My ladies are outside, where they feel at home. I can see them through the living room window enjoying themselves in the dying rays of the Monday afternoon sun. Heidi is raking sand from the edge of the property, left over from the snowplow as it drove through here on autopilot all winter long. Sand and salt, twisted together and left to die in the middle of the snow, settled down in its absence, and finally being raked away. Madeline, the 6-year old, is helping with her own toy rake, but you wouldn’t know it’s a toy by the way she’s wielding it, or by the stern, workaday expression on her little face.
But Alexa… Alexa is kneeling on the path of blocked concrete between the door and the sidewalk, intent on her own masterpiece, her mural of interconnected flowers, ponies, and a bright purple sun shooting rays nearly into the dead grass by the side of the path. She is my artist, and while she’s usually content indoors with paintbrush, marker, pencil, and colored pens, when the weather is nice that’s where she can be found, on that path, creating with those thick pieces of chalk.
I asked her once what she was making out there with her chalk. It was one of the few times I went up close to observe her work, like a man in a zoo trying not to disturb the monkeys for fear that they will get angry. Alexa won’t get angry if I disturb her delicate process, but she sometimes shoots me that look, the one that says, “Artist at work. Come back later.” That’s when I slide to the side, like I’m patiently waiting for my soup, and say no more. But that once when I asked her what she was doing she told me, “Daddy, I’m working here.” And now I can see that.
Because for Alexa utilizing that sidewalk chalk IS working. It’s seeing those possibilities in her mind, mapping it all out, and then reproducing them and hoping for a few days without rain. I told her she should take pictures of her work and share them with her classmates at school, to show them that side of her, that creativity that her work on paper only hints at. Maybe it’s because she knows her concrete art is temporary, that it’s really only for those who walk past and stop to marvel at it. Or perhaps it’s because she wants to keep it as her own personal achievement. But she doesn’t want it photographed. She wants it one place only. Out there.
And I love her for it. Well, I love her for so many things, but that’s one of them, her appreciation of the art form without having to take credit for it, the joy on her face when the job is completed and she moves on to the next square, or the rain finally does come to wash it away. Then on the next nice day she’s at it again, kneeling once again on that solid form, bringing something into existence that was never here before, and letting it breathe.