Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Imperfect Cat Doodles and the Art Fairy

This morning Isabella and I were having school and for her morning break, she decided to start drawing. My family loves art and drawing is something that we have each gravitated toward throughout our life. Isabella is no exception. We have books upon books of "how to" ideas.  She pulls out the cat book. If you didn't already know, our family loves our cat, no, to be more precise, we love all cats. Grabbing a piece of white paper she chooses a cat to start drawing. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book where the easier cats are located, she picks a difficult breed with lots of detail. The frustration mounts almost immediately. I can sense that she is gradually losing patience with her drawing. Through a series of sighs, I ask her if she needs my help. She replies with a shrug and says yes. Together we develop a plan for transferring what she sees in the book to her own piece of paper. The paper seems to be the wrong size. The cat she chooses is fat and fluffy. Not an ideal image for a long narrow piece of sketchbook paper. We choose a different cat.

Her frustration does not ease but we carry on anyway. I eventually walk away and start working on my next project. Walking away herself, she drops onto the futon and covers her face. I hear a slight whisper of a cry. I ask her what is wrong ( even though I already know that she is beyond frustrated with her efforts to draw the cat), she begins to express anguish over her failed attempt to create the art she saw in her head.

This is my child, who is a perfectionist. I completely get her frustration. These are the times I wish we had "the handbook" we all talk about getting when they are babies, right at this moment. Some suggestions of what to say or how to say it would be helpful. Instead, I reach into my collection of stored memories and try to put together some inspirational advice and work my soothing parental magic.

But, what I am really saying to myself is how do I help her understand that to have natural and raw talent is a wonderful thing to experience, but finding and learning new gifts can be just as rewarding too? How do I teach her to keep trying? How do I motivate her to try again when all she wants to do is quit?

Sitting there, watching her, I can't help but see me at her age. Trying new things, usually much harder than what I was capable of, but none the less, trying anyway. Me getting frustrated and giving up. Me walking away and not returning. This is what I didn't want her to learn. That if it's too hard then walk away. No, I want her to understand it is important to keep trying. It is important to finish the project. I want her to feel the joy of trying something new. It's important for her young self to have a growth mindset and reach for more, learn more, try more, and keep persevering. Hard things should not prevent us from trying.

I also want her to know that there is an art fairy that comes at night and fixes our art. In the morning she will see her artwork in a different light and after a night of sleep. I once had an art teacher tell me this during one of my moments of frustration on an oil painting I was working on. I didn't believe her at first. To my amazement, the art piece did look better the next morning. I have had this experience more than once. I tell her this story and I doubt she believes me. One day she will see it happen and remember the story about the art fairy.

I go on and try to reassure her that we don't need to be perfect the first time or even, every single time, we try something new. I encourage her to take a few minutes to change her focus. Walk away and come back. I ask her to reset her emotions and get some fresh air. I hear her outside jumping on the trampoline as I write this now. Gone are the tears and the sound of frustration.

She returns to the house cheerful and ready to try again on her cat picture. This time with a little less expectation that the cat will look exactly like the one in the book. This time with a little bit more spin on creating a cat with character and personality, maybe a cartoon version of the same cat. I like this idea. She sets out with a new focus and a bit more enjoyment in the process of drawing and creating.

It is easy for us to get caught up in this idea that if something is hard then we should quit or find something else to do. It took me a long time to figure out that there is great joy in practicing something over and over until we achieve success. We learn so much while in the moment of doing a project and seeing it through to the end. Completing projects gives us a sense of accomplishment and teaches us to follow through with our work or play. Becoming frustrated while learning a new concept is sometimes expected but there are ways we can deal with our frustration. A few ways that have worked for me are to take a break, do a 5-minute meditation, go outside for a walk, or sleep on it. These ideas will not fix all frustrations with new projects but they are great tools to teach kids, especially when they are frustrated with school work or hobbies.

Isabella returned to her drawing. I close the "how to" book and ask her what she thought about the picture that she drew 30 minutes ago. With a smile on her face and all her anxiety gone, she says, "It looks great but I can't wait to see what the art fairy does with it tomorrow morning."

She was listening after all.

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