by Mary Jessica Hammes
September 15, 2008
It’s rather inspiring that Amanda Soule—one of the craftiest and deservedly popular mamas of the Mom Bloggers set—did not consider herself a crafty or artistic child when she was growing up.
“For me, my creative spirit was awakened—and awakened loudly—through the presence of my shining children and the lessons I’ve learned from them,” writes Soule in her recent book, The Creative Family (Trumpeter Books, 2008).
In her book, Amanda—that’s SouleMama in the blogging world—not only gives the reader a generous helping of craft ideas for little ones, but also a gently encouraging nudge to pursue their own artistic natures. Even if a lifelong fear of drawing “the wrong way” holds you back from other crafty projects, Soule shows us that there are lots of ways to be creative and engage your children—including imaginative play, exploring the outdoor world, celebrating family rituals and feeling a connection to a larger community. Plus, Soule’s photographs that accompany the book are as beautiful and sweetly intimate as they are on her website.
Amanda lives in Portland, Maine, with husband Steve (who works in civil engineering) and children Calvin, 7, Ezra, 5, and Adelaide, 3 (plus one on the way!). I was thrilled to interview Amanda for baby gooroo. And guess what? Thanks to the generosity of the kind folks at Shambhala Publications, Inc., we have two copies of The Creative Family to giveaway! Keep reading to find out how you can win one.
baby gooroo: Early in the book, you address the idea of giving yourself permission to be creative—a “job responsibility” of parenting. I loved this, since I know too often that parents deny themselves creative opportunities because they aren’t as pressing or “important” as other chores. How do you think adults learn to dismiss this side of themselves? Do you think this attitude goes hand-in-hand with the fear many adults have of making art (perhaps intimidated by not being able to make something “good”)?
Amanda Soule: Yes, exactly. And sadly, for many of us and for many little ones, I think we actually adopt that fear in our youth from the many messages we get about art and creativity from school or family. Like a language, if your ‘creativity’ isn’t nurtured or encouraged, it’s something that can be ‘lost’ and forgotten about as you age and grow. The key for such adults is to regain the fearlessness in creating that children inherently have. As parents, the ‘job responsibility’ is to nurture the creative part of our children’s selves, as we do other parts of who they are. In doing so, we often do the same for ourselves.
bgr: Some of your advice is to cut out TV and get more sleep. Do you have tips on how to phase out TV and bring in more sleep? Some people find it truly hard to do either or both.
AS: I don’t mean to oversimplify the time issue by saying ‘cut out TV and get more sleep.’ Finding time to incorporate more creativity into our everyday lives truly is a challenge, and one that is often on my mind. I find that there are those two components though, that are essential in making it happen. The first being self-care. For me—and I’m sure many other parents of young little ones —getting enough sleep is so essential to my general wellness and state of mind! I can’t do anything without that first. But for other people, the self-care might be something else entirely—exercise, good food, a combination of all of the above. I use sleep only as an example.
The second piece of advice—of cutting out TV—could be better generalized by ‘prioritizing.’ I say TV because it’s something that many of us have in our everyday lives and it can easily eat up so much of our time and energy without adding a whole lot of benefit, necessarily. Maybe it’s something else in your life—spending less time online, reading fewer blogs, etc. Giving something up that’s less important as a trade off for making room in your day for creativity.
And then a third component that I don’t really spell out, but that I think is organically woven into the book, is that of incorporating your creative time into the time that you spend with your children. Creative tasks, projects, activities together as a way to ‘feed’ you all creatively. That’s what I hope “The Creative Family” provides families—ideas on how to make that happen.
bgr: I love the nature table idea (establishing an indoor area that holds gathered bits of nature reflective of the season), but I can imagine some fastidious parents being reluctant about bringing bits of the outside inside. Do you have any tips for people wanting to shift from that way of thinking, and becoming more open to getting dirty?
AS: I completely understand the resistance to having a pile of acorns, pine cones, grass, leaves, and all the dirt that comes with that into the house! We spend enough time cleaning up already, don’t we? And yet—the beauty and the life learning that comes from these little bits of nature brought in is just so invaluable, I think. For those concerned with the mess, keeping the materials in designated areas helps—having a nature table or shelf as the home for these things. Bowls, tins, and baskets all can help contain the mess a bit too. Sometimes, there are things that I request stay outside—or on our porch steps, or a sun porch—kind of an in-between spot where a bit more dirt isn’t going to really matter much.
