Just about mid-August, the historical account of the previous year, pouring forth from the walls of our home, begins to bother me.
The small-hand marks of the youngest member of the family shows his growth pattern for the year. One bedroom wall bears the tire marks from a bicycle of a family member who became disenchanted with the bike rack arrangement in the garage and elected to park his bike inside. On the wall, under the desk that holds the family computer, are several shoe marks from students who rested their sneakers against the wall while they agonized over papers on Jane Austen, the digestive system and endangered species.
Throughout the house are intermittent marks from balls kicked or thrown about during the soccer, baseball, football, golf, or tennis season. Lastly, this year, is the blackish film that covers the kitchen ceiling resulting from a small but "fortunately, Mom, no one was hurt" cooking oil fire which occurred one afternoon when sons aged 16 and 7 attempted to deep-fry potatoes.
It is thus, that, nearing the end of summer vacation, just as I feel that I can no longer hear "Leave It to Beaver" reruns on the television and I detect the five-letter word "bored" creeping into the conversation, I make my yearly announcement that it is time to paint.
The 10-year-old and the 7-year-old are delighted with the announcement, and the adolescents are most unhappy.
The Child Labor Law of 1916 is introduced into conversation by dissenting factions, but a quick trip to the encyclopedia allows that this generally applies to work in "mines, quarries, factories and occupations declared hazardous by the U.S. secretary of labor."
I remind the children of the importance that painting has played in literature, such as Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence. I am sternly reminded that Tom Sawyer did indeed not paint the fence himself but rather tricked his friends into whitewashing it.
From "Love's Labour's Lost," I sweetly quote,
"When daisies pied and violet blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadow with delight."
Having exhausted the historical and literary implications of the painting project, I give my closing argument that we've no choice but to paint.
A last-minute appeal is always made. Have I considered professional painters? No, I remind my friends of their outstanding credentials based on previous year's painting. Moreover, I offer the tale of the neighbor whose professional painters failed to provide adequate ventilation during the painting job. One of the painters lit a cigarette, and the resulting fire necessitated six additional months of re-modeling.
Experience in painting with children has allowed me to develop several guidelines. All supplies must be on hand before the project commences.
Young people have a tendency to quit the job if annoyances persist such as insufficient brushes, paint, dropcloths or masking tape. I, therefore, present all the necessary materials at the onset, including hats which most paint suppliers provide at no extra cost (very helpful in motivating younger painters). I emphasize that workers will be responsible for cleaning their tools. (I help the little ones.) I remind dissenters that they are fortunate to live in an age where water-based paints are available, unlike my youth where cleaning oil-based brushes was a tiresome task.
Recent advances in paint supplies have made painting effortless for all ages. Rather than rely on rollers, which frequently have a splattering effect, I find the new soft-bristle pads with handles to be very comfortable for young people. I also prefer using foam rubber brushes, instead of bristle brushes, as these are less expensive and may be tossed away following the completion of the job.
In that the word "attitude" has become an integral part of the rhetoric of young people, I stress the importance of a "good attitude" toward the project. Wisely, the older workers remind younger siblings that sloppy work does not result in dismissal from the job, but rather further work to "improve workmanship."
No definite time period is presented for finishing the task--it tends naturally to get done in a reasonable amount of time. I allow all forms of music to emanate from the area being painted. Friends may come over and converse, participate, or observe during the project. Last fall, two friends of the 10-year-old became involved in a painting project. Throughout the year, they have inquired if we will be painting again soon.
Good food and soda pop are a necessity. I augment normal grocery store purchases with several desirable, not-frequently-purchased items.
I act as a supervisor and help with any problem areas. I praise good work and overlook natural mistakes. Since all the paint can be cleaned with water and a rag, most errors can be corrected.
The results are most impressive. There is a sense of pride which comes from having performed a task by oneself. A freshly painted wall or door can be a tremendous source of accomplishment for a child.
Recently, a young friend of the family returned from an extensive stay in Africa. She spent considerable time living with native families in dung huts or primitive shacks. Her appraisal of the discipline and role assignments within the family structure was fascinating. She reflected at dinner one evening on how very little our culture involves children in everyday tasks.
Needless to say, I cannot envision our children capturing, killing, plucking and preparing a chicken for dinner. However, I can point to three beautifully painted rooms painted by two adolescents and a blue front door painted by a 7-year-old.
Each time I open that front door, I hear a small voice say, "I did a good job, didn't I?"