Face Painting Optional…
I spent the afternoon face painting at a fifth birthday party, something I do frequently. I’m no great artist but I can create a passable tiger, Spiderman or fairy princess on a wriggly little face. I reckon I have until age 9 before they realise I’m not really that good but at this age they think I’m ‘amazing’!
I usually get a few parents come to chat while they watch their little rascal transform into scary lizardman or rainbow butterfly.
“Do you do this for a living?”
Here come the usual questions. I explain that I do it for fun and offer whenever one of my children is invited to a party. This is usually met with a bemused expression as they survey the throng of small children jostling to be next, eagerly shouting their requests and thrusting pictures under my nose.
“But you could get paid for it. You could make a fortune doing all the kids parties.”
And it’s true, I suppose I could if I wanted a part-time job that took me away from my children all weekend. I reiterate the doing it for fun answer and suggest that I’d rather work on a ‘Pay it Forward’ principle. Bemused frown turns to unconvinced puzzlement but this usually coincides with finishing the face painting. Just before random parent gets to the ‘this woman’s a nutter’ stage they are distracted and busy themselves taking a photo of little Poppy’s new Princess Elsa face. What they don’t get is for that five minutes of painting time, I get a quality moment with the child, a moment of trust as I share their personal space and I get to know my daughters’ friends. Then I hand them a mirror and sit back to watch the smiles and smirks as they preen into the mirror marvelling at the face looking back. It’s worth doing it just for that brief moment.
We have a similar situation with owning the woodland. People tend to fall into two categories, those who are thrilled by the idea of having your own woodland and excitedly ask us all about it, and those who think we’re completely crazy. The former have become our Woodland Warriors and regularly join us for woodland adventures. The latter are like the bemused parent at a face painting gig. Incredulous, they ask much the same questions but with a slight frown of disbelief then you see the moment when the frown gives way to a sly smile…
“You could make a fortune running these woodland adventure days. If you charged £? per person… and if you charged £? for a bag of logs…”
The moment the conversation turns to money, insistently trying to convince us of where we’re going wrong, I know this person is unlikely to become one of our Woodland Warriors. I have stopped trying to explain the feelings of fulfilment that sharing our special place brings.
You see when we bought the woodland it was just a bunch of trees on a piece of land with a lot of potential. As I explored with the girls we found amazing places and named them together; Bluebell Bank, Badger Bank and the throne of the fairy king. We discovered the Secret Field hiding behind a forest of ferns and a magic clover patch that yielded a four-leaf clover every time we needed a wish. These became our special places and the woodland started to take on a magical quality.
Then our friends and family started to join in and together we created the Woodland Warriors. The woods rang with the sound of children’s laughter as they ran feral and our laughter at their antics. With my girls entertained, I had the chance to sit around the fire drinking camp fire coffee with adult conversation! Each visitor, young and old, left something behind; ideas to develop our woodland paradise and happy memories.
How can you charge for that? Our woods are our second home. If someone came to your house for coffee, you wouldn’t charge them the going rate for a Starbucks, would you? As soon as something becomes a business, there are expectations, rules and restrictions, with that comes pressure to perform. You can’t really make plans in a woodland, you follow the seasons and adapt to whatever the English weather throws at you. The woods signify freedom; abandon all real-world problems at the gate, enter with excitement and anticipation and leave refreshed and ready to face the real world again. You can’t charge for feelings. You can’t charge for growing friendships.
Our experience is enhanced by the people we share it with. Our gain outweighs what we give. So if someone has enjoyed the day we hope they’ll pay it forward. As for us, we’re happy to take our payment in laughter and smiles.