Potato People and Why I Wear Dresses To This Day

My daughter's artwork, age 3 (left) and age 4 (right). At right, we (I'm the one with black hair) are going to visit my son at school.

Potato people pictures our family was depicted in: 127-ish

Dresses I wore between 2000 and 2006: 1

Dresses I wear now: 17

The truth hurts. And when you are a main subject of an artist’s body of work, you must face certain truths on a daily basis.

My daughter is an artist to the core. While my son spent the first 10 years of his life never alighting in one place for more than 2.3 seconds, my daughter has a calm, artistic nature; an “observe and record” sort of personality.

We have plastic bins full of her artwork and notebooks full of early attempts at cursive. Two-year-old, very controlled attempts at cursive. (My son drew a line across a page and called it a day.)

From her very early art pieces, we noticed trends… certain truths about ourselves we may never have noticed without the black-and-white proof in front of us.

1. The Potato People. Early on, our family members were depicted as Potato People in various poses on many different pages. We were like slightly off-kilter eggs with sticklike appendages. After my daughter drew the first few Potato People pictures at maybe age 2 1/2 or 3, my husband picked up on a disturbing issue: my son, my daughter and I were upright, active potato people waving our arms and moving about the page.

My husband? He was a lumpy, lying-down Potato Person paying homage to one of those Salvador Dali liquified clocks. He looked as if he needed a pump or two of air before he could stand again. Never, not once, was he a standing-up Potato Person, even after he mentioned this concerning issue to my daughter. Her pencil kept getting to his illustration and lumpifying him.

Maybe I should backtrack and tell you something about my husband: he is one of the most hyper, active people I know. For the first five years of our relationship, he never sat down. Not once.

In the early stages of our courtship, we stayed up very, very late. As the clock hit 2, and then 3 a.m., my husband would still be regaling me with awesome stories. And I would “uh-huh” between snores. The unwavering energy level in those early days should have been a red flag. Until our children were born, his energy level was super-hard-core.

But the truth came out a few months after the Potato People series of drawings. The family sat down to watch several months of home videos. I started noticing a weird trend I had never noticed in real life: my husband was lying down in every single video.

There he was, lying down on a Saturday morning, on the carpet in the family room as the kids rolled cars over him.

There he was, lying down as my daughter whacked him with a wooden train.

There he was, lying down while the kids piled on top of him, screaming.

Our pint-sized family chronicler had hit on something we never would have noticed otherwise. I came to think of my over-achieving, hyper, do-stuff-all-the-time husband as Mr. Closet Coach Potato.

2. Skirting the issue. A while after the Potato People incident, my daughter’s drawings took on more sophistication, with full outfits and hairstyles and proportional appendages. The men had spiky hair and sometimes ties, and the women wore appropriate accessories, like glasses or earrings.

It took several drawings in this era of her work for me to notice that all other women were wearing skirts or dresses, but I was always, always wearing pants. Maybe jeans, maybe capri pants, perhaps even shorts. But never, ever a piece of feminine attire.

“Why does every other woman wear a dress in your pictures, but I don’t?” I asked my daughter one day.

“Mommy,” she sighed. “You never, ever wear dresses.”

I started thinking about it and concluded she was right. I spent the bulk of my day crawling around on the floor, an activity not conducive to wrap dresses and heels. It didn’t explain why every other non-dress-wearing female we knew got cute clothes in my daughter’s artwork, but it did force me to make the transition out of sweatpants and t-shirts with holes in them. My husband started a design school fund for her shortly after that conversation.

3. No detail is too small. Shortly after my daughter started adding elaborate details to her drawings, details we hadn’t noticed before began cropping up. She drew my mom with earrings and glasses, but I lacked either. My husband got three-day stubble in a less-than-flattering portrait, and in one detailed drawing of the preschool playground where we were supposedly visiting, she posted a sign (misspelled) “Grow ups can go in the sad.” It was a form of protest: there was a sand pit, but they wouldn’t allow the kids to enter it, because they might get sandy (??). A future of social activism for our artist daughter, perhaps?

When she got to kindergarten, both she and I had a rough transition. I thought I was good with it. I was proud of her growing independence, and she was certainly academically ready. But she had some difficult times that fall… I did, too. My son was in school for two years before my daughter headed to kindergarten, and we had become best buddies. We checked the rounders at Target, went for coffee at Starbucks and colored pictures after lunches at home watching, “The Little Mermaid.”

When my husband and I went in for a conference mid-year, the teacher pulled out a large sheet of paper.

“I think this says it all,” she said, unfolding the manilla masterpiece.

The class had been asked to draw the classroom, adding details where needed. The other kids finished in two days. Our daughter was still working on hers a month later. Each day, she grabbed stolen moments to sketch in the calendar board (with the exact number of squares), the tables (both round and square) and the kitchen center. My husband and I were silent, looking at each tiny, architectural detail.

My daughter is 9 years old now. She is going through a manga-ish phase, with people’s eyes resembling bush babies’. She says interesting things, like, “Subtraction and division make me think of wintertime.”

The lesson I have learned from living with an artist: aesthetics are important. Keeping yourself and your house clean are paramount. Wear dresses at all available opportunities. And never, ever lounge on the living room floor. You will be forever immortalized as a lumpy Potato Person.

