Commentary: Do glory and gumballs await?

Last year? Forget it. The year before? Uh-uh. This week, with 12 hours to spare before the final deadline, my girls and I managed to enter our exhibits for the Altamont Fair using the online registration forms. Thank goodness for a fair rooted, by a router, in the 21st Century!

Snail mail, or regular postal mail, is so difficult! My church’s women’s group switched from exchanging secret prayer pal gifts, which I could shop for Saturday night and deliver Sunday morning to the back of the sanctuary, to exchanging secret prayer pal cards.

So far this year, I have been late mailing cards for every birthday, anniversary, and holiday to date. Some might say I have a problem with scheduling — tsk, tsk. I would counter that I have a busy life, and that chocolate boxes, tea bags, or small gift cards cost the same as a Hallmark card and can be obtained without all the headache-inducing stress of making sure stamps are in the house or that the mailman hasn’t come too early.

Entering exhibits for the fair the old-fashioned way, with manually filled-in entry forms, has simply eluded us. We ponder our entries for months. Is this crocheted scarf nice enough, or too bland to waste space in the building?

The peach jam was good this year, but do you think the strawberry preserves had too much foam on top? Delicious, but ugly.

Remember that nice doll we made? Oh, we gave it away at Christmas.

I try to set aside artwork from the kids as it trickles home from school in late June. We attend art classes in July and wonder which pieces might be nice to share with fairgoers. We’re not perfect, but no one likes to see an empty building, so why not add our contributions and have some fun?

We might win a ribbon, or we might make another winner look great by comparison. Who knows? We don’t, but it’s fun to speculate.

My 11-year-old daughter inherited an artistic bent from both sides of the family, even though that ability skipped my husband and me. I swoon at her artwork, being acutely aware of my own shortcomings. I want her to enter everything!

She sculpts, she paints, and she sketches, and her young mind is ready to open its wings and explore new abilities every day. I watch her learning new techniques, studying new ways to draw, and I marvel that she can express herself in this way.

The patterns she sees and creates are beyond my ken. My “mother’s love” for her and her gifts fills me with exuberance and I imagine a room full of her work, even though artists are limited to four entries.

She entered two items in the fair. Two. She did a lovely sculpture of an angry elephant with a blue face and metallic gold hair. She did an interesting sketch, with shadowing, perspective, and probably other things my non-artistic mind doesn’t see or know about.

But what about her cross-stitched owl — a new skill she learned this year? She adapted the pattern and made it her own, as artists are known to do.  

“No,” she said. I asked her, again, if she’d consider the owl. “No, no, no!”

“But, the owl is great! You did a good job on it,” I continued to say.

“I don’t want to enter it!” she replied, more than once. I admitted defeat.

Something about it must not be done well enough for her to want to share it with others. She didn’t display it anywhere, not even in her room. It was time to let it be; we have enough middle-schooler drama in the house that we don’t need to argue about fair entries.

I do remember, long ago in a previous fair, entering the wrong “class” or “lot” or something when filling out a paper exhibitor form. Somehow, I looked at the wrong page or misread the instructions. The phrase, “It’s not rocket science” comes to mind, but I managed to fill in the form incorrectly, anyway.

It was the same this year, too; going between PDF files and the fair’s online registration screen, I managed to enter three paintings for my 5-year-old, but only two are allowed — that is, if I read it correctly a fourth time, after I already paid for the entry.

As usual, online buyers beware. What a shame, too, that she is probably not allowed to enter the third painting. The decision-making on my part was excruciating for her entries, as well.

“Is this good, or am I just her mom?” I’d ask my husband. He was no help at all.

“Do you think they’ll allow a printed page? I love the colors and textures she got on this one,” I’d say. We had printed a behavior chart for her. She transformed it into an unrecognizable explosion of color, with patterns, geometrical shapes, and underlying textures. Looking at it makes me happy.

“Try it and see,” was his sage advice, as he, oblivious to fair stress, glanced up from ESPN.

Well, why not? No one goes to the fair to look at empty walls, remember.

The kindergartener is different from the sixth-grader; the younger preened as we selected her artwork, and she rummaged through the display case — an empty fish tank that shows off art as well as it did smelly fish — to be sure we had just the right entry. She was enthralled, and announced to the house, “I’m going to win!”

She doesn’t know what she will win, but she hopes a gumball is involved. She has her priorities straight, after all.

I am quite sure that, after we walk through the Fine Arts building, we will present her with a shiny quarter for each piece of her art on display. From there, we shall proceed to the nearest gumball machine, unless we can distract her with cotton candy.

I hope I’m not out of money by the time we wander the fairgrounds. That online registration cost each of us a $5 convenience fee, in addition to the entry fees we paid (erroneously, for that extra painting). I don’t mind, though. I’m grateful for the service, and the chance to have entered exhibits for the family at a time that didn’t cut into the rest of our schedule — on our time. Online registration was definitely worth it.