As long as I can remember I’ve been a creative person. From coloring in as many coloring books I could get my little hands on to designing my own business cards when I babysat as a teenager – being creative has always been a part of my life. And while I’m grateful for all the things that make me me, I am super grateful that my mother saw this gift in me and not only recognized it, but nurtured it.
And while I don’t have kids of my own yet, I really believe that the greatest gift a parent can give their child is the freedom to be the person that God created them to be. Even if they know nothing about it.
My mom did just that. Creativity and the arts were not amongst her favorite things, however once I made my debut in 1982 she grew to love all things creative. Signing me up for dance classes, buying me all things Crayola and believing in me when I not only majored in drama but went on to get a MFA in Acting – were all moments that proved her unconditional support. She was always there, cheering me on and bragging to her friends with affirmations like, “can you believe Robbie made this?!”
However my greatest creative memory took place in kindergarten. I will save that story on how outrageously excited I was to start kindergarten for later, but this post and gem is inspired by a kindergarten art project that affirmed me in a way that literally fueled me for years to come.
See in 1987 my school in San Antonio, TX had been commissioned by a local museum to participate in a visual arts project. Every student in each grade would be required to create a piece of art using non traditional materials and methods. And oh my! The options were incredible. However since we were “school newbies” as kindergartners our assignment was to make something using only construction paper and glue. No scissors, just our hands. We had to literally use our little hands to make little shapes and then piece them together into anything of our choice.
I chose a house.
In fact, as a kid I was always drawing a house and pictures of my mom and I in front of it. Amazing how even then I realized what a gem our relationship was.
Then, once we finished our handmade projects, the kicker was that one student from each grade would be selected to have their artwork on display at that local San Antonio museum (I wish I could remember the name of it).
And guess what?! My house won!
I remember when they sent the note home and my mom read it to me during dinner.
Her eyes were full of joy and her voice was a couple octaves higher than usual as she shouted the words she said so many times in our 31 years together, “Robbie I am so proud of you!”
It was all so exciting, however the best part was the night that the exhibit opened. My mom dressed me up in my Sunday’s best and we even had a fancy dinner before we made our way to see the exhibit.
The museum was huge and the moment we walked in I remember finally piecing together the magnitude of what has happening.
We looked at all the grade’s winners and once we made it to the last one, the kindergartener selection, my mom tapped on the glass with her acrylic red nails and read my name out loud.
“Robbie. Ann. Darby. Kindergarten selection.”
It was so amazing and many years later I still recall on this day as inspiration.
The older I get the more I realize that being an artist is not only a blessing but a calling. The desire to not only create but inspire change through my creations is my destiny.
It is what gets me out of bed in the morning and what helps me sleep well at night.
So when I saw this material in a fabric store window it instantly reminded me of those little pieces of construction paper that I ripped with my little hands back in 1987.
I kept looking at it and nostalgia set in as I remembered the house I built then. Emotions overtook me as I began to think of all the memories my mom and I shared in our “home,” what my home in Harlem looks like today and even what my home will look like in the future.
The thoughts were so varied yet special, so I had no choice but to buy the material (for under $10 a yard I might add).
I had no idea what to make, but once I got home and started to draft a pattern I decided to create something that would recall this memory.
What a gem it is to make something to wear that reminds me of the gifts God has given me, the mom he allowed me to have and her sweet words that first time the universe recognized my creative ways – “Robbie I am so proud of you!”
Wearing this makes me feel right at home.
*The statue behind me is the historic artwork that I cross paths with every time I walk out of my apartment – Frederick Douglass on Frederick Douglass Circle in Harlem.