Summer arrived while I wasn’t totally paying attention. The days got hotter and longer; the girls got stronger and picked the first sweet fruits of tomato, zucchini, cukes and sugar snap peas. We watched the sparrows fledge; the supersmart baby rabbits devour the perfectly perfect crispy radishes; the catbirds feed their saucy fledglings, (and we carefully buried the one that did not make it); the ladybug larvae tyrannize the meadowsweet aphids; the swallowtail caterpillars eat the parsley, change from third to fourth to fifth instars, and then magically transform into camouflaged chrysalises. Now it is here.
But summer is deceiving. As carefree as it appears, with its crazy messy hair, p.j. pancake breakfasts, sandy wet beach towel floors, puzzle-piece days, and lazy late sleeping girls, it reminds me each year of this: small people can get really out of hand.
Because in the summertime something happens between my two joined-at-the-hip girls. Something spellbinding. Yes, they have always loved each other. There has always been idolization and fierce protection and love, love, love. They get each other. “Let’s pretend….” one of them says, and they make funky paper reading glasses and make handmade paper pets that play together with intricate social relationships, and they make each other laugh so hard that they make me laugh at them laughing.
But as the school year comes to an end, we are here. And it is just us. And so it is now that quickly things can change. The “on purpose” bump, the “stolen” crayon, the intentional pinch—it is time for them.
And I think that if you and I are going to continue with our great friendship, you’re going to have to admit that you, too, at least occasionally have small people in your house that get completely out of control. In fact, it is true that once, in one such moment, my small sweet one pushed a chair down a flight of stairs. And then threw in a five-fingered scratch from shoulder to wrist. To my mom. On purpose.
Sometimes during the hot summer it is like they are putting themselves together by tearing me apart. Building themselves out of tiny collected pieces of this, that, him, her, me. And so, because of this, sometimes you just have to go back to the source of something and let it wash over you. Sometimes you just have to review the rules.
I know this much is true. Our rules are simple and we make them together. They range from “Drink your Milk” and “No Pushing” to “Be Kind” and “Help.” In earlier years, as a visible reminder, we wrote them on a family chalkboard and kept them nearby. More recently, I permanently painted them on an old stretched canvas.
To replicate this project, you will need an old canvas or scrap wood (size is up to you), wood stain or paint for background, paint for lettering, small- and large-tipped paint brushes, a sanding block, chalk or transfer paper, and a your trusty list of family-generated rules.
First, prepare your canvas. It need not be perfect. In fact, the more rustic and unfinished, the better. Prime, roughly paint all sides, allow to dry, and sand edges with a sanding block. My friends Lea, Helen and Susan (who, unlike me are superstar painters) would proceed at this point to paint the rules freehand. Instead, I prefer to print them out supersize, cut each word or phrase out, and place them strategically on the canvas. With transfer paper and a sharp pencil, trace the outline of each letter onto the canvas. Remove the paper. Fill in using teeny paintbrushes. Allow to dry. Lightly sand the canvas.
Just a note: I suggest you not follow my black canvas background lead on this one. Envisioning a chalkboard-like background, I painted a black oil base over my scrappy canvas. I then hand-painted our rules in white. Don’t do this. Instead, either lightly stain a wood background or paint a light-colored background on canvas or wood. You will avoid the headache of transferring letters onto a dark background. Uggh. If you are chalkboard-obsessed like me (we have five), you will not heed this warning. In that case, use white chalk as a transferring agent instead of transfer paper. Thoroughly rub the chalk on the back of each paper rule printout, and then use a sharp pencil to transfer the word or phrase onto the canvas. Remove and fill in with paint.
On another note: Our rules are referenced incredibly often. Choose your rules wisely. For instance, beware of ones that may slip in like “Get Muddy,” “Ask Questions,” or “Try New Things.” Outcome may be entirely different from your original plan.
And on another note: Surely some of you will think of easier ways to do the job. Feel free to reveal any tricks of the trade.