Last Saturday, Gillian and Isaac watched a YouTube video of a woman and her two young daughters making a vat of slime in an inflatable pool with ten GALLONS of Elmer’s glue.
I will never be that mom. I have accepted that.
But the kids LOVED the video. Gillian had seen it before and wanted to share it with Isaac, who was truly inspired by what he saw. Before it was even finished, he was shouting, “I want to make slime!” which I quickly redirected to making art, something far less messy that could incorporate our abundant collection of paper, markers, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, leftover stickers, glue sticks, and scissors.
The artist at work
I got out Isaac’s slanted desk, which he doesn’t use often, and he sat down with the art supplies and went to town! He started drawing and gluing and cutting and peeling stickers, none of which are especially easy for him. Isaac was doing work he typically considers hard and enjoying the process. That in itself was a success.
It was thrilling to see, and yet something I could easily have stopped before it even began. A simple, “No slime, let’s clean the house instead!” and there would be no art show, no story to tell. (And the house did need some cleaning. Doesn’t it always?) For me, that’s lesson number one. Take a breath, and take the risk.
A surprise visit…and a big idea
A few minutes in, our neighbor, Elise, came to the door with some pomegranates from her parents’ yard. She is also one of our babysitters, so Isaac invited her in to see what he was up to. With Elise here, the wheels really started spinning, as if she brought the outside in and made Isaac think about taking his art out, to the people!
Isaac asked Elise to go with him to several of the houses on our street to show our neighbors his art, which she graciously did, taking Isaac to her house and maybe one or two others before she had to head home. (At least I think that’s what happened. See below!) After that, Isaac asked me if he could go next door to Ms. Kristen’s house and down the street to Mr. Greg & Ms. Jennifer’s house. I said yes, he could go and show his art while I finished making dinner.
A little later, when we all sat down at the dinner table, Isaac announced that he had invited our neighbors over for an art show!
I thought Isaac was taking his art to show the neighbors, but apparently, Isaac planned to bring THEM to the art!
The planning begins
I got an IM from Jennifer who said Isaac had invited them over Sunday afternoon, but she wasn’t quite clear on the details. He told them to wear blue and to wear a sweatshirt. (It’s August in Houston, friends.) At this point, we were cracking up (in a most supportive way!). Isaac told us that some neighbors were coming at 5:00 on Sunday, some others at 4:00, and that Ms. Jody was coming on Monday.
If this thing was going to happen, it was clear that we needed a unified plan!
Here’s what was going through our minds: 1) Isaac had jumped into making art, something that is often a challenge for him, with enthusiasm and joy, and 2) he had taken initiative to invite the neighbors over for something he was excited about. These are values we want to encourage, and it was actually doable on a Sunday afternoon…so we decided to go for it!
I typed a quick text invitation and posted it on our cul-de-sac Facebook group:
“You are cordially invited to an art show by Isaac and Gillian Worley, Sunday evening, August 18, at 5:00 p.m. Not a long time commitment (promise!), and drinks will be served! This was Isaac’s brainchild. We truly hope you can come.”
The day of the art show
The next morning, before Todd and I were even out of bed, Isaac got out 10-12 glasses and filled about half of them with iced tea. He was ready!
Initially, we thought Gillian might want to include some artwork of her own. She is very creative and even had a piece selected for an art show through her school last year. Instead, she decided to support her brother by hand-making tickets for the event (twelve, at Isaac’s direction). It is always impressive when a leader can take a supportive role, and Gillian did so beautifully.
Our next door neighbor and her daughter couldn’t come at 5:00 because of a previous engagement, but they texted earlier in the day to see about coming by for a pre-show. The house was a disaster, and I hadn’t done even the minimal prep work I’d intended to do when they messaged me. I toyed with the idea of saying no but decided that was silly. This was for the kids. Lesson two = lesson one: Take a breath, and take the risk. Let it happen! It’s never about the house anyway, Mama.
