Under the Pillow Art Gallery

For the past several weeks, our nightly routine has taken an artistic detour. After I help him brush his teeth and tuck him in, my young son tells me what he wants on his drawing. Sometimes it’s something extremely specific and random–“draw me and Ben Loper eating construction worker cupcakes”–but when his mind is tired and his eyes are heavy, he relinquishes control and tells me to think of something to draw. Not only am I to produce a small original piece of artwork every night, I’m also expected to tape coins to the picture for him to peel off and place into the zippered part of his wallet. My son is five.

I don’t recall how or why this even started, but it is now an expectation. Sometime between the newspaper puzzles and the commercial breaks, I lie on the floor and create a little picture. I use a black pen and a scrap of recycled office paper. No matter how ridiculous it looks in the early stages, I don’t start over and I try not to obsess over the imperfections. When I’ve sufficiently filled up the little piece of paper, I tape on the “metal money” and place the drawing under his pillow.

I like to doodle but am by no means a professional illustrator, so on most mornings the first words I hear from my son revolve around his disappointment over the previous night’s artistic offering. This always stings a little (even bad artists need constant validation) but I listen to his complaints and try to use his criticism to help shape my future work.

The first few selections were very simple and uninspired, my wife sat in one night as resident artist, and one note consisted of only a written message, a well-intentioned incident that was meant to transform the frivolous activity into a learning opportunity. That approach was abandoned immediately. Not every exchange between parent and child needs to be laced with purpose. Sometimes magic resides in the oddball ritual, in the messy stuff, in the shading of crude domestic art, in the persistent push against your own limitations.

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