Taking the cousins down to Art Alley in Rapid City with paint and brushes seemed like the next logical step after doing sheet murals in the backyard. The boys (ages 3, 4, and 7) especially were very thrilled to be painting on the walls, doing something that would normally be off-limits. We brought tempera paint, brushes, and rollers, and they quickly set to work adding some color to a very black, oppressive wall (final work pictured in the last photo.) The oldest painted a train after hearing one’s whistle a few blocks down. All of them added their handprints to the walls. We had quite a few smiles and laughs from passerbys when they saw the tots out painting alongside the spray painted graffiti. Of course, even though Rapid City is quite safe during the day, we planned carefully, going in mid-day, having four adults (including one big male) to keep an eye on the four children, painting near the end of the alley so we were not able to be blocked in, and keeping a close eye out for traffic or unsavory characters. The kids loved it and felt quite special to contribute to this bit of public art. Afterward, we took them to Main Street Square to run in the fountains and wash off the remaining paint from their hands and arms. I’d say this was one of our most successful cousin camp experiences this visit.
Sheet murals! Half of the fun is using non-traditional implements to paint with: hands, a feather duster, sponges, fly swatters, grass. The four cousins happily set about splatting paint on the white sheets (from a thrift store) that we clothespinned onto the chain link fence. We used tempera paint mixed 50/50 with liquid fabric softener (I’ve only found it at Walmart.) Clean up, of course, is just as fun, at least until the bucket tipped over with the child standing in it!
We’ve been meaning to try these for at least half a year and finally did this week. My son loved using an eye dropper to squeeze food coloring (somewhat diluted with water) onto coffee filters to see how the colors spread. He squeezed large amounts of liquid with each drop, so I gave him a stack of 5 – 6 filters at a time to reduce the amount of liquid gathering on the paper plate underneath. After a quick dry in the South Dakota wind, I used chenille stems to gather groups of two and three filters together into bright flowers. What a lovely bouquet!
A very bright, sunny day plus four little cousins who had been cooped up with the rain and cold all weekend long was reason enough to break out the paint and canvases and go outside. But we also had the goal of making a set of artwork for Father’s Day – a housewarming gift for Grandpa and Grandma’s new cabin in the woods. The kids enjoyed their project, although we probably should have stopped a few of them before their paint colors mixed to the point of muddiness. Body painting was also very popular. We started with tempera paint until I managed to find the bag of acrylic craft paint I’d purchased for story stones (coming soon). The craft paint had much better color than the tempera paint did.
Oh, I had high expectations for my son’s first hike on a particular trail in the Black Hills. I was so excited to take him into the forest and let him see the tall stands of ponderosa pines, smell the warm sap and damp pine needles, and observe the pretty little ferns, mosses, and flowers on the ground after a wet winter. It’s a trail that has been a part of my life since I was his age.
I thought he would love it.
But he didn’t.
He cried and wanted to go back to the car, even from the all-terrain stroller we had him in. When we did take him out of the stroller to walk on the level path, he just wanted back into the stroller. He said it was strange, this forest.
And I felt as though I had failed in some way. I know that three-year-old children often develop unusual fears that they eventually grow out of. But my son has only known Houston and desert California as home; South Dakota is a place to visit for summer vacation. So he hasn’t been immersed in the forest from his earliest days as I was. And so, it is strange to him, this place that is home to me, where I am most happy of anywhere on this planet. I also see hints of my own sensitive, cautious personality in him, even though he seems much more social and outgoing than I ever remember being.
(And if the forest is strange to a boy who has already been outdoors a lot, I wondered, how strange must it seem to urban children who have few, if any, experiences to be in wilderness?)
A swarm of tiny moths on the wooden bridge over a (breathtakingly-frightening- for-a mother) river chasm distracted and cheered him for a bit. But when that was done, he was ready to go back to the car. My husband hurried off on the trail with him while I lagged behind and saw how truly comfortable my little nephews and niece are in the woods.
My son loves the Pacific coast, the park, and playing in the sand in our backyard. I will try to bring him into the woods more often, so that hopefully someday he will see what wonderful landscapes they are as well.
We spent the warmest day so far of the year in the Black Hills at the lake of my childhood, where the cousins created sand castles and moats and dug to their hearts’ content. They were quite protective of their creative sand work, until the temptation to smash and rebuild was too strong to resist. Apart from a family of Canada geese, we had the beach to ourselves. Watching the children play freely in nature was delightful, but also bittersweet to think of how very quickly the years have gone since I was their age and playing on the same shore.