There’s a moment that happens often in our daily life—when a little one is about to jump into a mud puddle fully clothed, or the scooping of flour is about to spill over the mixing bowl. My response in that moment can be torn between what the consequences of this ‘messy’ action will be, and on the other hand, the valuable learning and exploration that can happen for our children should the action proceed. As adults, we’re often instinctively guided to the first thought—to stop the mess from happening. But I think as parents aiming to nurture our children, we need to keep the latter thought in mind as well. Striking the balance between the two, and gently guiding our children, while also letting go a bit ourselves….that’s a true goal and challenge for me as a parent.
bgr: Do you ever have moments of feeling creatively blocked, either in your own art or figuring out what to do with the kids? How do you get past that?
AS: Oh yes—in both ways—personal creativity and as a parent. The personal creativity can be sparked pretty easily for me, though —with a bit of exploring (books, fabrics, blogs, magazines, flea markets, etc.). Sometimes just making ‘something’ helps—even if I’m not totally inspired by the project, I become inspired and energized in the process of the making of it to create something else.
As for the children, for the most part, I find their ideas and energy boundless, and the challenge then lies in me keeping up! On the more rare days when their creative motors need a little juice to get started, we often head outdoors. Everyone always comes back inside either inspired to do something, or a bit more at peace with where they’re at—usually both.
bgr: You often champion a sense of gratitude for the earth, a grounding connectedness with nature; it’s such a refreshing change from a lot of “plugged-in” kids who are disconnected from each other and the greater world. Was this philosophy of being more connected to the earth already important to you and Steve before the children arrived? Or has it become magnified since you became a parent?
AS: I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, and with parents who took us camping and hiking all summer long. When Steve and I met, he had just spent 10 years traveling and living outside— kayaking and guiding rivers in the summer, and snowboarding and working on the mountains in the winter. So I suppose it was only natural that a connection with nature would carry into our life as a family as well.
I think what might have been the most surprising to both of us was the challenge in making that happen sometimes. Getting three young children outside, reasonably warm and all happy for more than five minutes in the midst of a February cold snap? Tricky.
On the flip side of that, I never could have imagined how inspiring and beautiful it would be to watch them discover the world around them. The magic they see everywhere in the small and bigness of nature— it’s something we can easily lose sight of as adults. Their reminders help me to see the world in a different way – a way that feels full of wonder, magic, and hope.
bgr: Could you tell us a little bit about Steve? What creative and inspiring qualities does he bring to the family?
AS: Oh goodness. Are you giving me permission to gush about my partner? I love that. Steve and I met through a mutual friend, and had an instant connection. We’re very different people in many ways, but since the first day we met, we’ve always been in sync in terms of our values and the things that are most important in our life. Family, a connection to the natural world, homeschooling our children, simple living, and on and on. Like many couples, I think the differences in our personalities keeps a healthy balance in our relationship, while keeping us both on our toes! Steve’s creative influence on the family comes in many ways—his selfless support of what we do first and foremost—but also his writing, music, and a serious amount of humor and wit. He keeps us all laughing…and focused on the important things in life.
bgr: Finally, what are each of your three children particularly into making these days? How about yourself and Steve?
AS: Calvin’s super passionate about baseball right now, so all of his ‘making’ happens around that—making baseball figures, an elaborate scoreboard for the backyard, etc. Ezra loves to make drawings and books and music—he writes a lot of songs. And Adelaide has just begun a stretch of really tactile play—making things with dough, washing things, etc.
Right now, most of my ‘making’—and Steve’s, too—center around getting ready for the upcoming seasons. There’s a lot of canning, preserving, woodcutting, warm-weather sewing and knitting, and of course, making things for the baby who will join us in just a few short months!
Mary Jessica Hammes is an Athens, Georgia-based writer, trapeze instructor, knitter, gardener, comic book enthusiast, and hula hooper. She is mom to Tommy.
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