I love being married to an art major. I’ve said this before. I love going to museums with him and trailing behind him like an infatuated student following a master teacher. I love that he can explain a hidden meaning in a painting, or a subversive technique used by an artist on the canvas in front of us. I find it fascinating. I love watching him look at our kids through his camera lens. I love it when we’re heading out the door and he runs back and grabs his camera bag. Whenever he does that it’s like a switch goes on in my head and I immediately start paying attention to my surroundings, playing little guessing games in my mind as to what kind of pictures I think he’s going to frame. Most of the time what turns up in his viewfinder is never what I think I’m going to see.
He has an expression that he teaches his students. He didn’t make it up- in fact, I’m sure it’s something many art teachers say- but I love it nonetheless. He tells his students “You have to know the rules before you try to break the rules.” He tells them this because people like to think that in art, rules do not apply. They would be partially right- sometimes rules don’t apply in art. But the people who cause the biggest stir in the art world are usually the ones who are most familiar with the classical traditions and methods. For instance, did you know that Picasso- possibly the most famous rule breaker the art world has known- was a classically trained painter by the age of 19? I mean, he was considered the premiere Spanish master of his time. So, he knew the rules of art. He just decided to push them a little bit. Then he became famous for it. So then, (and I absolutely adore this about him), he went on to explore the rules of art in other mediums so that he could break them later: light painting, print making, drawing, photography, ceramics.
Such a creative mind. Too bad he was such an asshole in real life.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking of this expression lately.... knowing the rules before breaking them, and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this applies in so many areas of life.
I know a couple of people who have become first time parents in these last few months. I’m watching them on Facebook and they all are so concerned with getting it right. Doing well. Knowing the best way. I think I’ve kind of forgotten that feeling, but I’m so grateful that I’ve been paying attention to them lately. It’s made me reminensce. It’s also made me think about something I said in my last post about Parenting magazines.
To quote myself, I said: I've come to hate parenting magazines with all their ultra PC articles offering clean, formulated, logical solutions for any parenting conundrum imaginable. Nine years of motherhood has taught me that there is no formula, parenting is mostly illogical, and it is most definitely not clean.
Look. My stance has not changed in this short time. It probably never will. I think parenting magazines, at this stage of my experience, are useless. I believe they project a very shallow image of what constitues “good” parenting, and worse, too often they employ fear mongering tactics. (My favorite example comes from a magazine in which there is a monthly series titled “It Can Happen To You!”. The title itself irritates me, and the content is usually worse. For example, one month featured a story titled “My Son Slammed His Penis in the Toilet Lid.” First of all, if your toddler’s-ahem- appendage was large enough to actually reach from his pants and lay all the way across the toilet rim in such a manner that the toilet ring could actually close on it, well...... congratualtions, I guess. Second of all, I think I’ll forego your “experts” advice on purchasing a toilet ring lock and accompanying my kid to the bathroom every time and just live with the fact a) the chances of this happening to my kid are next to nothing and b)if it does, it’ll only take one time before he gets smarter about making sure the lid is all the way up before he goes. Problem solved.)
(Forgive me for that above paragraph. I’ve needed to vent about it for a while.)
However, I remember now. I remember, after having PG, feeling disbelief and dismay that the hospital staff was actually going to let me take her home and be in charge of keeping her alive by myself. I’m not being sarcastic. I sincerely questioned their intelligence. Yes, I was in love and enamored and I loved her little baby smell, but I was also exhausted and incredibly hormonal and sore and weepy and full of self doubt and I just knew that I was going to screw this up somehow.
When I needed to feed her, I bombarded the nurse in the room with a million questions. Was this right? Was she latched on? Why was she making that weird noise? What do I do if she stops suddenly? I was frustrated at the nurse’s seeminly ambivalent answers: Yeah, sure we looked fine. If she wasn’t crying, then she was probably latched on. Babies always make noise. If she stops, maybe it’s because she’s not hungry.
When it was time to burp her, I called the nurse in. When it was time to change her, I called the nurse in. When she cried, I called the nurse in. I had a million questions and no one answering seemed to pick up on the urgent tone in which they were delivered. They were all as cool as cucumbers. Cool, gentle, patronizing little cucumbers outfitted in light pink scrubs.
I tell you, it was a little frustrating. And crazymaking, too.
Looking back I know, as you know reading this, that the nurses didn’t respond to my urgency because there was no need for it. They knew I had to just find my confidence. But what I also see, in looking back, was that when I was asking all my millions of questions, there was really only one question that I was seeking an answer to: What are the rules?
I have to feed her. What are the rules?
I have to change her. What are the rules?
I have to burp her. Bath her. Trim her nails. Pick her up. Put her down.
What are the rules? What are the rules? What are the rules?
Now I see it.
So also do I see it in my friends with their own new babies. When you’re starting out, you need the rules. So you read. You read What To Expect When Your Expecting. You read the parenting magazines. You read whatever baby books are hot on the best seller list at the moment.
And then you grow as a parent. Your confidence grows. Your experience grows. You discover that you don’t need the rules as much anymore because you can make up your own. You can leave the rules behind- but how wonderful that they were there for you because that feeling of overwhelmingness? It’s terrible. It’s paralyzing. The rules are like a nice, little bridge with a safety net under it. As long as you don’t stay there too long, you’ll be just fine.
There’s one more thing that Matt teaches his students about art and rules. It’s actually a quote from Del Close, and it says “The last rule is that there are no rules.”
I guess if you even get there, it could be considered supreme parental enlightenment.
Well, good luck with that. I bid you all a good night!