I was doing some mindless [web] surfing when I came across an art project on a blog. A woman had purchased this print, and had each of her children draw a turtle after studying the shapes and lines. And then they painted it with watercolor.
The result: a handful of lovely watercolor paintings, representative of each child’s skill level and color preferences.
‘I can do that,’ I told myself, and bookmarked it for the next day. It had been months since I’d done an art project with the boys and this seemed like a good one. The next day, after breakfast, I showed the boys the picture of the turtle, and then I sat with the Gort, analyzing the image while I helped him draw his own.
‘Look at the shell,’ I instructed. ‘What shape is it?’ ‘It’s like a lemon with a lump,’ he observed. I was blown away – a lemon with a lump – how observant, how interesting, how accurate. ‘What about the head and the neck, what does that look like?’ ‘It looks like a boxing glove,’ he surprised me again. I’d merely thought it looked like a rectangle with a lump at the end.
I patted myself on the back, silently, for being an educator extraordinaire: we were having fun, the kid was actually thinking about things…..wow.
Unbeknownst to me, this would be the peak of our experience, and it was all going to be downhill from there.
We sat down at the dining table to paint our turtles. I gathered the brushes and the receptacles and I mixed the boys’ preferred colors.
The Hen worked quickly, easily, while the Gort began to fill the lines of his shell with brown paint. He then stuck his brush in green paint and attempted to fill in the tectonic-like plates on the shell. The colors ran together and the result was…..muddy and less than neat. And he was frustrated.
Our oldest, being something of a stubbornist/perfectionist, has a tendency to eschew that which he is not good at, or that which does not go as planned. Ergo: watercolor painting goes slightly awry, and his first impulse is to run away, vowing (loudly) never to paint again.
It’s a pattern that repeats itself, often, and I sensed it was in his long-term interest to address the matter. It appeared I’d have to….parent.
‘If you only do things you’re good at right away, your world is going to get very small,’ I heard the words come out of my own mouth, as if someone had switched a little black button in my back from ‘auto’ to ‘parent’ mode. And suddenly I had words. Of wisdom. To impart.
I could lie and say the words of wisdom worked like a charm. That my seven year old stopped in his tracks and said ‘you’re right mom, I don’t want to live like that.’ And proceeded to tackle his painting with renewed commitment. But that would be a Lifetime movie. Instead, he huffed off to his room, declaring himself to be the worst artist that ever lived. And, before I could stop myself, I said: ‘if you don’t finish that painting, you don’t get to watch a movie or play a computer game for the rest of the summer.’
It was a ridiculous statement. One that punished only…..me. But I was in parent mode and I couldn’t find the black button to turn myself off. And the education and career prospects of a seven year old were at stake.
I could lie and say that the blondie stopped on his way up the stairs, reflected on what was at stake and turned around to tackle his painting with new resolve. But that would be an afterschool special.
He kept going and he climbed in his bed, pulling the covers over his head.
Many, many minutes and two additional attempts at parental intervention later, the artist-who-couldn’t was back downstairs. Another discussion ensued, along with a reiteration of the previous threat and then he tackled the painting again.
When he finished the first, he painted another. And then he announced ‘I want to paint a robot!’ I was thrilled, so we consulted Google images and he found a robot he liked. And then he asked me to draw it.
I don’t like drawing robots. I don’t like drawing complicated robots. I’m not good at drawing robots. And I couldn’t say any of that. Because I’d been high and mighty and wise, trying to drive home lessons about persistence and participation and who knows what else.
I was cornered and I had no choice but to pick up my pencil, and draw. We analyzed. We erased. And when I felt myself overwhelmed by the complicated details, I chanted – silently – ‘break it down, one thing at a time.’ Nearly thirty minutes later, we were done. And then the blond wonder decided he didn’t want to paint the robot, after all.
‘Did you draw this,’ the professor asked when he got home and found the (discarded) drawing on the dining table. ‘Yes,’ I sighed. The memory of my ‘Everest’ fresh in my mind. ‘I was going to say,’ my better half remarked, ‘ if the Gort drew that…that would be impressive.’
‘It is, impressive’ I wanted to say.