Between rain and cold wind, and day trips into the Black Hills, we did actually manage to get our son to one of his scheduled mornings at Art in the Park through Rapid City Parks & Rec. He and his cousin joined others of their height and size to make prints with vegetables in the picnic shelter (and do sidewalk chalk.) I liked the cauliflower clouds he made, and I was impressed with the pizza box drying rack that their teacher put together. But mostly, I was happy to find such a fun summer program run by the city, for a relatively modest price. I may do this kind of art with him at home on a regular basis, but I know that many parents can’t or don’t, and it cheers me to see the classes offered.
I took my son out early one June morning for a stroll in the meadow near our rented cabin. It was foggy and grey and beautiful, a wonderful time to be outdoors in the Black Hills. I planned to follow an old road bed over a slight hill and see where it went. I took his little hand and he bravely crossed a cattle guard for the first time, placing his feet carefully on the metal bars so he wouldn’t twist an ankle. He seemed braver than I remembered being as a child when I had to walk across cattle guards, something I still don’t like to do. I was proud of him.
We crossed the gravel road and entered the field. Within a few steps, he was unhappily demanding to go back to the cabin. “I don’t like it out here!” he proclaimed. The grass was wet and so his shoes, feet, and pant cuffs were getting wet. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the horizon. The field was full of yellow dandelions and the very tall grass was a lush green that we don’t ever see in the brown, dusty desert where we live. Perfect conditions to me, but not to him. He began to cry even harder and so I turned back reluctantly, leaving behind my hopes of a beautiful morning walk. I knew all of it was unfamiliar to him, and I knew it must be a bit overwhelming on a sensory level. I remembered our hike the week before and was again saddened by his reaction to being outdoors in a place that I love.
But the next day, when his cousins visited, he very happily followed them back into that field, way out into the deep grass that reached nearly to his waist in places. He even sat down in the tall grass and sprawled out on his stomach, rolling in the grass like a puppy, picking dandelions to show me. The sky was gray with an impending thunderstorm, but he didn’t mind. I was confused by his sudden change of attitude, but also very happy to see him enjoying himself. This time, he was the one who didn’t want to leave the grassy field when we finally had to seek shelter from the storm.
Early one morning at our rented cabin in a remote corner of the Black Hills, I finally brought out the small stones, brushes, and paints that I’d been promising my oldest nephew. We sat down at a picnic table on the piney slope in the cool breeze, where underfoot many lovely little shooting star wildflowers popped out of the thick layers of pine needles. We followed directions that we found elsewhere online, putting down a white base (to help with color vibrancy when the top layers were added), letting it dry, and then completing the image. He made a house, a star, and other symbols that must appeal to seven-year-olds. The younger three also had their turns, happily painting away in the dappled shade. The idea is to create pictures on stones that one can then use to make up stories, arranging the stones in a different order each time and challenging the parent and child to tell a new tale with each iteration. At home, we have used purchased story cards, and my three-year-old adores setting them out before me and waiting to see what story I can come up with.
It seems like just a children’s craft, but it’s so much more than that, as I realized this morning thinking about the various ‘story stones’ that have been added to our life this summer, mainly that of Mom’s passing. Just think of all of the story stones we could paint of our life’s journey: pieces of our identity, challenging events, happy events, accomplishments made. Just as a child can re-arrange a set of story stones to make up a different narrative, I suppose that we can do the same, finding new, creative ways to view the collection of memories and choices that weigh us down at times with their emotional significance. In our mind’s eye, we can set out our story stones and adjust their placement, giving them a new meaning and role just as we might as we make up a different story for our children every time we bring out the story stones they’ve painted.We can add new stones as we grow older, stones that can completely change the meaning of the story, stones that change something that seemed final into something that was just a passing challenge, stones that can turn what looks like a sad story into a happy story.
The oldest cousin groaned when he heard we were going to go visit a church on a sunny summer weekday morning, but he was quickly won over when he saw Stavkirke, a wonderful treasure of a carved wooden building. Telling them how much the building was like those they see in Frozen (which I have still not seen entirely) and How to Train Your Dragon also helped garner excitement. The kids took off to play hide-and-seek in the covered passageway that surrounds the interior body of the church. They admired the wood carvings and the metal door knockers. My son saw the altar and asked if we were going to have Communion (sweet little Orthodox preschooler that he is, ha!) After I finally corralled them back together they ran up into the pine forest along the newly developed prayer path while I admired the statuary along the way. It’s usually a quiet, peaceful place, and I’m so glad we finally fit it in again during our trip.
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!