The mural joined us in the fall of 2006. It was painted in acrylics over the space of a few weeks. The finishing touches emerged, swirling into corners and bleeding occasionally onto the ceiling and spattering, no matter how much I scolded, onto the floor tiles we had chosen deliberately for our oldest child’s room.
He was the firstborn of five offspring and it took us that many attempts at reproduction before it was apparent that none of the little versions of ourselves in any way resembled each other or danced to any drum but their own. He drew his first lizard at two years old, with a crayon, on the back of his granddad’s giant sheet of unwanted street plans; a purple curvy amphibian basking across the black and white, straight and narrow, professionally engineered road map.
During grade school, what began with a proper mother’s encouragement grew into a secret mother’s certainty that her eldest child was a creative genius. It was as quickly quenched when all parties concerned were summoned into the middle school office. No one could understand how a sullen, doodling pre-teen could sit in the back row ignoring the teacher until called out for it; said pre-teen answered the questions correctly, aced the test, and doodled his way back out the door. No one could decide whether this was an academic or an attitude problem.
But my son’s art got better.
In high school, he enrolled in an art class and dropped it again after one week. It took three more semesters before he came to an understanding with the teacher and stayed in the class to play with different mediums. One day I went to pick him up from water polo practice and found the team huddled around a player, intently watching my eldest. He had dared the player to shave his head and in return, my son, using a black sharpie, drew an intricate Maori design on it that completely covered the scalp. With neither a beginning nor an ending, the design was both a prank and a masterpiece.
And my son’s art got better.
Meanwhile, our small home underwent a third and final renovation. The baby was almost ready for kindergarten, and bursting the seams, we added a new garage, den, laundry room, bedroom, and bathroom. While it was under construction, our eldest decided to live in the rafters of the new garage. He laid a plywood floor, moved crates of clothes up to it and wired some lights. He had no use for a ladder. He swung himself up like a gymnast and enjoyed his privacy. In this aerie, his art advanced to include nudes, interlaced fingers, fantasy-scapes, cyclops.
And during the last semesters of high school, he graced his brand new bedroom with a singular mural. It developed like a polaroid, integrating shapes from his night terrors, from our garden, from a place deep in his mind that sparked colors and vivid imagery that he interpreted in paint.
Always spontaneous, always unexpected, his art got better.
After he graduated and moved out, when it was time to repurpose his room, the mural was painted over in comforting soft pale green. A cover that, in hindsight, I think I wanted to caress the mural with, and preserve it along with the painful period of growth it represented. To plant it, perhaps, beneath moss and clover and allow it to become humus – eventually, fertile ground that attracts roots.
I mothered the mural because I could not mother the man-child.
His art is always getting better. No matter the medium, his signature style is stamped into it. He wanders the world, collecting no moss, pushing straight lines into flowing curves and painting them brilliant purple.