Painting With Toddlers

by | Apr 16, 2016 | Journal

I’ve been spending a good portion of my time with an adorable two year old named Viola.

She’s seriously the most amazing toddler. I guess I haven’t been around, like, TONS of toddlers, but I’ve been around enough to know why they’re called “The Terrible Twos”.

Not Viola, though. She’s anything but terrible. She’s practically a grown up in a two-year-old’s body. When you ask her to stop what she’s doing, she stops. When you ask her if she’d like to play in her room or go to the park, she’ll most likely respond with a hearty “Pay in my yooooom!”

The point is, everything she does is fairly orderly and predictable.That is, until we start painting.

Here’s how it typically goes down:

Viola sits down at the table. I bring a cup of water to the table and sit across from her. We each get a page torn from a coloring book for and a paintbrush.

Viola goes to town, painting all over the page. She presses her brush too far into the paint, and then smashes it down hard onto the page. As I watch, I think, “His face shouldn’t be green! Well…she’ll learn some day.” Or “there she goes, coloring outside the lines again!” I shake my head and snicker, thinking how adorable it is…but alsOhow obviously WRONG.

Then I look back to my own coloring page. It’s half painted and looking pretty freaking amazing. You see, I dearly love to color. And not just to color, but to shade perfectly and create a piece of artwork. I practically graduated from the Academy of Coloring, so yeah. I’m awesome.

Things are going great. More than great when all of a sudden, out of NOWHERE, Viola reaches for my brush and says “Tyaaade? Tyaaade?” By now I know this means she wants to trade brushes.

Phew, no biggie. I thought she was gonna ask for my coloring page, I think.

The panic subsides as I swap my thick brush for her thinner one, and I realize how completely silly I was for having that gut reaction. But, then it actually happens.

Chaos ensues.

Viola smooshes her brush deep into the red paint, swirls it around, leans across the table and slaps it across a portion of my beautifully detailed and perfectly shaded picture.

At this point, I’m sure you’re seriously doubting that, out of the two of us, VIOLA is the toddler. But, she is – I swear to you – so of course, I leTher color on mine.


Ha! How funny that this paper has suddenly become mine. I didn’t buy the coloring book. I didn’t even pay for the paint. None of this is mine, so, why am I possessive?

Because, darn it. It’s MY work. Because, Viola is doing it WRONG! Can’t she see that she’s messing up the shading?! You can’t even tell that there was a window in this wall of the palace anymore. And Princess Sophia’s dress was supposed to be BLUE.

Not. Brown.

As I take a beat, sit back and breath, allowing her to paint MY page all wrong, I take in the sight of Viola, sitting there, painting WAYYYY outside the lines and over pictures already colored. Something clicks.

I used to be like that. We ALL used to be like that.

Before teachers taught us how to stay inside the lines, or to color certain things a certain color, we were free to imagine them however we wanted. We weren’t cynical, we were just playing. Our control wasn’t broken, because we didn’t even have control at that point. We, like Viola, were care free.

We played. We painted.

We didn’t compare our works to others’ works, we just created out of a need to express ourselves and that made it beautiful. It wasn’t beautiful because it conformed to laws of “structure”, it was beautiful because it was an expression of us.

Maybe I should take a step back and connect the dots.

For me, this year is about trusting God. And a HUGE component of that, I’m finding, is in letting go of control. Watching Viola break the “coloring rules” was a huge reminder of this for me.

I’m realizing there’s an element of freedom that comes in breaking the rules -that comes in the form of saying “so what?” in the face of structure. It may sound obvious, but for a perfectionist like me it’s more than difficult to break free.

The cool thing is it’s totally possible. I just have to admit that God sees the big picture and I never will.


No matter how hard I try to stay in control – I’m not.

The attitude of freedom in creating is still attainable, even for perfectionists. But we have to give control over to God. All our objections, all the what ifs and Buts and can’ts.

And that is very difficult.

Thankfully, we have the chance to learn from people much smaller than us who seem tOhave a pretty good grasp on the situation. Maybe someday we can all paint like Viola. Alyson McHargue is a volunteer for The Greenhouse and writes for The Greenhouse Journal. She’s a native Texan, adopted Tennessean, and adjusting Californian who drinks a lot of coffee. Is it such a bad thing that a late night cup o’ joe no longer keeps her up? She love to write abouTher experiences – crazy and mundane – of living in Hollywood and hopes that through them, God’s grand sense of humor and immense love for us would be revealed.

Check out Alyson’s blog, Quarter Life Vices.

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