When the children were small they liked to paint, and the simplest way to minimise the mess was to buy a large roll of paper and cover the entire dining table with it.
Wherever paint was daubed it didn’t matter. They could dip and brush with gusto creating enormous brightly coloured murals until the discipline of rinsing brushes started to get lost and every stroke was another muddy brown, the colours indistinguishable from one another as enthusiasm waned.
I loved to paint with them, my inner child always happily clutching at an excuse to come and play.
My children taught me how to be happily idle. But as they grew up I started to forget.
Through feeling a need to demonstrate my value in childhood rather than bask in the comfort of feeling it a certainty, I became heavily reliant on the word “should”.
I hear myself speaking it still, more often than I’d like.
“I should cut the grass”
“I should do the ironing”
It’s better than it was because at one time it was used in a much broader and insidious way.
“I should do what other people expect of me”
Aside from the devastating impact this has on our sense of self-worth it makes life far harder than it needs to be. It urges action where none is required and drains us of energy for all that is necessary.
Other aspects of parenting were less straightforward. Tantrums, sleeplessness, illness, taking on the significant change of the first day at school, or first night away.
These parts of life cannot be avoided. They must be met. Head on. “Should” becomes superfluous when your child is sick, wakeful or anxious.
So, in a sense, the title of this post is misleading, because life isn’t often easy. It isn’t supposed to be. What would be the point?
A central part of our motivation comes from finding purpose, from being challenged. The problems start when we expect more from ourselves than we can cope with, unnecessarily.
I have forgotten so much of what my children taught me about how to be fully present without any particular objective other than putting paint onto paper. I know this because I find myself pushing for completion of tasks which don’t matter outside the meaning I have given them in my own head.
So perhaps I’ll get out the paints and cover the table with paper. Maybe Beth will join me and, after a while spent quietly stroking colour in different directions, she’ll say “Daddy, what are you painting?” and I’ll say, “A tree”. It was almost always a tree. “What are you painting?” I’ll ask, and she’ll give me a random answer which bears no relation to her picture, “Sausages”. Everything will be fine and so much easier than if I’d forced myself into something more “useful”.
Being a child for a while. That’s what makes life easier.
Later, Beth might say, “Can we get out the glitter?” and, as every parent knows, that will mark a sudden return to the business of responsibility, of purpose and of being a grown up.