Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Six months ago my husband declared that he would be changing his morning routine. Instead of awaking at 6:15 am and getting ready for work, he would rise at 5:00 and draw for an hour before needing to run through the shower.
My husband does not say things he doesn't mean. Ever. He never exaggerates, or is dramatic with his words, unlike me (and our two daughters) who are frequently walking around saying things like, "I'll never have another good book idea!" Or, "I'm never wearing underwear again!"
It's up for debate who said what.
So when Jim said he was going to wake up at an insanely early hour every morning just to draw, I knew he meant it. I also knew he must really need it. So I set out to rearrange the room where I write every day to give him space to draw. I organized all my stacks of rough drafts and edited manuscripts into neater piles, and cleared a space for him beside my writing desk. I set up a small work station with a lamp, an end table for his coffee, and one of our portable speakers so he could play music while he drew.
I noticed an immediate change in him as he started his new routine. Having consumed a pot of coffee and had an hour to himself, Jim was practically giddy when the rest of us emerged from our rooms, sleepy eyed and hair disheveled. His peppiness somehow influenced the way the mornings went for everyone else. Suddenly my children sprung out of bed excited because they wanted to see what their dad had drawn.
At first, the drawings were just pencil sketches, often of superheroes and villains from his extensive collection of comic books that practically fill our basement. But after a few months, the drawings became more detailed, inked and often colored in. The girls acted as if they were art critics. "Dad, the shading is well done." And, "Nice work on the cape." Before long, they began making suggestions the night before of what they wanted him to draw the next morning. Typically characters on TV shows they loved. Perhaps more Sofia the First, less Dr. Strange.
Our oldest, Lowery, is so much like Jim both in looks and fierce intellect. Where London and I share cheekbones and a clever sense of humor, Jim and Lowery are analytical. But Lowery has my predisposition for anxiety.
For the first few years of Lowery's life I fumbled around in a variety of failed attempts to help her calm her anxiety. Then, at around five years of age, she found painting. And sculpting. And anything that required a glue stick. We began to see that when she was immersed in a craft, she was calm. Eventually, art became a way she learned to regulate her anxiety.
Her bedroom looks like the back room of a craft store, with dried paint on the hardwood floors, scraps of paper strewn across her desk, uncapped markers peeking out from under the bed, and crumbly bits of clay on her dresser. The messier Lowery's room is with art supplies, the more at peace she is. In fact, now that she's nearly eight, she hasn't seemed anxious in a long time. We just have to keep the paints stocked.
London, however, never seemed anxious. She is a much more laid back and free spirited kid. Despite that, she is deeply sensitive. And she uses her body to show her emotions. She laughs with her whole body, and weeps with abandon. At the point she learned to talk she began to sing; the moment she learned to walk she was dancing.
When she's had a good day, she rushes in the house to turn on the speakers and dances wildly around the room with the dogs. She sings quietly to herself at the dinner table while the rest of us talk. She sings loudly for all of us when she's wanting attention. We can always tell her mood by the tone of her song.
Over the holiday break, trouble began brewing with London. Without preamble, our child began throwing screaming fits. One minute she was fine, the next she was on the floor crying and thrashing. Jim and I assumed it was the stress of the holidays, the long break without structure, and the general lack of sunshine.
In an attempt to turn things around for the family, we took a day trip to a museum a few hours away. While there, the kids were delightful, well behaved, and engrossed in the exhibits. But as we went to leave, London fell to the ground screaming, kicking, yelling at me, and slapping Jim. None of this made sense. This child never threw fits. In fact, she had been such an easy-going child we kinda thought we were done raising her. But there we were, in the middle of a packed museum trying to hold on to our screaming child as she kept pushing away from us and running off.
The screaming was so loud and piercing I was just sure you could hear her from the parking lot. Or the next town over. I finally managed to corral her into the bathroom, hoping I could calm her down in private. But once in there she ran into a stall, locked the door, and screamed that she would never leave. I rushed to get a janitor to unlock the stall, at which point London lunged at me, both hugging me and pushing away from me until we were both on the ground, wrestling on the tile.
Jim, hearing her screams from outside the bathroom, finally burst in, picked her up off of the floor, and calmly carried her back through the museum as she screamed the entire way. No other parents seemed phased by this. They'd all been there.
And we had, too. Just never with this child.
Once we got into the car, she calmed almost immediately. I quietly cried the entire drive home. Jim's knuckles were white on the steering wheel. Lowery didn't say a word. I didn't know what London was struggling with, and I didn't know how to help her.
The next two weeks presented more of the same. Fits at night kept us all up late. Jim was too tired to get up and draw. Lowery was struggling to handle the situation. If it was her own anxiety, she would paint. But what did she do with someone else's? When I asked Lowery if she was okay, she just shrugged and said, "I feel badly for London...but I don't know what I'm supposed to do." All her markers were lined up neatly in their box, caps snapped perfectly into place.
I read everything I could online about child tantrums. I spoke at length to my best friend, who works as a pediatric occupational therapist. We took London to the pediatrician to make sure she wasn't sick. After a thorough examination, the doctor said she was perfectly fine and then spoke with us for a long time about this (sometimes difficult) developmental phase. I worried if something was happening at school. I called my sister and couldn't even form words for how hard I was crying.
Jim and I pulled Lowery aside one evening to ask if she had any clue what was causing London's behavior. She was thoughtful, citing that this was London's first year in a new school and that maybe she was just overwhelmed. But she assured us she was looking out for her at lunch and recess and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She had friends, was eating well, and always seemed happy during the day. Huddled together in the kitchen, we all decided that the only thing we could do was let London know how much we loved her. It was our only option.
For days we just hugged London constantly. We all worked to remain calm when she screamed and thrashed about. We constantly told her how we felt about her.
But I was getting behind on my writing. How long had it been since I sat down at my desk and wrote? Jim's drawing table stood empty. His lamp remained off.
Then one morning last week I awoke to a familiar sound. It was a low hum, but I knew exactly what it was.
My heart skipped.
It was London. And she was singing.
I crept to her room slowly and cautiously. When she saw me in the doorway her eyes lit up, she held out her arms and sang, "Good moooorning! Good mooooorning! Good morning to yooooouuu!" And then threw herself back on the bed with laughter. Lowery came rushing in and jumped on her. Jim came around the corner and said, "I hear a new song!"
"Yes!" London exclaimed. "I just made it up!" And then she leapt out of bed and began gyrating around the room to the beat of her new song.
We all sat on London's bed for a few minutes, watching her skip around the room in her nightgown as she sang. Lowery looked up at me. "I meant to tell you, I'm out of pastels."
"Okay," I said, my eyes fixed on London. "We can go to the art supply store this weekend."
"And I'll need some new brushes. And you said you'd get me better watercolor paper but you never have."
I patted her leg and stood up to go in search of their clothes for the day. We would be late if we didn't get moving.
The next morning I didn't hear the humming and my heart sank. I rolled over to check the time. It was just 5:30. She wouldn't be awake this early.
But when I looked over, I saw Jim's side of the bed was empty.
He was up and drawing.
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