In the Land of Lemonade Stands

Do not forget the cups.

Weeks in the summer: 11

Cups of lemonade sold (to non-our-street-dwellers) at a typical stand: 5

Cups of lemonade drunk by neighbor kids and mine: 46

I don’t remember the last time I was bored.

It was probably in late 2000, when I was on bed rest with my son and everyone at work forgot I existed and I kept turning on TLC’s “A Baby Story” and coming to the conclusion that I’d already seen that particular episode… usually where someone was having a water birth with 25 members of their extended family watching.

My kids get bored on a fairly regular basis. This may mean that I have failed as a parent and that they will end up in therapy talking about how I didn’t give them tools to create a rich and fulfilling life.

They are out of school this week for Spring Break. Spring Break is also known as Pre-Summer for those of us who spend lots of time with our kids. It’s a reminder of the first few weeks of summer, when they yell at each other, “Nuh-uh! You are the one who never holds open the door for me!” And “All I want to do is play with her, but she won’t do everything I tell her to!”

They also say things like, “I’m bored.”

I remember saying that to my mom and dodging out of the way afterwards, because she often looked like she wanted to slap me. Sometimes I even said it when there were friends readily available to me, and we were both (or all) bored. My mom practiced her eye roll on those days.

Usually, those of us in the depths of boredom would loll about on the floor, the ennui draining all lifeforce out of us.

Then, we would invariably pop up and say, “I know! Let’s sew strange monster creatures out of felt!” And we would go and cut out lots of different colors of felt and sketch out weird monster things and get all excited for an hour or so. Until we remembered that we couldn’t sew.

Then we would be bored again. Lolling. Thrashing. Cursing of the skies.

But the sky would make us think about the creek running through my front yard, and we would step into our flip flops and start out on an adventure of mapping the creek, which involved lots of mud and rocks and sticks and climbing and getting very muddy. Afterwards, we would go inside and drip all manner of mud up the staircase and take a shower, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the top of our lungs. (I still know all the words very well because of our practice sessions.)

It was difficult to be bored after wading in the creek for hours and getting clean and having sung very loudly. So I would ask my mom if my friend could stay for dinner, and my mom would pretend that she wanted me to give her more notice, but really she didn’t care. And we would eat lots of food and be happy until the next day when we would forget how to be productive again.

My kids spend time outside playing every single day. Unless it is 34 degrees, and hail the size of turnips is pinging off the metal roof of our front porch.

Most days, they find something to do with other bored neighbor kids. On other days, they amble up to me and say, “There’s nothing to doooooo,” and my eyes roll around in my head.

That’s when I yell out, “Potions!”

Or “Lemonade stand!”

Or even, dangit, “Hostage crisis!”

1. Potions. My kids might have outgrown Potions; we’ll see when the weather gets a little warmer. A neighbor dad used to bring a big, orange Home Depot pail over to our driveway (our driveway, you’ll note), and about seven kids would go to town, filling the bucket with water, dirt, pieces of grass, dead beetles, pom-pom streamer vinyl and other things large, scary birds might collect to feather their nests. You might think this game would wrap up in about 10 minutes. You would be wrong. Hours, I tell you. Hours. Of. Fun.

2. Lemonade stand. I send the kiddos out early in the day to proclaim lemonade stand time in the afternoon to the neighbor kids. Then we deranged, puppet loving parents bake brownies or chocolate chip cookies or lemon bars and seal them in sandwich bags. I whip out a can of frozen Minute Maid lemonade concentrate and fill a pitcher. I usually forget the cups and have to run up to the grocery store. Sucker. Then the kids proceed to make signs, set up the table and put out their wares. The brownies melt in the sun, the chocolate chips leak all over the sandwich bags, and the ice only lasts in the cooler for a half hour at a time, because someone usually leaves the cooler open. The lemonade gets a lot of traffic. From our kids. The people who drive by our street on a normal day must decide to take a different route home, because no one stops or sees the kids yelling.

The pattern of happiness goes something like this:

“Mo-om! No one is coming to our lemonade stand!”

“I bet they will soon. It’s getting later in the afternoon. Why don’t you have a cookie?”

Silence. Chewing.

“Come on, everyone! Let’s go advertise for our stand! We’ve got lemonade to sell, people!”

Sugar low. Sugar high. Crash. Repeat. Pack up for dinner. My work here is done.

3. Hostage crisis. This is not in any way similar to Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis. I don’t know exactly what goes on in this one, but it requires lots of yelling, rolling around on the grass and taking people to jail, which is interestingly in the same locale as the grass-rolling-around place. Poison has been mentioned. As I said earlier: therapy may be in our little darlings’ futures.

4. Police. All children ride bikes up and down the street, with utter disregard for one another’s limbs. Chasing after another kid on a bike making siren noises is what is known as “Police.” I think of it as “Potential Death Game.”

The ways this is wrong and scary: riding forwards but looking backwards, shrieking and hurtling towards stationary objects like mailboxes, veering sharply left or right when your pursuer is not skilled in defensive driving techniques.

When the Police game begins, I yell, “OK! Time to go inside and be bored for a while!”

At least with boredom, you get to keep all of your limbs. Just so you can loll about on them for another day.