed, doing the best I could at the time. So the night before I would fill sippy cups with juice and put them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I’d fill Tupperware bowls with cheerios, and set them on the couch (no milk!) and turn the TV channel to cartoons. Then when my munchkins woke up in the morning a half hour before I had to, they could help themselves and I’d get a few more moments with my husband.
This worked out pretty well, until one morning when I rolled over and heard Tammy tell her little brother, “I need more paint.” I flew out of bed, not quite awake and definitely not thinking very clearly, to see that my children had gotten out everything they needed for an art project, except paper. They had the large paintbrushes, jars of tempra paint, they’d even filled their empty sippy cups with water to rinse their brushes. And every available surface was a bright, brilliant blue.
“What are you doing!” I yelled.
“Making pretty pictures,” they replied, which was quite obvious. They looked at me with big innocent blue eyes.
Then I did the stupidest thing I could have done, but remember, I wasn’t really at my best at five o’clock in the morning on maybe three hours of sleep. “Go into the bathroom and wash your hands!”
Blue paint-stained feet pattered down the hallway. Blue hands turned the doorknob. More blue was smooshed on the water faucets, the soap, and the towels.
I remained rooted to my spot, staring at the wet blue kitchen table and chairs, the blue linoleum, blue vinyl sleeper sofa and blue walls. All I could think about was the hours it was going to take to fix this mess, and my heart sank. The kids hadn’t really done anything I could discipline them for – it was my own fault. I blamed myself for wanting to stay in bed, for leaving them unattended, and I wanted to cry but I was too shocked yet for even tears to give me release. So I scolded the children again, “And go back to bed!”
More blue footprints in the hallway, blue now stained the doorknob of their bedroom, their carpet, and their sheets.
When the first children arrived, there was still blue paint everywhere. And six months later when we moved out of the apartment (my husband had graduated) we discovered more blue paint underneath that behemoth of a sofa.
Now when we recount this story, we laugh. It has become a part of our family heritage. There are many other incidents like this one, like the time Danny walked out of the hayloft twice in the same day. Or the time they flushed a box of Mr. Bubble down the toilet and broke it. Or the time Danny, at nine months of age, pulled all the nuts off the bolts to his crib and when I put him to bed that night the bottom fell out.
Parenting creative children is a challenge. They can think of more things to get in to, but they aren’t really being naughty. They’ll just think of the strangest things! There is no way to predict that kind of behavior, no way to really “baby proof” a home for them. All we can do is try to stay one step ahead of them, and keep our sense of humor.
My children grew up to be wonderful young people. They sing in church choirs. One is an Eagle Scout. One is an art major. One raises a flock of sheep and spins their wool. One is a young mother now, and struggling to hold down a job and manage to get some sleep. I help as much as I can, and worry about other young mothers who have no support system. So if this blog can help you at all, then my efforts have all been worth it.
Just the same, though, you might want to stress to your youngsters that “Paint goes on paper”!