“I never noticed all these beautiful things about you.” My daughter was in bed under her covers with her dim heart night light on, ready for bed. She had called me in for “one more hug,” and even though a sink full of dishes and cluttered counter tops were waiting for me, I never turn down the “one more hug.” After we hugged, I realized what I often realize, I had spent the morning with her. I had picked her up from school at 3 pm and spent the afternoon with her. I’d sat across from her at the table while we ate snack, and while we ate dinner. I’d quizzed her on Math flash cards, given her a bath- washing every part of her body, shampooing and conditioning her hair, drying her off, flossing and brushing her teeth- and yet, all that time- I had never truly “seen” her. That’s when I told her, “Wait, I want to really “see” you,” and as I sat leaned over her bedside, our eyes connected, and I saw her for the first time today. “I never noticed all the beautiful things about you…” she said looking closely at the rest of my face after our eyes had met.
I think if they’re honest, most parents can relate to this scenario. This “not seeing.” Life after my husband’s death has been mostly about survival, about keeping the small momentum I have going. I’ve been afraid that if I stop, I might not be able to keep going again. I’m sure most parents, even with two living parents, can relate to the day to day routine of raising small children. Waking up, making breakfast, packing lunch, picking out clothes, brushing teeth- off to school. Picking up, putting out snack, checking homework, making dinner, cleaning up, bath, stories, bed…exhaustion. When you’re trying so hard to just get through all that, it’s easy to not really see much of anything.
I took an online sketching course this past summer, mostly to try something that I already knew (thought) I wasn’t good at and wasn’t my medium, so that I could feel more liberated in my writing. I’d never sketched before, but I found I was surprisingly OK at it, and I enjoyed carrying around a Moleskin watercolor book, water brush, and watercolors. There is so much about creating that stimulates resilience, and not only did it feel therapeutic to create, but because the course focused primarily on the art of illustrated journalling, it actually taught me how to see the world differently. The teachers pointed out how little we notice of things, but that when we sit and take the time to sketch something, there is a meditative quality about it, and we start to “see” a simple object- like a pair of shoes, or a Lego house, or a flower (all things I sketched)- as they really exist.
As the class shared our work online, one woman shared a sketch from when her little boy was a toddler (he was now grown). She explained how she could’ve taken a photograph of him, but because she had spent the time sketching that day, that moment in time was captured in her mind in a way it wouldn’t have been otherwise. His movements and appearance, the sounds and scent of the day. The atmosphere. After I read her story, I decided to try to sketch my own daughter while her back was facing me one day and she was working at her art table intently as she does. I wasn’t brave enough to try her face. It was true- despite the literally thousands of photographs I’ve taken of her since she’s been born, the sketching experience allowed me to see her in a different way. When I see the sketch, I feel what it was like to be sitting there at my dining room table, taking in her concentration.
But one other pointer a Dutch woman teacher gave has stayed with me and colored the way I see everything, not just drawing, in my life. “Draw what you see, not what you know,” she said. Draw negative space, draw shapes. Don’t try to draw what you already know in your mind is, for example, a flower. Just start drawing the shapes you see and keep going. Then there will come that beautiful moment when your shapes suddenly crystallize into the actual object- that moment of recognition.
So much of our daily routines are about what we know- not what is truly there- not what we see. All day today my voice has been enthusiastically responding to my daughter’s stories and words. I had read with her and snuggled with her before bed. But I hadn’t seen her…not once, I’m ashamed to admit. I’d been going through the motions of what I knew our day was supposed to look like.
Last year during the season of Lent, I became interested in the Ignatian traditions and I used an online video to go through what is known as the “Daily Examen.” This is a brief time to reflect on what has happened during your day and look for God throughout, as well as look towards the next day. One of my favorite suggestions of the author was to begin your time with these simple words, “Here I am Lord, here I am.” It had been a few years since I’d even tried to pray. After my husband died, I didn’t speak to God for quite a while, so attempts to feel connected again were hard. But I found that saying these simple words immediately brought me to the present moment, and created a connection. Here I am.
I thought of the power of those words tonight when I sat over my six-year old. “Let me really look at you,” I said. Really seeing someone- it can actually be a little uncomfortable- a little disconcerting. It’s a vulnerable place to meet eyes and present oneself, away from all the routines and roles that we know all day. It’s that intimacy of true knowing that Facebook postings and texts can never match. And then there’s that moment the sketch teacher spoke of- that crystallization- the child I’ve been nurturing all day- becomes my child, my lovely daughter- not just the one I know, the one I see. And I say, “There you are, there you are.” And she echoes me back. “There you are. I never noticed all these beautiful things about you, mom.”
If you’re interested in the online sketching class I took, a new semester begins soon. It’s called Sketchbook Skool.