It’s been a while since I posted, and because of that, I’ve continued to put it off. Tonight, I felt really moved.
Sometimes, my unschooliness gets put to the test, and I start to get worried. I find myself looking at lists of what my kid should know, and checking out what my friends’ kids are up to. I find myself measuring and comparing, and worrying. And then something happens that makes me realize that all is well with our world.
Lately, I have been worried about writing. Actually, this is not a new worry. My big kid has shown not merely a disinterest in writing, but an aversion to it. Getting him to try to write was so stressful for the both of us. It was obvious that he wasn’t ready, and so I tucked it away. Besides, he had started reading when he was ready, without instruction, and now he’s an avid reader, often carrying books with him to read in the car. Nonetheless, the worry creeped in.
The kid and I are perfectionists. We don’t like to do things that we’re not great at. Getting things wrong is stressful. We don’t get into a creative flow. When I cook, I need a recipe, exact measurements. When I craft, I need things to be just so. Detailed instructions. Once I have decided that I can’t do something, getting me to do it is a tremendous struggle. I have passed this down to my son. As my folks would say, he came by it honestly.
Needless to say, art is not something that comes naturally to us. When he was really young, I thought he would write really early, and be a really good artist. His dad is amazing with anything creative, and did graffiti when he was younger. The kid loved writing, drawing, coloring, all of those things. At some point, he realized that people expected the things that he wrote and drew to look a certain way. And, with all things wherein he does not care to be constrained by people’s expectations, he shut down. He stopped writing and drawing altogether. When he colored, he would only color characters, and he would only do so after looking at pictures of the characters to see which colors were supposed to be where. Just so.
It wasn’t until recently, after a conversation with a friend, that I connected the writing and the drawing. So a couple weeks ago, I decided that I would suggest some drawing. I found a site that had step by step instructions for drawing popular characters. I found a tutorial for drawing the Ninja Turtle Michelangelo (we are all Ninja Turtles right now; soon I will post pics from his Ninja Turtle birthday party). He was super interested in making Mikey, and I was super excited to get started. But the frustrations started immediately. He couldn’t get the circle right. Just so. But I encouraged him to loosen up. And it paid off.
With the picture completed, I encouraged him to write the name of his picture, and sign it with his name. A week later, we drew Batman, and this time, he got annoyed with the tutorial, and asked to draw it his own way. Then tonight, we reached a turning point. I found a few sample pages from the first of the Life of Fred books, and decided to try them out and see if he liked them. When we got to the “Your Turn” section, I told him to grab the paper and pencil, and was met with “Aw, man, do I have to?” I encouraged him to try it out, and he wrote out his answers. After the second question, he asked, “Can I write all the letters?” I nearly fell off of my seat! “Of course you can!” We finished writing out and checking our answers, and then he turned the page over and proceeded to write a page full of letters, and words, and pictures to go with the words. And not even just so, just because.
This wasn’t really a revelation, more like a reinforcement. The less I project my worries, push him to meet arbitrary goalposts, the more easily he will come to things, in his own time, in his own way, with joy. I don’t need to compare him with any other kid, because he is who he is. He is not me, he doesn’t come with all of my hangups, even if he’s a lot like me. And he shows me every day in a million little ways that he is brilliant, and he is learning, and he is excelling. And he always will, when he’s ready.
On a final note, I have been pushing through my anxieties too, and doing more drawing. I’m still not ready to go my own way yet, preferring to do it Just So, with the step by step tutorials. But tonight I drew what I think is a pretty good Huey Freeman from the Boondocks. I’m pretty proud of it :).