It’s week 5 of the MFA. In last night’s seminar, students from various disciplines went from studio to studio, discussing each others’ work — an incredibly useful, informative, and sometimes bewildering experience.

When we talked about what we are learning, my self assessment was uncharacteristically humble. I explained that, although I once considered myself pretty accomplished, the new space, new clay, new glazes, new goals, new standards, and instructions to forego my old rodeo tricks, have taught me that I can’t find my ass with both hands.

Another student looked up with similarly work-weary eyes, and said, “YOU’RE using TWO hands?”

The other highlight of my week was something I overheard, walking into the MFA studio. (The generous profs gave up their roomy, well lit office space to cram desks into a little entryway, so the MFA students could have the big room.)

I had been making and scrapping pots and making more, cutting off parts of pots I liked to leave on my table as a visual reminder, and making lots of pots in the EMU studio and my own, to bring in for crits. Many — OK, most — were discussed as interesting learning experiences, with a seed of idea, but deemed unworthy of the kiln. So when I heard Diana and Lee at my table, raving over something lovely that should be fired, I puffed myself up and elbowed in to see what had passed muster.

Turns out it was my scrap pile. I had cut the rim off of one pot, tossed a few trimmings in the middle of it, and then picked it up to dump it in the slop before getting interrupted and putting it down.

They knew it was my scrap pile, but pointed out the accidental loveliness, elements of un-plannedness, un-sketchedness, un-carefulness, un-fussiness, un-controlledness and un-all that other stuff they are trying to beat out of me ;0)

It was hilarious. It’s in the bisque now as a reminder. “Honey, guess what? I made something that got a good review!”

Don’t get me wrong — Diana is all about form, form and form. She’s not the type to encourage students to make conceptual work or write flowery statements about a lump of s’crap. There was just something about the undulating boat-shaped rim, and the randomness of its fillings, that she wanted me to see, so I could loosen up and allow for the occasional happy accident in my work. She is amazed that I am a tight, controlled thrower, as it seems to ill suit my personality.

I have to admit that while I feel the challenges of the MFA are not insurmountable, I am quickly losing my sister-mary-sunshine predictions about how smoothly things would go at home. After five weeks the wheels have begun to come off the wagon. Household duties neglected for five weeks begin to pile up. My kids are so over the novelty of this new routine, and just want me home. Three nights a week I am in Michigan for dinner… one night a week I am teaching at the guild to pay my tuition. We have never missed family dinners together, not since they were old enough to sit at the table and rub peas into their hair. So this is new, and they are weary of it.

Homeschooling done on Tuesday at Grandma’s is generally on the “Cat’s away” plan, rushed through because Grandma has air hockey and a pool table and lets them eat Froot-Loops and watch cartoons and play nintendo until their eyeballs fall out of their heads. I end up on Wednesday mornings playing catch-up for Monday and Tuesday, trying to get everybody back on track before I’m back on the highway headed for Wednesday night class. Plus there’s laundry, bills, meals, appointments, and whatever else my truly helpful and hardworking hubby can’t wedge in after work — as he runs kids to Tae Kwon Do, scouts, gymnastics and lego robotics, negotiating their suppers and showers and details.

Molly now follows me around the house all day long, carrying her homeschooling to wherever I am so she can be nearby. I made her a calendar but she asks almost daily, “Are you going to be home tonight?

So I keep readjusting my approach. I made a new rule that school work not done well on Tuesdays will be made up on Saturday mornings. I have started getting the crew up at 8 for a big sit down breakfast with mom, so we can talk and enjoy each other, and then all get our school work done before lunch. We have always had a chore chart with little ring tags to flip, but now jobs well done without reminders are points toward “screen time” — (limited amounts of educational CDs/games/programs during the week, and brain candy/nintendo/game boy on weekends.) The chore chart is on my website, primalpotter.com — (somebody always asks). Don’t look at the pots.

My next project will involve a thin board on the closet wall for each kid, with seven clothes pins screwed to it — M-T-W-Th-F-S-S. One pair of clean matched socks per kid per day, to be sorted and “loaded” on Sundays. My kids put on and take off socks all day long, and I find them under couch cushions, on book shelves, under the computer, under the piano, everywhere. Then when it’s time to go to gym class nobody can find a pair. I suppose before long I will have to hang up our little clothespin-board for clipping mittens by the back door, too.

I am realizing that I organized my life so that I could divide my time between my own schooling and the kids’ schooling. What I didn’t do is allow any wiggle room — “what the heck, let’s go pick apples today” room — spontaneous picnics and art projects — lie in the papa san chair and read together time… nor did I consider the time I usually spend on birthdays (Tyler was 13 on Monday, Connor’s 11 in November) home made halloween costumes, house projects, grown up social life and mommy’s sit-quietly-and-just-breathe moments. The bread oven in the yard is collecting spider webs.

Two years, Jeff keeps saying. You can do anything for two years. But then Molly looks at me with her big bambi eyes and asks if she can sleep with my pillow at night because it smells like me… and I think about how long two years can be when you’re a third grader.

Readjustment, that’s all. I’m home with my kids every morning but one, I do half my work in a studio fifty yards from my house, and we’re all pretty lucky. It’s just hard for me to remember that. I am the classic firstborn, needing to be good at everything. I have to be a good student, a good potter. But then mommy guilt makes me overcompensate by trying to be super-mom as well. I gave up chickens, garden and a few committees but I’m looking around for other things I can jettison to get more altitude. (The kids are not an option.)

After we put a chimney on the salt kiln and chained up the new tanks on Tuesday, Diana made us all omelettes at her house for lunch. When I told her I hadn’t made of canned the winter’s applesauce yet this year, she looked at me like I was nuts. Oh, yeah, I think. I can buy it at the store. For two years.

When I worried aloud, last weekend at the women’s campout, that Jeff’s suppers — grilled cheese, hot dogs, french toast, and pizza — are not too nutritious for the kids, I was almost laughed out of the fire ring by a couple of women friends who described family dinners as “throwing the bag of french fries over the back seat at the kids”. When I told them that some homeschoolers have been critical of my decision to go back to school and “abandon my kids”, they told me to get real. One had her kids in day care from six weeks old, and the rest described schedules where the only conversations happen in the car on the way to after school activities — with a kid engaged with ipod, cell phone, and game boy.

So I am blessed by reality checks all around. My profs have not showed up at my house to crit the unmopped kitchen floor and my boys are enjoying their grown up responsibilities and independence.

Now if I could just get Molly off my ankle… ;0)

Yours

Kelly in Ohio…off to bed. Breakfast is at 8, scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, fruit, yogurt, and juice.

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