During my baby years, the years our four children were between the ages
of newborn and five, I divided the world into 'permanent' and
'impermanent' things. The daily mountain of laundry, washing dishes,
grocery shoppping, all fell into the 'impermanent' side of life. These
things seemed necessary but dull. Anybody could do them, and they would
be done today, tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that. Impermanent, as I
saw it, would not change the world or leave a trace of my performance.
Permanents, on the other hand, left an impression in the slippery slide of my life. Reading a book, writing in my journal, making something: a sweater, an arrangement of flowers, a slingshot, meant I was alive underneath the fatigue.
The division between the two moved with the day. Sometimes an impermanent became a permanent, like inventing a new shrimp salad or hanging clothes on a line in summer with the sun on my back. "Permanent!" I would say in my head, relieved that ideas still evolved, that the capacity to pause and feel a moment of light was intact.
Permanents made a difference. They contributed to a private knowledge and lay like seeds inside, wordless and waiting. During my baby years I tried to do one permanent thing a day against the tide of impermanent. I looked for projects to do with the children. Not with the urgency of a parent intent upon stimulating creativity in her offspring, but with the awareness I was on my secret search for permanents.
I found science experiments involving eggs and fire, and messy art from shaving cream. We made a scarecrow for the garden and a frog cage from cake pans. We grew alert for ideas, and found them in the most unexpected places. The children and I did these projects with a loose informality and followed our instincts over instructions. I still washed the clothes and cleared the table, but the experiments and projects gave me the chance to learn like a child: joyously, instinctively, with curiosity. The attention to permanents was meant for the unfolding of my creativity during difficult years, but the process embraced us all, making our lives dense with possibilities, the small possibilities that uncover the big ones.
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The following projects are two of our favorites. Their beauty lies in their immeasurable results. There is no specific 'pattern' to strive for. Each piece is completely different from the piece before, and all participants are on equal footing. Your children are able to create beautiful papers beside you without the 'help' that is often nothing more than interference to them. Take your time and move slow. Whether you have a houseful of babies or your children are grown, investing in creativity, noticing the small enduring moments in life, does make a difference. The dishes can wait.
This lovely, rough textured paper varies in color with the plants used. Experiment with different colored tissue, or try pressing dried grasses, sequins, or seeds into the paper before it dries.
What you will need:
1 cup garden snippets such as grass, flowers, leaves, berries, or soft vegetables like tomato or zucchini.
1 cup finely shredded paper: tissue, toilet paper, or napkins work best
screen cut into a 12 inch square (small rolls of screen are available at your hardware store)
After collecting the garden snippets, tear or cut into small pieces and place them along with the shredded paper into a blender. Fill the container two thirds with water, and blend the mixture on medium speed until it is the texture of mush. This step breaks down the fibers of the plants with the tissue to make a pulp, or slurry as it is known in the paper making trade. Pour the pulp into a colander over the sink and drain off the excess water. You are now ready to roll the slurry into a paper. Set the piece of screen on a thick pad of newspapers, and place the drained mixture onto the screen. Cover with a sheet of wax paper and roll the slurry out, changing the newspapers as they get soggy, until the pad is fairly dry on the last roll. Lift the screen from the newspaper pad and dry the garden paper in an airy place. Check the paper after a few hours and lift the edges a little. This will make it easier to remove the paper from the screen later. When it is fully dry your family may want to use their papers for a poem, a picture, or save it for the pure pleasure of creating.
Words cannot do justice to this magical project. I have made marbleized paper with my children, my friends, and in a classroom of 26 six year olds and each time we lift the paper for the first peek, there is a surge of wonder at the astonishingly beautiful patterns. The process is simple, the technique easy enough for even small children, but most importantly, to create with your child and marvel together at something new is a rare opportunity to pause in our busy lives and live a resonant moment of discovery.
What you will need:
oil based paint
turpentine (not the pure gum spirit turpentine)
aprons or old shirts to wear
Work in a well ventilated area.
Turpentine vapors can be strong. Prepare the paint by thinning it with
the turpentine to the consistency of milk. We use small jars with lids
for this, to store the unused paint for later use (I guarantee you will
be asked to do this project over!)
Cover the work area with newspapers, and line the cookie sheet with foil. Fill the cookie sheet half way with water, and have your child dribble drops of the thinned paint onto the water with a small paint brush. The paint may seem to disperse to nothingness on the water's surface at first, but keep adding the drops of paint until it begins to glob. Swirl the paint around with a pencil or popsicle stick for the marbleized effect, then gently lay a piece of typing paper upon the surface of water. Lift the paper and lay on a newspaper to dry. Explain to your child that the reason for the marbled look on the paper is because oil and water don't mix. The oil based paint is lighter than water and rests on the water's surface. The typing paper acts as a blotter to absorb the swirled paint, and captures the beautiful patterns.