(FYI–this used to be part of a longer post that I’ve since divided in half. I’m trying to be a bit more…concise here and there.)
In one of my earlier posts, Peanut Butter and Butter, and What it Taught Me About Presents, I described some of the more…unsuccessful gifts I’ve bought for people. (Not that there’s anything wrong with trophy decorations for the trophyless, Yoda lights, or manly marionettes.)
There was one present this year, however, that I think went quite well.
At Christmas I went over my yearly compilation of What To Get People notes and realized I hadn’t written anything down for my mother. Usually she’s one of the easier people to buy for because, like me, she gets obsessive over things (like the color purple, or certain TV shows) and has lots of hobbies and she loves gadgets (think handheld fans that both whirr and spray water at you.) But, nothing came up throughout the year. She eventually sent over a list but there really wasn’t anything on it that grabbed my interest.
One of the items was a cheese tray. I mean…a cheese tray?
Don’t get me wrong–I love all things cheese and trays–but I thought I could do better. (Usually this is a dangerous line of thinking. My ‘better’ is another person’s ‘let’s regift this piece of junk!’)
It occurred to me that most of the people I buy gifts for, and even myself, are at a place in life where we can generally afford the things we put down on lists. So we send over three or four ideas to other people and if we don’t get it, no big deal, we just go and buy it for ourselves.
I ultimately decided to avoid these gift ideas and, instead, pick an event.
This would accomplish a few things. It certainly wouldn’t be expected, it would be fun, and it wouldn’t be something that can be listed and interchangeably bought with your own or someone else’s money. Best of all, it would be a way for us to spend quality time together.
Usually when I come home for a visit to Buffalo, I have all of these intentions of spending individual, truly quality time with every member of my family. It rarely happens, which is ridiculous. Trips home are hectic, goal-oriented. We’re always one foot out the door, trying to get that last trip in to Barnes and Nobles, or trying to make sure we go out for just one more all-beef burger before returning to Germany (where it’s mostly minced meat.)
It didn’t take long to come up with an idea of what to do with my mom. She has an artist’s soul. (And, she was literally an art teacher until her retirement several years ago.)
There’s a lot of perks to this.
When I was in elementary school, for example, we had the usual ninety-nine projects about animals. For one, I was assigned the flamingo. The project required me to write down some interesting facts and bring in a visual for the class. Most kids showed up with some stick figure sketch drawn in crayon. Not me! My mom and I took over the kitchen and busted out paper-mache, fluorescent pink feathers, and paint to create a life-sized flamingo that had to be driven over to school, separately.
In 1989 I did an environment-related project on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Together, we built a beautiful model of Prince William Sound and the oil tanker and left a wild inky trail in its wake. (The project actually inspired me to write an impassioned letter to President Bush, and I got back a family photo with some generic “keep on learning” comment in return.)
Halloween was (and still is) my mom’s time to shine. There were never any store bought costumes at the Blackwood household, that’s for sure!
One year I wanted to be a pizza, and she built me a costume that was three times my size, loaded up with construction paper pepperoni and olives, and looked so delicious that I won a prize at school. Other costumes she built include Sponge Bob Square Pants, the ocean (not too ambitious or anything,) gum beneath the heel of a shoe, the Wicked Witch of the East moments after she was crushed by Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of OZ. (No gore—it was literally the house, and beneath it were the witch’s ruby slipper wearing feet.) And, the list goes on and on. The family attic is a warehouse of eclectic characters.
Nowadays my mom makes the most breathtaking jewelry you can possibly imagine using precious gems and crystals. There are literally no words for her talent with this, or for what I’ve learned from observing her about what can be accomplished if you really dedicate yourself and put what amounts to thousands of hours into your craft. It would require a blog post of its own to give her work the plug it deserves.
So, I decided to take her to something that’s becoming all the rage in the States—Paint on Tap. I actually found a date where we’d be recreating a Van Gogh painting. (My mom is such a fan that, if I’d been a boy, my name was going to be Vincent.)
If you’re not familiar with Paint on Tap, it’s a relatively new activity that includes one of my mom’s favorite activities (painting) and one of my favorite activities (drinking.) In short, you drink, chat, and recreate a masterpiece with the help of an instructor.
It. Was. A. Blast.
Seriously, I enjoyed myself so much that I think if I lived in the States I’d become a regular, there, and fill up my house with all the rather wonky imitation pieces I did of famous art.
We split a ridiculously inflated, eighteen-dollar bottle of Apothic Red (totally worth it) and, step by step, made like we were in Arles and recreated Vincent’s ‘Starry Night Over the Rhone.’
It’s really neat how you do these paintings. You take baby steps. First a blue line of horizon, and then this random blue circle on the horizon, and eventually you’re painting tiny building shapes and illuminating them with yellow splashes.
At one point, the instructor told us to put the tiniest bit of black paint on our small brush. Then, we had to add it to the navy blue at the top of our canvas and blend.
Well, I put a much bigger drop than I meant to and the effect was to make it look like a black hole was about to swallow the horizon.
“Oh my God, mom,” I said, pointing. “I put too much. I ruined it!”
She leaned over and said, in the gentlest voice, “It’s okay, you didn’t ruin it. Just add a touch more blue and blend.”
“I don’t know how,” I said.
“Just like this,” and she dabbed some more blue and showed me the correct brush stroke. “Now you do it.”
As I took over fixing my painting, I felt like a child again, in a very good way.
When was the last time my mom and I had done art together? I was transported back to our kitchen in the 1980’s, when all twenty of our fingers were covered in goo and strips of newspaper and we were trying to mummify balloons with all that mess and my mom assured me, in that same gentle voice, of what the steps were. Of how, exactly, we were creating animals.
I loved her soothing teacher voice.
I loved witnessing her in that role. Instead of giving her a ‘thing,’ she was able to share a side to herself that I don’t get the chance to witness all that often.
And, I loved that we were spending some time exploring her niche (and that I got to do it while slightly buzzed, so, in a sense we were exploring my niche, too.)
For the record, our paintings turned out pretty damn awesome. My mom’s is better, for sure. But, mine isn’t half bad. I do, however, wish I hadn’t had this sudden rush of creative inspiration towards the end and added bright orange splashes to the waves. We weren’t told to do this and I can totally see why. It looks a bit crazy.
How about you? Any ‘event’ gifts you’ve given that worked out great? I can use all the help/ideas I can get. 🙂