Monday, January 20, 2014

I've got a new mantra.

It all started with a bit of crooked cutting. His goal was to follow the perfectly framed edge of the catfish photo but his scissored slipped, the edge frayed and he flipped out. "I messed up! I can't do this. Mommy, you do it."

"I can't do your homework, Jules. And it doesn't have to be perfect," I told him calmly, offering the very advice I so often can't seem to accept myself. "Plus, we're making a collage [with Mod Podge - and I could barely contain my excitement]. Sometimes it actually looks cooler if the pictures don't all have straight edges."

That he wasn't buying. Jules is a guy with an affinity for angles, straight lines and squares, just like his dad. Maybe it's those engineer genes. But he calmed down and settled back into striving for straight lines. Which went mostly almost perfectly. Lucky for us.

Then he started writing the words. The task was to capture two facts about electric eels and he was pleased by those he picked: 1) an electric eel is not really an eel—it's a fish, and related to a catfish; and 2) an electric eel can put out enough voltage to light up a Christmas tree. Fascinating really. But that "r" starting off "related" somehow made its way to the paper facing the wrong way, the mirror image of a right-facing R. He screamed and threw the crayon. "It's a stupid R. I hate this." Two short sentences containing two words that are off-limits at our house. (Those who know how I speak in the company of adults might find this amusing but I'm pretty strict on this point.)

I showed him another superb benefit of collages: You can just cut off that part. If you want, you can cut all the words apart and glue them down separately. And sometimes that's just the right art effect you're going for. He bought it. We kept going. To great success. From his determined expression, and the chatter-box commentary that accompanied the sketching of Christmas tree clearly illuminated with lots of eel-powered voltage, I could tell he was  proud. And I felt proud, too: I hadn't intervened with his vision, hadn't reached more than once for the sponge-brush to help him smooth the Mod Podge, hadn't pushed him to paint the white parts of his poster with watercolors as I'd envisioned, hadn't suggested, a second time, that he might want to find one more fact—because Ms. E had assigned them to report on "two or three" things.

Pushing "perfect" (unattainable, of course) might be the number-one thing I want to avoid as a parent. Of course, I want to encourage the boys to reach—within reason. But I also want them to feel that they that they can create, or conceptualize something, and feel confident enough to share it with someone else, or lots of someone elses, before they feel like that something is fully figured out. That's how you learn, that's how you grow. That's how you get awesome. And have fun.

But I struggle with insecurity of sharing semi-shaped stuff. A lot. I spent more than a dozen years in a world where things are supposed to be edited to perfection before they leave your desk. Now, I work in a role where things have to be iterative. It's empowering. It's liberating. History aside, it's the way I actually prefer to work: with creative input from all sorts of smart collaborators. But I often need to be reminded to let go. To route what I've got right now. And, on that front, I appreciate the encouragement, the coaching.

Today, I told this to my boss when he told me not to overthink part of a project. "Often, I totally need that reminder and love that you help me with that," I'd said. "But not this time. You'd be proud of me. I'm really keeping things moving, even if it feels like I'm just throwing shit on the walls." He loved that. Truly. He even stopped by my office later to suggest a "Throw Shit" sign for my wall.

I'm thinking about it.

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