The Art of 'OK'

With the natrual light in the studio somewhat darkened by a few clouds most of the day, I was unable to do what has been on my to-do list for two weeks: photograph new work for the website. Instead I stole a few moments to draw, curled up in the seductively beckoning new cushions on my grandmother's relatively ancient porch swing.

We're just a week or so past the time of year when all of Atlanta looks like a three dimensional Monet painting, daubed with dusky tones of creams, mauves, and lavenders in the form of blooming honeysuckle, dogwoods, azaleas, and wisteria on top of the emerging greens that have now come to dominate the landscape once more. After months of gnarled naked trees that make my soul long for lushness, it's funny that what I should choose to draw was merely the tangle of branches high up in the trees at the end of my back yard without their covering of leaves. Perhaps they are simply easier to draw that way, or perhaps I am just a complete geek armed with a pin-point sharpened drafting pencil, and shading dramatic tones of dark and light graphite until a shape pops off the page is my idea of a good time.

Moments like those in my jam packed life are stolen guiltily yet with determination from my oh so disciplined psyche, surrounded with too much work, the constant call of "Mommy!" and a house that is perpetually in a state of reorganization and decorating (not all that clean and with no room fully painted after 9-1/2 years of living here). Skyler was at one with his electronic inventor's kit, so I could actually listen to the sounds of flapping wings, bird calls, a lady across the side street ranting about her job, and a seriously mammoth sounding frog somewhere around my pond, the sounds of inner city nature.

All was serene until I started writing, and Skyler came proudly running in the studio with his newly constructed AM radio. "Wow, okay!" I said, "great job!!!" It even had a volume control. That child, however, does not. He's a talking, building, drawing, writing, navigating whirlwind, every action done with maximum velocity and determination. He also believes that every single statement, question, command, or general bit of small talk uttered by an adult is ample reason to flaunt his negotiations skills, which are nothing less than exhausting to engage. I remember that tiny fighting preemie in the NICU and tell myself his start in life imprinted as surely as a baby chick's first seeing its mama, and I remind myself of my mantra: If he's okay, then everything is okay.

In the face of such constant arguing (or contradiction) I have learned the hard way how to appear agreeable for my mental health and stability. It's fun to watch my partner beginning to learn these essential skills of parenting, the first of which is the necessity of the response, "okay." "Okay" is the ultimate survival tool in a parent's arsenal of a mental toolbox. I'm not talking about little Johnny running rampant in a restaurant while his parent(s) blithely ignore(s) his antics and pretend that everything is okey-dokey. I'm referring to soliloquies constantly projected from the back seat that proclaim things like which shortcut we should take through traffic and how we can't possibly go to parkday a week from Friday because The Weather Channel has predicted slight scattered showers in its long range forecast. To survive with the last shred of one's sanity intact, the adult's response should never be, "Well, that's a long way away, and The Weather Channel might change their forecast as the day gets closer." No, the only correct response is, "Okay," and then deal with the situation and little Hamlet's possible adjustment to change come the aforementioned Friday morning.

We once got into a months long debate about the traffic signals at the on ramp from Freedom Parkway onto the seven lane occasionally moving disaster of a freeway, known as The Downtown Connector.

"It only operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays"

"No, it operates every weekday during peak traffic times."

"No, Mom, you're wrong!"

"Why is that?"

"Because I've seen it operate on those days!"

"So it only operates if you're here to see it?!?"

"Oh, Mom..."

We went through this conversation so many times I began seriously to consider grocery shopping at rush hour on Tuesdays just to show him that I, one of those silly adult type people, who can't possibly know what all an eight year old does, actually knew what I was talking about, but there is no way that such an adventure would do anything at all for my sanity. Finally one Tuesday we got stuck in northbound traffic where he could see the alternating signals in question change to let cars from each lane enter the Connector.

"Mom! It does work on Tuesdays!!!"

"Imagine that."

"No, it really does!!!"


A moment of silence followed before the next subject was gleefully begun from the back seat. I had finally learned. Now when faced with such proclamations as, "When we get home I'm going to build a contraption made of legos, Thomas train track, 2000 dominoes, those cardboard boxes you put in the recycling bin, and marbles all propped up at different heights with 30 video cassettes. It's going to stretch from the kitchen through the dining room and into the den all the way to the front door!" I don't say something stupid like, "I really need you to wait until after we get the junk cleared out of the den and vacuum the rugs." I say, "okay," and know that he'll either forget in the wake of some other endeavor, or, in creative engineering mom mode, I'll help him build it and covertly steer the whole works to one side, making it loop under itself a really cool way that makes him forget how long it was intended to be. Such options only come with the word, 'okay.'

The kinds of flow states achieved with my drafting pencil are far and few between, and I swallow many moments of frustration having to work and take care of business without them, usually remembering at some point to breathe deep and notice that things really are okay. My friend, Beth, once described parenting as being like getting her Jeep Wrangler many years ago. She told me that she was miserable and sore from driving it until she realized that the only way to be in it was to let her body bump and jostle along with the vehicle instead of trying to remain so firmly rigid in the seat the way she would in a sedan with good shock absorbers. When she had kids, she realized that the only way to survive was to bump and jostle along with their moods, tantrums, and enthusiasms instead of perpetually feeling put out and sore out that they didn't cruise like a Caddy or a Beemer. We bump and jostle along, and most of the time it's okay.

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