Change of Seasons

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “change” and I immediately thought of the changing seasons because Spring is finally – finally! – here.  We have (I assume and hope) seen the last of the snow, there are buds on the trees, small wildflowers are beginning to appear among the blades of grass, the bird song is louder in the mornings, and there was tree pollen all over the bonnet of my car this morning.  I have seamlessly segued from snuffling because of winter colds into snuffling because of seasonal allergies but I will embrace it because I am so ready for Spring.

My Art Journal page is simple: an abstracted and silhouetted tree divided into four sectors, one per season.  I have a mild OCD about needing things to be clockwise (I also have one about even numbers) so I tried to force myself to depict the seasons cycling anti-clockwise.  It’s a sort of “flooding your fears” kind of theory that obviously has no substance to it because it failed miserably as therapy.  I felt twitchy as soon as I finished the page. Now it is supremely annoying to me that I have the seasons cycling anti-clockwise.  I almost wanted to repaint all of the sectors to make them clockwise but I don’t have time for that so, instead, I am just going to turn the page in my art journal and pretend my psychological experiment never happened.

11 - Change - Seasons - Art Journal Page

Change and Grow – Self-Portrait

My schedule was utterly slammed this week.  Every space on the wall calendar was crammed with appointments and commitments and things that needed to be done.  I thought there was not the remotest chance I was going to get to even view this week’s Life Book lessons let alone sit down and do something creative.  However, two things happened this week that utterly jiggered my schedule and caused a great deal of hassle – one of my kids was off school sick for two days and then we had a snow day – but which actually meant I had more time stuck at home.  More time at home meant I could actually get stuck into the lesson and art time was probably just what I needed to take the edge off the stress of a totally bonkers week.

The lesson was taken by Tamara Laporte.  Tam always provides wonderfully in-depth videos for her lessons but there was no way I was going to find time to both view the videos and then still have time to create.  I, therefore, read the accompanying PDF, modified the lesson by eliminating certain stages, and got stuck in.  The crux of the lesson was a self-portrait scaffolded on an image transfer.  I have never had much success with image transfers but I thought that was precisely why I should have another crack at it.  The outcome was not ideal – I think I spread the gel medium too thinly in places – but is definitely the best I have produced so far so represents progress.

6a Self-Portrait - Transfer

I then proceeded to paint on top of the image transfer and this was where I diverged from the lesson.  I did not have time for layer upon layer of media so I limited myself to acrylic paint, Neocolor II crayons, and Inktense pencils and blocked in areas of colour and built up the detail of my face.

6b Self-Portrait - Middle

The idea of the painting was to include personal, symbolic elements and text alongside the self-portrait.  It is not really my thing to be that personal and emotional with my art work.  Art is definitely therapeutic to me but only in terms of the act of creating.  I don’t need it to be a form of processing and expressing my thoughts and feelings and I am also too intensely private.  I decided, however, that the self-portrait did need some finishing touches so I added some collage elements in the form of butterflies and leaves formed from text pages.  All of those things could be interpreted as things that are important to me as a person – words and learning, growth, and change.

6c Self-Portrait - Grow & Change

Change not Chance

It has been a few weeks since I did anything in my art journal.  Life just got crazy busy and my free time has all but vanished – more of which at a later date – and what time I have had has been used to try and keep on top of my art courses.  My poor art journal has been neglected.  When this week’s Colour Me Positive prompt appeared, however, it was the shove I needed to actually open the journal and do something.  The result was my quickest journal page ever.  This took me five minutes.  That’s it.  Five small minutes.  And the page shows the total lack of investment and effort.  Ha!  But that is OK because at least I opened the art journal and did something.

The theme was Change and the quotation was “Life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change”.  I googled and it turns out it is from some motivational speaker named Jim Rohn.  It is a little bit trite for my taste, the phrasing at least, but I a) agree with the concept and b) did not have time to contemplate an alternative so I decided to use the quotation.  I had a page in my art journal where I had been experimenting with watercolour, testing out how the pigments would mix, run together, and what the resulting puddles would look like once dried.  Just random shapes and marks all over the page.  I thought I might repurpose it eventually but with no idea when, how or why.  So why not just write the quotation over the top of the watercolour blobs?  After all, transforming the purposeless page would chime with the theme of Change.  So I shoved a paint brush into a bottle of India ink, scrawled the quotation across the page, roughly encircled it with a thinner brush in the same ink.  Five minutes maximum.  Done.  Not very arty or creative but job done.  And maybe now I can get back in the habit of cracking open the art journal at least once a week again.

35a - Before Change

35b - Change

“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

That question was recently asked of me by one of my son’s friends.  From the mouths of babes, eh?  It is, however, just a much more blunt and direct expression of the same sort of conversation I have been having intermittently with people over the past two years.  It seems that in a suburb where most households are dual income, people find it most peculiar that we have chosen for me to be a full-time stay-home parent.

Our move to America two years ago initiated my first experience of being “just” a Stay At Home Mother.  I write “just” to be clear that I do not disparage the role of the SAHM.  There is nothing simple, easy or straightforward about making the choice to step away from a career and be with your kids full-time.  I also think it is a brilliant thing for women to be in a position to make an active choice as to whether they want to be parents or not and, if they are mothers, what balance they wish to strike between paid employment and raising kids.  However, our immigration was my first experience of being home with the kids full-time, with nothing else going on in my life, and I admit it has been a bit of a tricky transition.

