Friday, March 09, 2007

Lost Friends

As long as I can remember, I've loved art. Waxy, bright crayons, paintbrushes and smelly felts were my friends. Besides reading, which was my first love, art was (and continues to be) my favorite subject in school.

Of course when you have children, you pass on what you love. When Jake was little our home was alive with art projects and everything from finger paints to watercolors, crayons, felts, and other medium crowded boxes upon boxes in the art cupboard. It spilled over and threatened to burst, that cupboard was so full. Jake dove into every project with glee....until the past year. His zest to create and his love of art has suddenly, and up until today inexplicably, withered like a plant without water.

Today he got his report card and when I saw the grade he received in art class, I questioned him. I don't normally question grades. He works hard and generally does very well, but this was not what I had expected so I wanted to know what was going on.

"But Mom," his eyes were downcast and he spoke quietly. "I'm not good at art. The kids laugh at me because I can't draw like they do. I don't want my pictures put on display, it's embarrassing. I don't understand why I just can't do it. I'd rather not do it at all then do it and get laughed at." This alone explained why he hadn't handed in a single project the entire semester.

My heart wept for my little boy. To have such a creative, imaginative mind and not be able to express it through drawing or paint is something completely foreign to me. I take risks because for me, art is my friend. I've learned by experience that art is forgiving-I can mess up and start over, or I can fix it. I don't mind learning to quilt even though I can't sew because I know that I can figure it out. I've taken risks before and succeeded, so I have no fear of art. For Jake, it's different. It's just another subject that highlights his difficulties.

I have never really talked to Jake much about his fine motor difficulties, but at this point I knew that I had to lay it on the line for him and let him know that his lack of skill in drawing isn't that he's not "good" at it but instead is a real, medically explainable problem. I sat him down and looked him in the eye, and explained as gently as I could that his fine motor skills are actually 3 years behind his friend's. Not just that, but being the youngest in his class, that makes him four years behind everyone else. It's not his fault, and he's not stupid or just lacking in talent, it's a real disability. A disability that he just didn't notice he really had until he began to measure himself against his peers.

I could almost literally see the weight disappear from his shoulders as he looked at me with curiosity.

"Let's do the assignments together, okay? I'll pick up some paint, we'll clear out a spot in the kitchen, and we'll both do it. Remember the time we went to the Filberg Park and painted the flowers?" The picture of him in my mind was vivid-the sun dancing off his blond hair and he sat cross legged in the grass, his head bent over a sketchbook as he painstakingly created pansies with watercolors. There was no fear then-the colors radiated off the page as he dipped and stroked, confidently painting what he saw. That was before the clouds of fear of 'doing it wrong' paralyzed his fingers and he didn't want to even try anymore.

"Ya, that was fun."

"So we'll do it here at home. Then we'll put them in a portfolio so only your teacher can see them, and we'll ask her not to display any without your permission. Okay?"

In some ways I'm desperate to catch that feeling back, the feeling that he can do it and that no way is 'right' or perfect. Instead it's fun to just experience the feeling of the squishy paint and bright colors. Art is his friend, and I just think he's forgotten. He breathed a sigh and looked at me as one would if humouring a small child.

"I guess so."

I then breathlessly told him about the high school art class I had worked in that afternoon and the plethora of projects to choose from. How the kids all gathered together and worked on everything from jewelry to sculpture, to paint and pencil crayons. I then told him how the teacher had been tickled when I spoke to him about Jake's fascination with making jewelry and rock tumbling, and how he has thousands of dollars in lapidary equipment just waiting for a student to express interest. If I hadn't been watching him carefully I would have missed it, but as I talked, I could briefly see that old gleam of interest in his eyes.

Maybe he hasn't quite given up after all.

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