I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world
— “Your Song”, Elton John
She got into her PJ’s early one night last week, about an hour before dinner. She put on some Elton John tracks in the other room while I cooked dinner in the kitchen. Having not heard from her in a while, I could tell she was deeply immersed in something. When I decided to steal a glance at what it was, “Your Song” was playing. Standing at the intersection of those lyrics and watching her draw her gap-toothed self-portrait with a smile on her face, tears flooded my eyes.
I am late in posting this week’s photos because I knew there was going to be one or two that I would be taking at M’s school’s art show last night. It was so great, seeing these young artists (3-6 year olds) showcasing a few special art projects they have all been working on in earnest these past few weeks. The kids’ energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Each classroom was set up as a gallery (where parents could “bid” a dollar and put a “SOLD” tag on any piece we wanted to keep). None of us parents had seen any of these works before. I loved every minute. Soundtrack: a cacophony of oohs and aahs by parents, and squeals and laughter of children nearing bedtime on a gorgeous spring night.
To know M is to know she doesn’t really like to get her hands messy. In the dirt, in the garden, usually yes. But slimy or full of glue or paint, no way. She’s been like this since she was born. So to see this “string bowl”—which uses copious amounts of glue, and not surprisingly, pushed her to slightly uncomfortable limits, according to her teacher—is to see a side of her growing and learning to handle more and more on her own, without us there.
Eric Carle inspired works by the kids. Oh, how M loves cats. Always a staple in her work.
Hands down, my favorite piece: her self-portrait. I wish I could share the rest of the kids’ portraits because they are truly stunning given that they are just 5 and 6 year olds. But out of a respect for privacy, I can only let you imagine how wonderful they were.
And, a bit about the artist and her point of view. I had tears in my eyes when reading all of the artists’ bios. The creativity and innocence combined just brought me back to center after a few months of hearing too much tragedy.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
A wonderful thing about M’s drawings is that they always start with a smile, almost to the exclusion of all else. Usually suns, flowers and rainbows fill in the remainder of the white space. So optimistic, as it should be for a five year old. Based on my informal observations of other children her age, these tendencies seem to be widespread (and especially with girls it seems, whereas I am starting to see boys her age draw a wider variety of things). You can only feel happy when you see pictures like this. Remember in Edward Scissorhands how he used his craft to leave beauty in the form of topiaries around the neighborhood? These pictures have the same kind of effect around our house. Soundtrack: full dryer with monotonous drone-like warning of the chore that lies ahead, some new-agey music that is starting to get on my nerves and, after this drawing was complete, tearful frustration from M, who was trying so hard to perfect the “Y” on the recipient’s name (not Mommy, incidentally).
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Much of the reason I started this blog was to release some creative energy. I started it during a time when the only kind of writing I did was purely legal writing, which I loved, but considering how technical it usually had to be, I often felt constrained by the various realities (the facts and the law), editor (my boss) and readers (the judges, opposing counsel) at play. The blog was my way of tapping into a different region of my brain, putting words into print that did not require a second set of eyes. At best, I hoped to create a written record of M’s younger years to alleviate my guilt for never doing anything with the scrapbooking supplies cluttering our spare bedroom, all while forcing myself to test the writing waters in a more public forum.
I wanted to discover whether there really is an inner writer lurking within, or if it was wishful thinking. I can’t really explain it, but there is a part of me that must write every day. If you are a writer too—either professionally or just for fun—you know what I am talking about. Needless to say, I have answered that question in many ways over the past year, but overall the answer seems to be, yes. There is a writer living within.
So I’ve let her out and I’m going to see where she takes me. I’ve been working in earnest on both some nonfiction and fiction pieces. I’ve got a few freelance gigs going, some articles that have been published. I’ve started listing my occupation as “freelance writer” with more comfort in the past few months, and in almost every case have dropped “attorney” as any kind of qualifier (unless it is for a legal writing gig).
But what’s been great about this personal transformation is that it is coinciding with M’s interest in creating stories as well. And, almost by accident, we’ve found a way to do it together and beyond me making alternate endings to her stale book collection.
One day not too long ago, I had taken out a blank piece of paper when we were going to draw. I should probably mention that M’s interest in drawing has been mixed at best. Among her peers, she’s probably on the more rudimentary end of the scale when it comes to drawing people or other familiar objects. She’s always been a minimalist who just likes to put a few scribbles down on a sheet of paper and then describe what it is after she sees what it looks like. She doesn’t draw with much intent, preferring to back into her drawings after they are done. She also lasts all of about 3 minutes drawing with crayons. Paint buys me maybe another 10 minutes of free time, but there’s a lot more prep/clean up time so it’s a wash. Literally a wash. She is not a neat painter.
So after I had taken out the paper she did her standard scribble and said she was done. She said it was a tree and that was that.
Here is where I should probably mention that I am not someone who likes to pretend play with dolls or trains or pretty much anything. This is where my husband wins the parenting award for “Best Household Playmate”. He is great at playing with M for long periods of time. Unless he’s a great actor, he actually enjoys doing it too. He’s so much better than me in this department and you can practically hear M sigh a breath of relief when he comes home at night.
I like doing practical things with her instead. Cooking. Crafts. Gardening. Things that have some sort of tangible end result. I will do anything to avoid more than 5 minutes of pretend play (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit). It’s just who I am. I used to feel guilty about it, but not anymore. We each have our strengths. We each have our weaknesses. The sight of dolls and toy kitchens are my kryptonite, but I’m superwoman with a bag of flour and a kid in an apron.
Anyway, I panicked when I saw M start toward the pile of dolls on the floor for another round of playing “school”. It was only 3PM on a Wednesday. At least three more hours until Dad got home. Noooooo!
Quickly, I added something to the scribble she drew. I was creating a story. Because I can draw (slightly) better than M, she always likes when I draw something for her. I think all kids are like that. But what surprised me is that she then picked the crayon back up and added something else to the drawing. And she drew with intent this time, really trying (and actually succeeding, considering her skill level) to make it realistic. She told me what it was and gave me the next layer of the story. Then she asked me to draw something else on the picture.
We continued on like this for more than hour. One sheet of paper. Many zany ideas.
First, a tree (M). Then a picnic blanket under the tree (me). It starts to rain (M). The picnickers make a run for it (me). Lightning starts a fire (M). Two birds put out the fire with a hose (me). A caterpillar that smokes cigarettes comes on the scene (M). A huge bird arrives that is going to eat everyone (me). A picnicker that smokes (M).
Clearly, this image will come in handy when M is in therapy for pyromania or hypnosis for smoking cessation. It will also help me when I seek art lessons to draw less phallic fire hoses.
But more than that, M and I have found another way to have fun and not be bored to tears in order to do what the other one wants to do. It’s a joint effort that exercises our creative muscles and we get a lot of laughs out of it. Not being formally schooled in creative writing, I consider it on the job training. For M, it’s just being a silly kid. But we’re both happy when it’s time to punch out for dinner.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
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