I had actually only been in paid employment for a fraction of my years as a parent even in Scotland.  However, even when not in paid employment, I had a pretty demanding but rewarding voluntary job, serving on my local Children’s Panel, and I was also involved with various groups in the community, serving on different committees.  All these commitments and obligations kept my brain stimulated and ticking over during the baby years, gave me a welcome break from household chores and childcare, and permitted me to feel as if I was still contributing something to society – even after I stepped away from my teaching career.  All the volunteering was like keeping if not a foot then a toe in the door of employment, and gave my life an additional dimension that made it easier for me to transition into being a SAHM.

Perhaps because I was always so busy or perhaps because I lived in a more traditional community, nobody back in Argyll every queried our choice for me to be home with the kids.  It might not have been their choice but they understood it and respected it.  Moving to the Philly suburbs, therefore, has been an interesting experience in that it has been not only my first experience of being “just” a SAHM but also the first time I have repeatedly had to explain and even justify that choice.

It feels harder to justify these days too because none of my kids are babies any more.  Nor are any of them preschoolers.  Since September 2014, all four of my kids have been in full-time education.  I, therefore, have a good chunk of the day when school is in session where I am not actively fulfilling the childcare element of my SAHM role.  Of course, six people generate a lot of laundry and other mess and require a whole load of cooking to be done so I am kept plenty busy.  Now that I have the kids in school though I am able to grab just a wee bit of time for myself each day but I don’t think an investment of time in self-care needs to be justified.  Still, however, when people – and obviously I meet a lot more new people than I did back in Argyll – do that whole small talk thing and inquire as to where I work or what I do for a living, I detect something in their unspoken reaction that makes me feel they think I ought to be justifying my role as a SAHM.  I think some people regard it as a luxury whereas I regard the ability to make the choice the luxury.  Of course, choice is defined by context.  I might be considering a return to paid employment now that we are pretty settled in America if circumstances and our family dynamic were different.  Between me needing to convert my qualifications, the high cost of childcare and – mostly – the demands of my husband’s job, there seems little opportunity for me to return to paid work outside the home at this time.

Ultimately, as tricky as I have found the transition to being “just” a SAHM – largely because it has formed part of a larger process of change – it is our choice, mine and my husband’s, and is therefore, of no concern to anyone else.  Really, therefore, the answer to the question of what I do all day is that it is none of anyone else’s business.  It’s a household and family dynamic that works for we Picts, all six of us, and that is absolutely all that matters.

An Exchange of Vowels

I became a mother almost eleven years ago when, after an arduous 56 hour labour, my oldest son made his way into the world and transformed me into Mummy.  It was a new and much longed for identity which was made more concrete when my other sons arrived in the world, one after the other.

But here in America I am not Mummy or even Mum (because my oldest kids, at 10 and 8, are getting too old and too cool to maintain that final syllable).  Here, I am Mommy or Mom.  It’s just a switch of a single vowel yet the label feels very different.

I get that my kids are striving to fit in at school and use terminology their peers understand and, for that reason, I am not against the change in nomenclature.  It is, however, odd to discover that I feel quite strange about suddenly being Mom.  I feel certain that my children, especially the younger ones, will take to calling me Mom at home too, so that it’s not just a school and playground thing.  Gradually I just will be Mom and not Mum any longer.  It’s not just a title to describe my role; it’s a label that signifies a very important element of my identity; that is indicative of my most special, wonderful relationships ;it’s my job description; it’s who I am.  Maybe I am being overly sensitive about it because of the other things that have been happening to my identity since I relocated here but that single shift in vowel sound feels weird on me.  I’ve been a Mum for over ten years but am I ready to become a Mom?

I am definitely not opposed to it – whatever makes my kids comfortable and content is absolutely OK by me – but it’s going to take some getting used to.

Small Differences: Denominations

I am being scuppered by denominations here.  Not religious ones, you understand: coins.  Seriously, my kids can make change here better than I can.  Obviously they had only just embarked on having to use coins in Scotland so it has not been such a big deal to toss that little slither of learning out of the window and start from scratch with American coins.  For me, however, I am having to undo a few decades’ worth of knowledge, something that had become reflex, and learn something new.  Apparently my brain is not coping very well with that.  It’s all about the denominations.  In Britain we have 1 pence, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p and £1 coins; in America those denominations are 1 cent, 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime) and 25 cents (quarter).  There are also half and whole dollar coins but those are rare so I am discounting them.  Clearly, therefore, I am used to adding and multiplying using different bases than are available here so all my maths (or math, as it is here) has to alter.  I am not innumerate so that it is not that I can’t do it but I am very conscious that it takes me more time to rake around in my purse (wallet, as it is here) to find the coins I need and tot them up to the amount I need.  And I have to keep reminding myself that the five cent coin is larger than the ten cent coin because they are the shape and size of UK five and ten pence coins but with the scale inverted.  Two university degrees mean nothing when you are at the head of a queue of people who are all aware that you are taking an awkward amount of time to fumblingly make 68 cents.