The Painting On The Wall

We started the exciting process of moving into UP Academy and making it ours. The first step was to add a splash of kid color to the barren office white walls. We picked out our colors and set off to paint. As with most things, I learned a few lessons along the way.

1. Set expectations

As we walked into the building we were all giddy with excitement. It started as just my family: me, my husband (with a hurt back) and three kids. They were literally bouncing with joy and anticipation. I told them they could paint the big white space in the middle with the rollers. I didn’t tape the walls, I thought I would do the edging by hand. We poured the paint, I explained how to put the paint on the roller, but I didn’t show them. I explained how to put the paint on the wall and where I did not want paint - the floor, the other walls - but I didn’t show them. They expected to paint the whole wall, I expected them to paint a little and be done so I could finish the wall. They used too much paint and didn’t spread it around, they painted over and over in one spot. I got frustrated. One of them painted onto the baseboard, that wiped off, but I was getting more frustrated, then my four year old touched the other wall with his brush. I got angry and made them all quit. What started as a fun day of helping was a mess of anger and frustration after about 20 minutes. I didn’t set the right expectations, for any of us. I didn’t demonstrate the process, and I didn’t know my materials.

2. Know your materials

We ran out of paint on the first wall. We used too much and didn’t spread it out enough. Then I had to clean out all of the brushes and rollers to do another color in another room. I looked at the box of wet green rollers, I looked at our half painted wall, I looked at my kids, who were now watching a show because I had taken the fun of painting away. It seemed overwhelming. It was too big of a job. We couldn’t do it. I called a painter. During the conversation I learned that all of the paints in California are both low VOC and water based. I had been afraid to wipe off the errors that my son had made because I didn’t want to make a large light green mess on the opposite wall. Turns out, if I had known, I could have just wiped it with a wet paper towel and it would have washed right off (as all our mistakes later did). The irony comes next, as I was carefully paining the edges and filling in the white above where they could reach. I touched the side wall with my roller.

3. Be alright with mistakes

Those three green marks are still on the side wall in the main office. When I touched my paint to the wall, I had to laugh. I had made my kids feel bad, I had taken over a job they were excited to do, and I had made the same mistake. All of our expectations were lost, the paint was too dry for me to wash it off, and I owed my kids an apology. It’s alright to make mistakes in life. This is true of school work, STEAM projects, and parenting. What’s important is that you find a way to fix it. In school, it might be correcting a problem, in an engineering project it might be understanding why your prototype doesn’t work and creating a new design, in parenting, it’s often pointing out what I did wrong, offering an apology, and asking forgiveness. Kids learn through example. They see us as less than perfect and it makes it ok for them to make mistakes. I called the kids in and showed them my green mark. I told them I understood it was hard to paint and I apologized for getting angry and frustrated when they made a mistake. My kids smiled.

4. Ask for help

At this point (about an hour into our day of painting) I had called a painter and was giving up. My kids, happy again, were running around the empty space screaming and playing. I had half of a wall of green painted, and seven other unopened cans of paint sitting on the floor staring at me. I needed help. I checked my phone, no one had responded to messages we sent out asking for help. I had a painter coming the next day to give me a quote. We were about to leave when I looked up and a friend walked in. “How can I help?” He asked. I took a deep breath, started to tell him about where we were in our process, and he just said, “let’s paint.”

5. Create a process

He started to tape off a room (what?!?!). It gave us room to make mistakes - needed! - it gave us room to be a little messy - my hands were already sore from trying to edge by hand - and it gave us a process. Miss Audrey came in to help too. One could tape, one could edge, one could fill in the middle. In the next hour we finished two more rooms and were taping the third. It felt doable, it looked great, it was fun to accomplish. My kids came back and wanted to help, we gave them a job and a section of the wall, we set an expectation. Joe was great at teaching them to paint, he had a lot of experience, his grandfather was a painter. His patience and experience saved the day.

I had a boss who used to say “failure to plan is planning to fail,”. We didn’t plan well, we didn’t lay out expectations, we didn’t have a system, and we had performance that was akin to failure.

Understand what you are working with. If you don’t know or if the job seems too big, ask for help. Everything is more fun when you do it together. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know how much paint had changed. I thought we could have fun painting, but didn’t explain my expectations or the process. When we had clarity, the job was fun.

We finished our painting this weekend. UP Academy is looking great and will be ready soon for students to both learn and teach us in return. And those three spots of green paint will remain on my office wall as a reminder to listen, explain, be patient, and that mistakes are ok.

Tanya Sheckley