Hannah, my 20-month-old, has a fascination for one particular drawer in my office. She stands on tiptoes and clutches the top of the drawer with her chubby fingers. She finds the groove in the middle, inserts her fingers, and then pulls until the drawer slides out.
Inside, she finds a bounty of writing implements: pens, crayons, pencils, markers, and even a few erasers. She pulls them out in handfuls and then stuffs them into her little green box. She snaps down the lid, sits down for a second, then pulls the box open to scoop her treasure back out.
I watch her carefully to make sure she doesn't hurt herself. But I also have to watch with an eagle eye to make sure she doesn't do what she normally tries. She loves to get the markers, red or green in particular, and draw designs on the palm of her hand and her belly.
The last design, drawn in hot pink on her tummy, resembled Chinese lettering that looked so authentic I'm sure someone fluent in the language could have told me what she had written.
I encourage her to explore her artistic talents on paper. That works for a short time as she expertly pops the top off a green pen and uses her right hand to draw a series of lines, circles, and other squiggles on the notepad I've handed her.
But then, when she thinks I'm not looking, she begins putting a temporary tattoo on her knee.
Today she sneaks back to the drawer, snatches a black permanent marker, and turns her back to me. Before I can get to her, she has drawn a Chinese character on her belly again.
She squeals in disapproval when I take the pen away. She furrows her eyebrows into a gruff frown and then looks down at the floor.
Sitting there in her diaper, she looks like a tiny Buddha with her little rounded belly, now adorned with marks that will take quite a bit of scrubbing to remove.
She sits silently, stoically for a few moments. Then she stands and marches into the den to watch TV with Daddy and big brother Ben.
Oh no, I think to myself. Am I blocking her talent? Does she think I'm scolding her for trying to be creative?
I ponder my questions and realize that of all the disciplinary challenges I will face as a parent, using skin as canvas isn't such a big deal. Since there are times that I must say "no," it's probably good to say "yes" once in a while, even though the painted belly does cause me to cringe a bit.
I add a notation to tomorrow's to-do list: Throw away permanent markers. Buy washable markers at the store.