By Jim Bates
During the first month of lockdown, Courtney, my wife, and I had a family meeting with our three kids. She did the talking.
“Okay, the school is setting up for distance learning so that’s what we’ll do. Your father and I have organized our schedules so he will be here on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I’ll be here on Tuesday and Thursday. Any questions?” She looked at me and I gave her the thumbs up sign meaning I had nothing to add. And why would I? When Courtney was on her game, like now, the kids sat up and paid attention. With me, not so much. She looked around the room. Nine-year-old Hunter, seven-year-old Audrey, and five-year-old Kaylee. They looked straight ahead and shook their heads in the negative. Nothing to say. “Okay, then,” she said, “tomorrow we begin.”
And we did. We finished off the school year in early June, got through the summer with a break from school and then into fall with more distance learning. A break through the holiday season on to the next year with more distance learning. In general, it went well. It turned out both Courtney and I had an aptitude for working with the kids one on one. Especially me and my daughter, seven-year-old Audrey. Then, this year, all things were started doing artwork together.
Frankly, art was never my thing. I was always drawn more toward numbers and stuff like that. That’s why I became an accountant. I can dissect a spreadsheet in the wink of an eye. File a tax return? Can do it blindfolded. Ask me to make a clay figure and I’m lost.
Audrey isn’t, though. She’s good with her hands and connecting her brain with what she wants to create. We did clay modeling and finger painting and then moved to watercolors and finally to acrylics where we are now. I enjoyed the whole process of helping her get set up and watching her creative mind at work. And I joined in. With clay and finger painting and watercolors, I did it all. It was fun. But I really found myself drawn to the acrylics. I loved the vibrant colors; the reds and yellows and greens and blues.
Our last project was to paint a seascape. Our model was a painting by the famous east coast painter, Winslow Homer. It had waves crashing on the shore and lots of motion energy. It even had a lighthouse in the background and two men in a boat. It was quite the scene.
Audrey and I had been doing various forms of artwork for the past six months and I was feeling pretty cocky, like I could really put this off. I checked the paint supply. We were running low on cobalt blue and cobalt yellow so I ordered them online and they arrived two days later. By then we’d roughed out our canvases.
I turned to my daughter. I’d purchased easels for each of us as Christmas presents and this was going to be the first time we’d used them. “Fun, huh?” I asked.
I should say right now that my daughter has been less enthusiastic working with me than I have been with her. I think she’d rather her friends Jenny and Sophia were around, but that was not possible. What with Covid and all we only allowed the kids to play with their friends together outside. With masks on, of course. So she was stuck with me.
In answer to my question, she tried not to roll her eyes, but I saw her. And she saw me see her and at least have the decency to turn a little red before covering up and saying, “Sure, Dad. Fun.”
After the paints were delivered, we got seriously to work. We worked about an hour a day for a week. I used some cobalt blue and some cobalt yellow. I guess mineral cobalt makes the color last longer or something. Anyway, the colors with cobalt in them are really pretty. I even used some cobalt green along with about a dozen various other colors.
In the end I had a roaring, raging seascape that I was really proud of. I showed it to Audrey and she made it a point of not rolling her eyes. I could tell. Instead, she said, “That’s nice, Dad,” in a way that was apparent that, to her, it wasn’t all that nice. Humph. To each their own. Undeterred, I showed it to Courtney. She tried to hide it but, in the end, couldn’t.
“God, that’s pretty amateurish.” She could see me getting my hackles up, all defensive. “But it’s okay, though,” she said, and squeezed my arm. “Just don’t quit your day job.”
“Funny,” I said, stomping off to show Kaylee, my five-year-old. She didn’t help matters when she giggled and said, “Daddy, what’s that?”
I didn’t bother with my son.
But I was not giving up. I like the colors of the paints. They even have a cobalt red. It’s awesome. I could sit and look at paint colors all day long. So what if I can’t paint very well. At least it gives me something new to do. Something new to learn. Obviously, I’ve got the time. The pandemic is still going on and we are still doing distance learning. We’re doing what we can to make the most of it.
Oh, and my daughter’s painting? She sent a photo of it to her teacher who loved it. She said it was going to be displayed in a school district wide art exhibit along with twenty-seven other paintings when the pandemic is over. Audrey is really excited and I’m very happy for her. It’s fun for me to be a small part of her learning process. It’s apparent she’s got a lot of talent which I’m pretty sure she got from her mom. In fact, the more I think about it, I’m positive she did.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords and The Drabble, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2 and The Best of CafeLit 8. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.