I penned the poem “River the Artist” (see below) for my daughter River, around 2:30 in the morning, a few days ago. I lied restlessly on my bed, considering the event that got me there. My five year old daughter, River, had been struggling earlier that day as she sought to design and draw a dress. As she set out to create her masterpiece, she would become increasingly frustrated with each iteration. With papers strewn about, she threw down her pencil, and demanded to know why she just couldn’t get “it”! Her arms were good and folded by now, her lips poked out, and the tears began in earnest. Her insistence on an explanation blew my mind. She was adamant! I suggested that she take some of the dresses out of her closet for a closer examination, or look at the pictures from the fashion pages of a magazine, as only a tool to help guide her in the process. She scoffed at the notion that she would need to do that, and insisted that she didn’t want to create anything as a result of something that she had seen or anything that had already been done. How dare me to entertain such a ridiculous suggestion? “That would be copying, Mom. I am a SELF MADE artist!” Okay then, I thought, for I certainly didn’t know what to make of this latest meltdown. I am usually able to craft a response to my children’s dilemmas, but surprisingly, this one left me dumbfounded.
“River the Artist”
You’re an artist, I know
By the way that you show,
Sheer delight to utter surprise,
Through the smile, in the eyes.
You capture love in color,
Even the beauty of a flower,
Comes alive when you’ve drawn it,
As if only you saw it.
“A self-made artist”, you say?
I dare not contest or play,
With the notion of anything less
Than a painter filled with zest!
For radiance, for joy,
Not some ridiculous toy,
Can ever compare,
To creations so rare!
You see, art for River, is like the breath of life to someone needing oxygen. It is what she can spend hours on end doing. It all began at the age of fifteen months for her, with her first smiley face floating at the right corner of a page – eyes askance, but fully present, fully human. By age two, the smiley faces would be replaced by people – never stick figures – with emotions ripe and palpable to anyone beholding them, and discernible movement, almost three-dimensional. Her portfolio would expand to include various types of art, but there was always color and life in all of them. To top it off, there was always a story behind the artwork – one that would convey intentions, emotions, dispositions, and reactions to something relatable in the world of the subject, whom she captured so brilliantly, and seemingly effortlessly, on paper.
As parents, we often struggle to comfort our children when they experience difficulty in attempting something new, but sometimes that something isn’t new for them, but for us. Oftentimes, it might be something about which they are most passionate, but we don’t always understand or see it the way they do, hence the difficulty in crafting our response. The best thing we can do in those instances is empathize, while quietly affirming their ability to do anything that they set out to do, and being a soundboard for them when and if they need one. We don’t always need to have an answer. There is no ”right” answer. Instead, we should let them navigate and discover this lesson in the process. The answers will unfold over time, and they’ll be glad that you were simply there, present but not overbearing or all-knowing, seeking to give definition to the undefinable.