Today is a bittersweet day. I am working on setting up a studio for JJ, our 11-year-old. She has decided that, since she is going into middle school this fall, it is time to give up her baby toys and convert her “cottage” into an art studio. We donated huge bags and boxes full of stuffed animals, Polly Pockets, and tiny toys to local charities and had a yard sale to sell her larger pieces, so she could earn a little spending money. There were a few toys that she wanted to keep, because they had special memories, like the tiny Snow White figure, whose hand she loved to chew, but I was surprised that a girl who hates change was able to part with so many possessions. I am putting together a long art table for her today, and this week, we will go out to find her first true easel; she has grown too tall for her old one. I remember her peeking through the legs of my easel when she was starting to walk. She is the reason I switched from oil painting to collage; I certainly could not use lead white around a toddler.
And that’s where the bittersweet begins. JJ has been with us since she was five months old, but it seems sudden that so soon starts this separation dance that we do with each of our children. I am excited about working next to her, in her studio or mine, but gone are the days of princesses and puppets. Gone too are the nights, during thunderstorms, when she always whispered, “Keep together”, and we would cuddle under covers, until it passed. This is her choice, not mine; I wish to forever keep together. I want her to grow in every way, yet I want her to remain the same. I am sure that I confuse her with these very different signals I send. I want her to know that I am always beside her, in the studio, in her growth, in her life with all its pains and promise. I can no longer direct her by simply lifting her up and placing her where I will. I can show her how to lightly hold a brush, if she will let me. I can show her how to politely hold a conversation, if she will let me. If she will let me, I will take her hand and start this separation dance, and we will circle for as long as I’m allowed.