When we moved to Whidbey Island last August and the kids started at a new school, I was worried. Like all parents, I want my kids to fit in, to feel comfortable, to have friends. I needn’t have worried. Both of them made friends right away. What didn’t go quite so smoothly, was Jasper’s transition into his first grade classroom.
I hate to say these words because I have been an elementary school teacher, I know how hard it is, and I love and admire teachers, but here they are: his teacher so obviously didn’t want to be teaching. She was annoyed with everything the kids did; she was exhausted and cranky from the minute her tiny first graders walked in.
I volunteered in the classroom every week. I saw how hard it was for my kiddo to be in a crowded classroom with 28 other first graders and absolutely no classroom management or organization or positive discipline at all. Jasper struggled. Most of his classmates did. But what really killed me one day was when I picked the kids up, and while buckling his seatbelt, Jasper said to me with a huge sigh, “My teacher said school isn’t about art.”
“What?!” I gasped. My immediate response. “The world is about art,” I said. I could guess what his teacher was probably getting at. I could imagine Jasper was drawing in class when he was supposed to be doing something else like reading, which he was really struggling with, or math, which he has mixed feelings about.
But art is his strength and his passion. He draws ALL the time. And he’s great at it.
“I know,” he sighed. “I need to tell her that art is my life.”
Oh that kid, his wise words. Since Lily and Jasper were tiny, Greg and I have been doing art with them. Drawing, coloring, painting, sculpture, collage. They’ve both made things on a potter’s wheel with their GramS. Lily writes and illustrates her own stories with a Japanese Anime style of design, and she creates the most amazing clay figurines.
Jasper illustrates books on monsters, creates his own “How To” drawing books for how to draw stick figures. He can draw in three dimension and with perspective better than most adults can. His favorite thing to draw is robots. Lily calls him the Picasso of robots. Sometimes he’ll draw an entire robot, often it’s just a leg, or head or arm.
My kids are beautiful, talented artists, both of them, because they have been practicing for years. It’s something we do as a family together too. Every few weeks Jasper will declare that it’s time for a drawing challenge. We shut down all the electronics, even turn off the music, get comfy in our spots with our paper and pencils and quietly draw whatever subject he’s declared that night, usually robots. It’s like a meditation of sorts, the quiet, the drawing, the mind working out what to put on paper.
A week after Jasper’s teacher told him school wasn’t about art, Jasper told me he wasn’t allowed to check out any of the Calvin & Hobbes books from the school library because his teacher said, that if he couldn’t read the words, he couldn’t check the book out. Well that certainly got my hackles up again. What child would ever learn how to read if they never got to look at books with words in them, words, which at one time they were unable to read?
We have most of the Calvin & Hobbes books at home, Lily and Jasper have been using tracing paper to trace pictures, especially the drawings in Calvin & Hobbes for years. Tracing is actually an amazing way for someone to learn to draw something. Jasper has traced so many pictures of Calvin, that he can actually draw Calvin on his own now, without even looking at the books. And he loves making up his own comics. These books inspire him in ways that to me are priceless.
At the end of November we left Whidbey to move all the way across the country. Here we are now in Maine in another new school for the kids. They are both in smaller class sizes and the environment in each of their classrooms is peaceful. Whew! The other night, Jasper got out his newest Calvin & Hobbes, a gift from Lily to him, and he read me a comic. He actually read the words to me without any help from anyone. Every parent who watches their child read for the first time knows what I’m talking about when I say my heart was ready to explode with happiness.
My kiddo is passionate about Calvin & Hobbes, for years it was because of the drawings, and because he loved listening to someone read the silliness to him. Now, he can read it to himself. My child doesn’t read because he was only ever able to look at books at his level, but because of the adventures of a goofball boy named Calvin and his tiger displayed through the art of Bill Watterson. And although it seems as if it just all of the sudden clicked for Jasper, he’s reading because of years of exposure to words and books and art.
To me, the world is absolutely about art. Standing in front of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with a friend from college. Seeing Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” for the first time in a tiny gallery in Prague. Visiting The Getty Museum, both the old and the new ones in LA when I lived there, and seeing the stunning Eugène Atget photography exhibit. Listening to Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” or “Imagine” by John Lennon. Tasting the most amazing goat cheese ravioli in a tiny Italian restaurant in Munich with Greg. Feeling the poems of Mary Oliver in my heart.
Every amazing novel, breathtaking essay and beautiful picture book I’ve ever read.
Art is culture, art is history, art is connection, art is language and color and beauty and heartbreak and grief and expression. Art is writing, art is learning, art is food, art is music, art is comedy, art is design and costumes and stage. Art breaks down barriers. Art may be the thing that keeps us together when all else fails. Think about it. Take away all art everywhere, and what do you have left?
Art has given me a love and understanding of the world, and there’s still so much more for me to explore. This is what I want my kids to have through their experiences with art, learning, beauty, passion and the desire to connect with people around the world. This is what makes our world beautiful.