Monday, September 7, 2009

Alli Marks

My daughter Alli believes the world is her canvas. I remember introducing Alli to the world of art with a pad of drawing paper, a new coloring box and a fresh box of fat crayons. She kneeled on the counter stool, wrapped her clumsy, chubby toddler fingers around the red crayon and very intently started scribbling ferociously. When her hand slipped off the paper and the red scribble extended onto our laminate countertop in our brand new home, I inadvertently gasped. Then exclaimed with way too much gusto, “Oh no Alli! You have to keep the colors on the paper. We ONLY color on paper. Not Mommy’s new countertop.” For good measure, I followed up my instruction with my best Mommy frown. My over-reaction told her smart two-year-old mind, “Wow! If I color anywhere that’s not on the paper, it gets Mommy really excited.”

From that moment on, her creativity was unleashed and the bounds of paper were too prohibitive. She marked her territory with a squiggly, faint line as if to say, “Alli was here.” I found Alli Marks on the floors, hallways, walls and baseboards, not to mention her closet, baby dolls and even the exterior of our family mini-van. Occasionally she intertwined the dark, angry scrawl that was clearly intended to make a statement. My reactions to her artistic impressions ranged from explosive anger, lecturing (as if she cared), making her clean up her mess and completely ignoring her, but nothing seemed to squelch her creativity.

We tried hiding the crayons, introduced Color Wonder, the colorless-unless-used-on-magic-paper markers and washable crayons, and confined the art supplies to the kitchen. Despite our best efforts, Alli always managed to find the one non-washable crayon that we missed and continued to leave her mark on her world. I found myself stocking up on Magic Erasers, inwardly growling at each new discovery and marveling that my angle-faced toddler was simultaneously vandalizing my house and making me feel like a complete failure with every sweeping stroke.

As she grew into her preschool years, the volume of Alli Marks began dwindling, but didn’t disappear all together. (No doubt, her furniture and toys all breathed a heavy sigh of relief!) Whenever things in her life grew topsy turvy, changed dramatically or felt out of her control, the Alli Marks reappeared. She always seemed baffled that we traced them back to her, but it didn’t take much sleuthing to guess the criminal now that she marked everything with a capital A followed by two L’s and a lower-case “I” dotted with an open circle. She signed her desk drawer, two of her new dolls, and the top of her dresser. For reasons I didn’t understand, leaving her mark on unconventional items seemed to be a coping mechanism for my little girl who thrives on structure and clear boundaries. I learned to not give in to my urge to scream at her or put her in time out until she’s 30, and instead would calmly ask her to clean it up, not do it again and rehash the rules of when and where she could use art supplies.

I recently had knee surgery and my new status as an invalid has forced our family to get creative in accomplishing the tasks that normally fall on my shoulders. Grocery shopping, a task I dread because I do it in two week increments, was the latest challenge. The Stilp Six stepped up to the plate and we creamed the grocery shopping by dividing and conquering, good planning, and cohesive teamwork. Everyone pitched in and we knocked out the task in record time. It was the first time in months that grocery shopping was fun and the kids basked in all the praise we dished out over their helpfulness. We sent them upstairs to start the bedtime routine and I limped over to the kitchen table to wipe it down for the final time that evening.

And that’s when I spotted it. A barely visible, green-crayon, capital A- the first Alli Mark in several months. I calmly called Alli down and she came bounding down the stairs, perma-smile plastered on her face, newly A-lined bob framing her almost Kindergartener face. I asked her if she noticed anything different about the kitchen table. Bless her heart, she scoured it carefully, examining the left-over coloring books, the half-colored pages and the crayon box. She settled on a scrap of a Go-GURT wrapper and proudly brought it me. “This?” she said and headed to the garbage can, expecting more praise for her helpfulness.

I glanced at my structurally sound, but scratched and battered kitchen table and then it dawned on me. Alli has waited her entire life to start “real” school. Her larger-than-life Tinkerbell backpack has been hanging on her hook and at-the-ready for weeks now. Just the day before, she had waltzed into her new classroom, carefully sorted out her school supplies into the labeled bins, examined every nook and cranny, and insisted on photos with the “Welcome to our class” banner and with her new teacher. The newest Alli Mark was no doubt her way of processing all this new change, and I briefly contemplated agreeing with her that the scrap of garbage was indeed why I called her back to the kitchen. In the end, I pointed out the A, she scrubbed it off, whole-heartedly told me how sorry she was, and skipped back upstairs.

Tomorrow Alli will strut into Mabel Rush Elementary School, over-sized Tinkerbell backpack proudly displayed and leave her first Alli Mark on Mrs. Harris’ kindergarten class. If it mimics her personality, it will start off quietly and a bit reserved, but will quickly swell to bold and colorful and most likely fly off the paper and a bit out of bounds. I can hardly wait to see it.

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