The Telltale Heart: A Valentine’s Day Lesson for Both of Us

Learning to Love the Perfect Imperfections of Toddler Art

Learning to Love the Perfect Imperfections of Toddler Art

Today B (2 and a half-ish) and I began making Valentines for close friends and family. I LOVE making Valentines–really any handmade, post-bound object–and I had everything planned out. I had beautiful
paper, stickers, glitter, potatoes and paint for making stamps. B has been practicing signing her first initial. My imagination (and Pinterest board) have been running wild with cute toddler-made pink
and red cards for months. We were ready.

Until my toddler made something I never expected.

The lesson for her: The plan was to work on them over several weeks, in stages, with each part aimed at a different skill I want B to work on. There’s shape and letter recognition, writing her first initial, stamping with rubber stamps and Mommy-carved potato stamps, following directions, and how the postal system works, not to mention the gift giving itself. I had a comprehensive activity and we were ready to get it done. Step One: using paint, stamp with the two-heart potato in the upper right hand corner of the envelope. Here we go.

B was excited, her little hand gripped around the freshly cut potato, as she swirled it thoughtfully in the light pink paint. I appreciated the seriousness, her devoted concentration, her little tongue at the corner of pursed lips as she delicately, so delicately positioned the stamp over the paper. I smile inside because I know I am in the presence of the next Frida Kahlo, and then PLOP! SMEAR! And what I envisioned being a precisely-painted Valentine heart turns into a pink puddle on soggy paper. “Mommy, Mommy, I did it!”

And here’s the lesson for me: She DID do it. She did exactly what I said. With the materials I provided. And my first thought was that it was terrible.

Expectations... and Reality.

Expectations… and Reality.

Okay, that’s harsh. Let me be more specific. It was aesthetically displeasing. It was a mess. It was not the cute little pink duo of hearts I expected.

And yet, as B climbs down from her chair to read a dinosaur book in victory, I look over the matrix of pink envelopes, each with their own mush mark in the corner, and I can’t help but smile. Each one is perfectly executed, to the best of her ability. She had a great time doing it. The recipients will cherish them.

So I let go of my adult preconceptions, my impulse to start over, or add something more so people know what it’s SUPPOSED to be. Because what it’s supposed to be is evidence of a moment well-spent, a good try, and a skill in process.

I’m sure next year’s Valentine’s will be “prettier” and “neater” and “more artistic.” But these are perfect for who B is and where she is at this moment, now. And I heart them.

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