My father was a psychologist, and his favorite assessment tool was something called the House-Tree-Person. This was a rather clever test designed to appraise intelligence and personality characteristics.
When a boy would start coming around, Dad would find some excuse to administer the H-T-P. It’s a simple test from the subject’s point of view—you just draw a house, a tree and a person, and then the psychologist-father waits until you leave and sits his daughter down and says things like, “This is a young man with very infantile sexual ideation. Probably dysfunctional.”*
That has a way of putting a damper on a teenage crush.
(Dad, by the way, was no expert on marriage itself. He once gave my mother an IQ test and then accused her of cheating.)
One day a young man came by and my dad said, “Draw a house, tree and person.” The young man pretended to mishear, and drew a house-tree IN a person. Dad was foiled. I admired the fellow’s sidestep—along with his beautiful hands and lustrous long hair—so much that I ended up marrying him.
It starts with the raw material, sisters.
My studio is in the next room from my husband’s office. Yesterday I stomped in there right after he hung up from a phone conference and demanded, “How is headship theology supposed to work for widows, anyway?” He looked at me utterly blankly, his mind still stuffed full of those 0s and 1s software designers think in.
After a long pause, he said, “You are absolutely the queen of non-sequiturs.”
That’s rule #2: keep them guessing.
When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have dared tell my parents I was bored. There were always chores to be done. My mother’s favorite phrase was, “I’ll unbore you.” Bored people get into trouble. Busy people are too tired to think up bad ideas. Bored people buy themselves guitars.
Never underestimate the power of phrases like, “Honey, the roof is leaking,” to deflect major recreational purchases. In terms of chores, however, I like offering choices. “Honey, would you rather clean out the garage or polish the rafters?” is just a nicer way of asking. In a pinch, “Honey, would you like to stop humming mindlessly under your breath or should I kill you?” also works.
Norman Rockwell painted the idyllic family. In reality, he was a lonely depressive in a difficult marriage. Still, he gave us enduring images of happiness and harmony, and I admire that. To rise above one’s own difficulties and inspire others is about the hardest work a person can do. As always, I find my greatest inspiration in paintings, so I bid you a Norman Rockwell weekend.
*OK, that’s not exactly what he said, but this is a family newspaper.