Yesterday I had the pleasure of walking around the mall of Washington, DC after my conference at Mom Congress 2012 this week. I took the extra day for a little down time and the opportunity to unpack all I had learned and begin thinking about what ideas and plans I was going to bring home. A delightful day. I saw the main monuments that everyone visits while in DC, but I also took time out to enjoy the amazing art exhibits in the National Gallery of Art. I stood nose to nose with works by Raphael, da Vinci, Rembrant, van Eyck and Degas (among others). Every time I turned a corner, I was taken aback anew at the masterpieces I was getting to enjoy, and even photograph.
But I will admit, the piece I was most excited about wasn’t one out of the history books. Ron Mueck is a modern artist whom my husband and I discovered on the web a couple of years back. He is a sculptor who plays with scale to bring new perspective to the human experience. I don’t want to go into too much detail about him here; if you’d like to learn more about him (and you should), you should google him. The point is, it has become a life goal to see one of his pieces in person. And, as it turns out, Mueck’s “The Big Man” is owned and currently on display at the Hirschhorn Museum, right there on the Washington mall. I made a beeline. I felt like a kid at Christmas as I roamed the halls searching for him.
I finally found him hiding behind a partial wall in a spacious room that featured large modern canvas works of black and white. It is my understanding that many museums place him like this – tucked behind walls – so that patrons discover him quite unprepared for the experience. If I’m wrong, then well, they should. Because he’s shocking.
A hyperrealist, Mueck creates pieces that provide a rare chance to experience the rawness of humanity. I stared at The Big Man (who is scaled perhaps two or three times the size of a normal human) for about 20 minutes, examining everything from the broken toenail and cramped toes to the veins and age spots that dotted his skin, to the moisture on his lips and the incredible intensity of his eyes. There is nothing softened, tucked, or photoshopped here; he is not beautiful, yet he is exquisite. He is a perfect combination of the sacred and profane if you will. Like life. Like all of us.
Which brings me to authenticity. Sometimes people comment that they are amazed by how perfect our homeschooling life seems to be. This makes me laugh, because of course I blog about the highlights. I don’t like to complain a whole lot myself, and I like to protect the true vulnerabilities of my children. I have no problem telling you what they do, but I’m more guarded in sharing the details about who they are, especially the unfavorable bits. My DC host Amber asked me about this last night, and suggested that perhaps a more complete experience is more beautiful in its wholeness. Like The Big Man.
While all of this has been happening to me in DC, on Monday my kids carried out a day full of 25 minute presentations at Marketplace for Kids, an entrepreneurial fair for grades three through six. As former participants who have pursued their projects beyond the fair (Ian with his trading card game Animal Attack, and Eva with her books), they were invited to talk to kids in hopes to inspire them to do the same. Now, you might think that for my seasoned public speakers, this was no big deal; it would be a walk in the park for them. But this was not how it went down.
This was the first time the kids had presented together, so the experience was new. In their first Marketplace session, I was in a Mom Congress session. Here are the texts that husband Jamie and I exchanged:
Jamie: “1st presentation just started. Ian’s killing it.”
5 minutes later: “Eva’s up now. Not doing so well.”
Me: “Give her time. She’ll warm up as long as she doesn’t break down.”
Jamie, 10 minutes later: “Ok, breakdown. Ian’s doing this one alone.”
Jamie, about 40 minutes later: “Now she’s kicking ass during the third presentation. This child.”
My kids are both intense. They are, you might say, turned up to 11. But this means that lots of things are turned up to 11, and for Eva, this includes emotional sensitivity. She is a powerfully strong young woman, and experiences powerfully strong emotions. She is learning at a young age how to cope with feelings and thoughts big enough to bring a grown person to their knees. It floors me.
This is what happened: Eva floundered through the first presentation, and the Q&A bombed. Jamie made a couple of suggestions afterwards, and while Ian found confidence in this, Eva felt crushed and panicked at the thought of doing more presentations; she kind of fell apart. Ian covered both portions of the second session, talking about both his and Eva’s projects. After calming down, Eva and Jamie rejoined the session but stayed in the back of the room. However, one of the kids had questions about Eva’s books that Ian couldn’t answer. Feeling safe and unpressured, Eva felt renewed, and voluntarily rejoined Ian to finish that Q&A. Jamie said the final three sessions were amazing. Both kids were confident and articulate, the presentations were well-paced, and the Q&A lively.
And this is the authentic experience. Homeschooling my kids is an amazing process, full of joy and learning and pleasant surprises. It’s also exhausting and often lonely, especially for me. Dealing with the intensity of not one but two children 24/7 takes a profound amount of energy, and I’ll be frank with you: I haven’t had it in me to give it my best these past few months. But I’m leaving DC refreshed and renewed with a notebook full of ideas and plans. And summer’s around the corner.
And oh yeah, while I was gone, we bought a house in the downtown area, and we’re all very excited about that. Another page is turning….
Here’s more on The Big Man: