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‘Dye’ worrying: Artistic daughter’s dabbling with food coloring has this dad on edge

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Parents worry, often about trivial things. We have different concerns for each stage of a child’s life — baby, toddler, tween, and various stages of teens and adulthood. My biggest worry when my daughter Jessie was 9 years old?

Food dye.

It’s interesting how opinions change over a lifetime. I was a typical boy and liked to get dirty. My mom spent hours trying to get grass and dirt stains off my pants and ball uniforms. However, now that I’m in charge of laundry, I’m more sensitive to stains. Some days, I think Jessie is trying to turn me into a stain-removal expert like my mom.

So far, I’ve been able to hold my own washing Jessie’s clothes. With that said, I’d rather not go to war against stains if I can maintain peace. It seems simple: Sit up straight at the table and remain focused during meals, and there should be few stains. Ahh, but that’s just eating.

Jessie is also a scientist and an artist. She performs all sorts of experiments using various liquids, soaps, condiments, and, like I said, the one that gives me the most stress — food coloring.

I realize, though, for the good of science, I must give “scientist Jessie” some leeway. If the mixed ingredients don’t create an explosion or set the house on fire, I let her experiment (under watchful eye), so she can learn and grow. I’m more likely to challenge “artist Jessie” and dial back some of her creative plans. Where did the easy days go when we colored with crayons and molded with Play-Doh? I’m okay with washable paint and can even tolerate retrieving the vacuum cleaner (on occasion) for glitter cleanup. But now, Jessie has added food coloring as a necessary art supply.

The Saturday before Easter, Jessie asked if she could take food coloring into her bedroom — her carpeted bedroom — as she wanted to work on a surprise. I responded, “No way! Any art projects involving food dye are done at the kitchen table.”

However, since she’s also a skilled negotiator and has perfected her twinkling eyes maneuver, Jessie convinced me that she had to do the project in her room to keep it a surprise. I relented and emphasized the big responsibility I was giving her.

Jessie excitedly gathered all her materials, cups with water, paper bags, and a big piece of cardboard to cover the floor, coffee filters, pipe cleaners, and the box of dye. A couple of weeks earlier, we had gone to an art festival where kids dipped a coffee filter into a premixed bowl of food coloring and water, added a pipe cleaner in the middle, and ended up with a butterfly.

As I worked at my desk, I called out a half-dozen times, “Are you doing okay?” I thought to myself, Jessie might be having fun, but I’m “dyeing” with worry out here.

Fortunately, the carpet didn’t change into a rainbow of colors. On Easter Sunday, Jessie brought out two Easter baskets filled with beautiful coffee-filter butterflies, gifts for her mother and me. My needless concerns had turned into a wonderful surprise, bringing joy to the giver and the receivers.

I know I must continue to expand Jessie’s responsibilities and give her more freedom, so I’m trying to worry less. Reasonable concern is okay, though. I just read the side of the food-color box: “Consult a professional for upholstery, rugs, or carpet.” I predict all future food-dye use happening at the kitchen table.

And I’ll let Jessie give her take on her artistic medium of choice:

“I love to play with food dye. Think of all the things that you can create. On the box, it even tells you how to mix the colors to get others. My dad doesn’t like food dye. He thinks that I will stain my clothes. I like to put food dye on coffee filters. Since no one in our house drinks coffee, we have quite a lot. When it dries, it looks very pretty!”

But whether clothes and carpets are clean or stained, one thing is certain: I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Remember to cherish the moments — even during science experiments and artistic endeavors. May all your worries turn into pleasant surprises.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in finance before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and author of “Moments: A Dad Holds On.” Follow him at patrickhempfing.com.

J. L. Hempfing, now 13, began writing with her dad in kindergarten. Her current hobbies include reading, writing, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, and dancing.

Updated 5:05 pm, July 9, 2018
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