At the first hint that someone was coming, Gillian ran out the door with two tickets. It was on!
I’m so glad we went ahead with the pre-show, because it turned out to be very instructive! I realized right away that Isaac and Gillian didn’t fully understand the concept of an art show, or at least they didn’t have the same agenda in mind as I did! They were building forts and playing tricks and making it more like a performance, a “show,” which told me I had some explaining to do. Before the real thing, I needed to “preview” them, or walk them through what was expected, a concept we learned from Isaac’s school. I made a mental note of that lesson and made good on it as soon as the pre-show was over. Kids don’t always know the hidden rules. We have to teach them.
At one point during the performance, Ms. Kristen and her daughter asked the name of one of Isaac’s drawings, and without missing a beat, he responded, “Emotion.” It was perfect! When our first guests left, I set out to help Isaac title each piece, and then I made labels to hang on the walls alongside them with sticky tack.
I only helped with one or two of the titles, and Isaac chose the rest himself. Some were funny and some truly insightful and descriptive. My personal favorite is “Frustrated,” a drawing on one sheet of paper, partially cut apart and with missing pieces. This is an emotion Isaac knows well, and to see him name it was powerful. Kids are far more tuned in than we realize.
A few hours later, before anyone arrived, I chilled some wine, put iced water in a pitcher, and put on some classical music (because that’s my idea of an art show).
Granny arrived early, and a few minutes after 5:00, several of our amazing neighbors showed up at our door, ready to see Isaac’s art and share in his excitement. Isaac was thrilled. We all were.
Isaac offered everyone drinks, and we showed our guests around, starting with the first couple of drawings he created after watching the slime video, “Inspiration” and “Excellent.”
Then there was the piece Isaac was doing when Elise came over, which she helped to finish with some food stickers he selected and a few funny words. In retrospect, Isaac named that one “Diving Board.”
Next was the two-sided “Pickle/Fever,” which we hung for full effect, and on the opposite wall, “Deconstructed,” a full drawing, cut roughly in half.
The final wall featured four pieces of art, the aforementioned “Emotion” and “Frustrated,” along with “Greezed Lightning,” a roller-coaster piece, and finally, “Murphy,” named for our dog. These were mixed in with a professional picture of Isaac and Gillian and one piece of each of the kids’ artwork from school, which were already hanging in frames.
Isaac still managed to squeeze in a little performance, a magic trick where he made some quarters disappear and then reappear. Anyone who knows Isaac knows he can command a room! We took some pictures and had some laughs, and Gillian showed off some of her drawing skills in real time. Everybody was happy. We knew what we were doing mattered. It was a simple gathering and didn’t take much time to prepare or host, but it meant something to Isaac, and in the end, I think it meant something to all of us.
Todd and I don’t always get things right as parents (a universal truth), but the art show was a win. We followed Isaac’s lead and followed through on his plan, showing him in a concrete way that we value his creativity and ideas and his innate drive to bring people together. We say we value those things in our children, and we do, but there’s something about acting on it in a tangible way that had an impact not only on our kids but also on us. It was good for Isaac and good for Gillian and good for Mom and Dad.
There are a lot of lessons packed in there, most of which are self-evident, and most of which I already knew. But doing something means far more than knowing something, and maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all. Following a child’s lead—truly walking with them on their path of ideas and discovery—tells them we value them more than any words we can say. It builds the relationship for parent (teacher, grandparent, aunt/uncle) and child.
And I’m keenly aware that it wasn’t just me and Todd who made the art show happen. In a time when many people don’t know their neighbors, much less love them, I am grateful all over again for the street we live on and the wonderful people who live on it with us. Isaac’s Impromptu Art Show wouldn’t have been the success it was if we didn’t have some very cool neighbors who took the time and truly showed up. They followed Isaac’s lead in a tangible way, too. Thank you, Kristen & Emily, Greg & Jennifer, Jody & Elise, and Granny. And all of our other neighbors who would have been here if you could have. You are patrons of the finest kind of art.