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Bathmat Art

 

A few months ago there were suddenly little pieces of yarn everywhere, sticking to the rugs in various rooms, looking wilted and lonely and very fat next to the long multicolored threads and tiny pieces of jagged fabric Mom leaves everywhere from her quilting projects. The green of the yarn was very pale, so I didn’t connect it right away with the more pronounced green of the gradually balding bathmat. At first I assumed it was Cricket tearing up the bathmat, making a nest for herself the way she does on my bed, scratching holes into my sheets. But then I woke up early one morning, and there was little Butterfly, curled up in a corner of the bathmat, cooling her forehead against the white bathtub.

The artist at rest.

The artist at rest.

I should have noticed the signs earlier, when I discovered her ducky on the mat in the morning. But there was no bathmat art to go with the stuffed animal, so, I thought maybe Cricket had brought it in there or it had been kicked across the threshold by mistake. There also must have been early works that I did not recognize as such, small smushes of the mat from one side or another. I probably assumed it was my fault, that standing in front of the sink, brushing my teeth, I’d moved the mat out of place. But then there was the abstract rose. Butterfly must have spent quite some time nudging that mat into the shape she’d dreamed of in her mind, an abstract, three-dimensional green rose, with no stem or thorns.

I think each work of art starts as a practical attempt to achieve coziness. Often Butterfly actually prefers to sleep on the hard wood floor, eschewing beds and rugs and all manner of soft things, but sometimes, and I don’t know when or why, the bathmat calls to her.

"This work is not yet ready for viewing, Mommy."

“This work is not yet ready for viewing, Mommy.”

Bathmat art is full body art. Butterfly doesn’t rely solely on her paws or her teeth, she uses her head and shoulders, and she kicks it with her back legs and even pushes it with her belly. Her first love was paper art. She ripped and chewed magazines and crossword puzzles and even books, if I was silly enough to leave one within her grasp. But maybe she started to get paper cuts on her tongue and the inside of her mouth, or maybe she had trouble seeing her artwork in the dark and decided to go to the bathroom over night, which is where we leave the light on. (Mom has tried to turn it off, but I need at least one light on or else I will bang into my treadmill in the dark, and since the most likely place for me to aim myself in the middle of the night is the bathroom, I figured, that’s the light that should stay on.)

I wish I could capture Butterfly in the act of creation, but she guards her bathmat art process very carefully. There’s an architectural quality to her latest works, a sense that she’s designing tunnels and bridges and maybe a highway overpass.

The Fat Inchworm

The Fat Inchworm

Abstract Tree

Abstract Tree

Bridge and Tunnel

Bridge and Tunnel

She hasn’t figured out what to do with the loose pieces of yarn yet. They seem to only be a by-product of the larger works, spread across the apartment for future use, but given time, she may decide to collect them into little bundles and make fiber art. That’s something Mom has wanted to try for a long time; using bits and scraps of thread and yarn and fabric to create something new. This could be a project for them to work on together.

Recently, when I had to go into the city for new medical tests, I was anxious. I was especially concerned about the closed MRI, being fed into a dark metal tube head first, and immobilized for forty five minutes or so. Not fun for anyone, but especially not for someone with claustrophobia. I had my prescription of valium, and a Ziploc bag filled with chocolate, but I was missing something.

I really wished that I could bring Butterfly with me to the MRI. The space would have been too small for both of us to fit inside, but if I could have just felt her leaning against my feet while I was inside that dark tunnel, that would have been comforting. But she gets anxious in the car and they’d never let her into the hospital, because she’s not small enough to hide in my pocketbook.

I was missing her very much, and then I sat down in the prep room where the nurse was going to put in the IV (for the contrast), and I saw a small, bent, piece of green bathmat yarn on the floor. I must have had it on my jeans or shoes without realizing it. And yet, it didn’t drop off as I walked to the car from the apartment, or from the car to the hospital, or anywhere I wouldn’t have noticed it along the way. No. It dropped right there on the floor as I was sitting in a chair, waiting to get a needle stuck in my arm, contemplating small spaces and certain death. It was as if Butterfly was sending me a message, that she was there with me in spirit and I wouldn’t have to be in that dark tunnel alone.

My girls.

My girls.

I tend to be a pretty logical/rational person, but I always keep my heart open to the possibilities, to the little messages the universe likes to send out to let us know that not all coincidences are just coincidences. I don’t quite believe that I have angels following me around stopping trucks from barreling into me, or turning off the flame on the stove when I forget. But I do believe in some sort of electricity that connects us to the people we love.

And I’ve become a great supporter of bathmat art.

Bowtie?

Bow Tie?

 

Butterfly’s Artwork

My mother has a ring-around-the-room problem, where, inevitably, everything she’s reading or working on ends up on the floor around her bed. When I question this system, I am often told that everything is where it is meant to be. The problem with this system became clear, even to Mom, when Butterfly found a quilting magazine on the floor and destroyed it.

"Voila!"

“Voila!”

Butterfly loves to chew paper. She doesn’t chew soft papers, like tissues or paper towels, the way Cricket does. Butterfly chews harder paper that takes real effort to rip through; she likes coupons, and recipes, magazines, and textbooks, crossword puzzles, and pretty much anything close enough for her paws to reach.

"Ooh, yummy!"

“Ooh, yummy!”

            Paper chewing is satisfying. She can hear the tearing and crumpling sounds, and she can smell that humans have been near the paper, and she can taste the material the paper was made from, and all of it keeps her engaged.

Pop-up book, by Butterfly

Pop-up book, by Butterfly

            She has made attempts to chew the furniture, but her teeth just aren’t strong enough to make a dent.

            Butterfly has been watching Grandma learn how to quilt.

Grandma's Sailboat

Grandma’s Sailboat

The Snowy-Haired Egret a la Grandma

The Snowy-Haired Egret a la Grandma

            Butterfly sees Grandma playing with scraps of fabric, and I believe she has been inspired to create her own works of art. She takes what used to be boring pieces of whole paper, and tears them with her teeth and paws until they are all different shapes and sizes, and then she scatters them across the floor in a pleasing design.

Scatter Art

Scatter Art

            The act of scattering the ripped paper seems just as important as the ripping itself. She doesn’t want to organize the paper into a neat pile; she wants to cover the floor with it.

            I would love to be able to help Butterfly preserve her art work. We could spread a huge piece of mural paper down on the floor and provide all kinds of materials for her to work with: magazines and catalogs and newspapers and crossword puzzles. And, when she finishes a mural, we can put it up on the wall so that every time she passes by, she can sniff it and say, hey, I made that!

            My only concern is that she would pull the murals down and try to redo them, like any other artist, never satisfied with her finished work.