During announcements or on the rare occasion that the children would stay in big church, my mom would allow my brother and I to doodle in our bulletins. Anything to keep us from picking on each other and creating a commotion! While I don't recall the sermon messages or the songs, I remember those drawings- the extravagant artwork I would create in the margins of the bulletins. Squished up against the announcement for the next church potluck or pouring out of the hospital report, my pencil characters would come to life. I would pick a 'theme' for the morning and fill every unprinted inch of my bulletin with monsters, knights and princesses, sketches of my family and pets, and elaborate flower gardens. My parents would do the obligatory smile and nod as I proudly showed them my artwork during the sermons- I'm sure the pastor just thought they were nodding along to his message!
I remember with detail the Sunday I decided to draw E.T. in the bulletin. Yes- E.T.- Steven Spielberg's Extra-Terrestrial. I must have been very young- the movie was released before I was born and I recall being frightened of it- but for some reason, E.T. was the church bulletin doodle theme for the day. How carefully I drew E.T.- that skinny neck and pig nose. I remember asking my mom if his eyes were close together or far apart. For the entire 45 minutes of the sermon, I worked on my E.T. and it was perfect.
Now, you'll have to remember that E.T. is a naked alien... occasionally Elliot would wrap him in a sheet to ride him around town on his bicycle but for the majority of the movie, E.T. is bare chested. Committed to artistic integrity from a very young age, I drew his nipples in my church bulletin.
I remember proudly showing off my creation to my mom- and the look on her face as she scrutinized my work, her eyes landing on E.T.'s bare chest. At the time I didn't understand the look that flashed across her face- I'm now pretty sure it was a combination of horror-concern-and finally, resolution to right a wrong. She quietly whispered, "What are those?" To which I replied, "His boobies." Without missing a beat, she took her pen- her pen! not a pencil that could be erased!- and added little circles connecting E.T.'s nipples all around his neck. "There, now he's wearing a pearl necklace." She said with satisfaction and turned her attention back to our pastor and his message. I was horror-stricken. My art! My creation! How could she just defile it with a pearl necklace?? Everyone know's E.T. didn't wear a necklace- he wasn't even a girl! I'm sure I tried to whimper a protest but my mom would hear nothing of it in church.
For some reason this memory came to me this morning. I remember the feeling of injustice and hurt that my mom would ruin my artwork. But now, looking back and (yikes!) putting myself in her situation, I can't help but laugh at the ingenuity of my mom's solution to my X-rated bulletin artwork. I'm sure my mom wasn't really that offended at E.T.'s boobies making an appearance in my art... but she must have been concerned that someone would take offense. But a pearl necklace? Who thinks like that? She could have torn my bulletin up, or dragged me to the bathroom for a spanking, or prohibited me from doodling in church ever again. But instead she turned nipples into a pearl necklace.
my mom and I, c. 1986
I'm not sure what the moral of this story is. I guess I hope I will be able to think on my feet as a mom and find unusual solutions that don't stifle my child's creativity. I'm thankful for my mom and for all the crazy things she allowed us to get away with growing up... but I'm thankful that she did set some boundary lines for us too... my brother and I had a full childhood- we explored and played, and created. We got hurt a few times but never anything serious thanks to the wisdom my parents imparted to us. And we learned all the time! I know this was a deliberate effort of my mom and I can only hope I can follow in her shoes in this way. Provide lots of learning opportunities, let your kids explore and play on their own, teach them to be wise and set boundaries. I learned an important boundary that day- no nipples in church!