This is a story about a 9 year old creative and her
teacher mom. By way of showing off the amazing things my youngest makes, I want to give you a behind-the-scenes story…for it is truly a learning process on MY part to create a safe environment for my artist-daughter to be creative, to explore without judgment or criticism, but to also guide, offer options, and NOT step in and do it myself. This is a difficult, very difficult thing to do.
A month or so ago, Maddie had an assignment from school: make a diorama of a scene from a favorite book she’s read recently. I did not have to help with ideas…she knew exactly what she wanted: shoebox filled with all the characters from a specific scene in the Beezus & Ramona book by Beverly Cleary. She knew she wanted to crochet a rug, put paper on the walls for paint, draw the characters and make them stand up, with checkers flying all over the place.
But to get from the terrific ideas to actually being able to make them is where she turns to me and I begin to ask her a series of questions exploring all her ideas. Then to begin. She got her yarn and hook, began to crochet but started wailing when the rectangle was turning into a triangle! Of course, the wailing is in my direction, because she sees me as “help”. It really doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what i’m involved in at the moment…the creative catastrophe must be attended to! I show her what has happened, how to fix it, and set her on her way again. Rug is made.
She chooses the color of paper for the walls and begins to draw the characters. Oh my. This is where the real hard work began. None of her sketches were turning out the way she had them in her head. We discussed how this is the way it is for all creative people…that one must allow drawings (or whatever one makes) to become what they need to be, rather than what we think they should be. We talk of giving oneself the fun of making several versions and then choosing the one liked best. She pleads with me to draw for her. I draw. Nope. That isn’t what she wants (thankfully), and off again she goes to wrestle with paper and pencil until she has something she is happy with. In the end, her drawings, done all on her own, are FAR better than anything I had going, and she received a sense of self-satisfaction that we also talked about…a delicious result of having worked through the creative difficulty and won!
The only thing I contributed here in the diorama is the hot glue gun to get everything to stick, to stand, to stay put. Everything else is her, all her. I think it’s an amazing diorama!! And I do think the conversations we had along the way were a big part of her learning to be a healthy creative person. I’m hoping, perhaps in vain, that all my sighing will not be remembered in the long run. 🙁
A couple of weeks ago, she wanted to make a stuffed cat. A bit of back story here is that I had been talking about making these tube-like cats with pinched ears, a tail and a face for several months, but never got around to doing it. It was now a Saturday and I began to try my hand at what was in my head, but it really wasn’t there…not the outcome, but the motivation was lacking as well as a clear idea. So she asked if she could do it…of course!! Go to it! And she begins to talk about the ways SHE would make these cats. My daughter and I do not lack for ideas, that’s for sure! We love to talk about them. She wanted to make hers into a reality.
From the outset, she began plying me with questions…should I do this? should I do that? I don’t know, Maddie, I would say…this is YOUR project. You don’t need to bring MY ideas into being…only YOUR ideas. And so she began to look at scrap fabrics. One of the things she easily falls into is being overwhelmed with an idea. I tell her: just start with the beginning…what is the beginning for you? The body. OK. Choose the fabric for the body, work with that, and then move on to the next thing. That was just what she needed to get going. The sewing machine was whirring as she sewed the body; then turned to hand sewing for a white belly and little arms. She then sewed the ears, the face, the bottom part, stuffed it and voila! The only thing I did were the whiskers. My resolve to NOT step in and do it for her, broke down here and I just made them…but I did show her how. “Oh, that’s so easy!” she said. 🙂
The penguin was last weekend’s creation…handmade soup to nuts! The beak gave her fits at first (“the beginning” was not going so well). But she persisted as I stayed out of it. All in all, this project was relatively question-free except for help in finding some buttons for eyes (she had very specific requirements for these!… I’m just glad I had what she wanted!) and excepting a little mishap in sewing up the body. I helped sew it back together, and in the process she declared that though the body was not sewn up “right”, she thought it was actually BETTER because it gave the sense of the penguin’s wings. Yay! A flexible creative she is certainly becoming!
To be on the other side of art, the side of teaching, coaching, guiding is at once a privilege AND a precarious position. We all know the disastrous stories of kids whose creative wings got clipped early on due to careless or even cruel words spoken by a teacher, a parent, a friend. I SO don’t want to curtail her cyclonic creativity…but at the same time, I do want to teach her there’s room for patience, for slowing down, for altering the original plan, for allowing for “mistakes”, for taking breaks, for ALL the caretaking things we creatives need to practice!
When Maddie smiles, hugs her penguin, and proclaims, “Oh, I just LOVE him!”…I know she has enjoyed flying around in the world of creativity…
…and she’ll probably keep on flying!